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Buying supplements is never an easy task, especially for many of us who have a set amount of money we can spend. With so many categories of supplements from proteins to amino acids to fat burners and creatine, how do we choose what to buy? This article takes a specific look at amino acid supplements and compares them against some other similar and popular supplements so that you can make the best informed choice when it comes to your supplement needs.

What Are Amino Acids?

Before we begin, it’s probably a good idea to know what amino acids actually are. Amino acids are compounds that are essential for biological processes; especially for the production of proteins. Out of over 500 amino acids, only 20 are required as building blocks to make all of the proteins we require for daily living. Out of these 20, 9 are considered essential; that is, we have to get those amino acids from the diet as they cannot be made in the body. More importantly those essential amino acids are vital for kick starting and promoting muscle building and recovery processes, which is why they’re some of the most important supplements around.

Amino Aids vs Creatine

As mentioned above, amino acids are vital for assisting with muscle repair and growth as they are required to act as building blocks for creating stronger and larger muscle fibres. As they are directly involved in muscle protein synthesis and muscle building, supplementation of amino acids has also been shown to support improved strength and physical function. Creatine is another compound that is often considered one of the most ergogenic (performance enhancing) supplements in the industry. With 1000s of studies already performed on the ingredient, we know that creatine can assist with lean muscle mass gains, strength and power improvements and also improve high intensity exercise capacity.

While both the ingredients do similar things, amino acids can be considered the more essential of the two as they are required for muscle building. Without adequate amino acids however, creatine may not be as effective for supporting lean muscle mass increases. If however, you already have plenty of protein through your diet or through protein powders, creatine is one of your best supplement options.

Amino Acids vs Whey Protein

Whey protein powders are considered the most popular product in the supplement industry and for good reason. They are tasty, convenient and versatile supplements to help you obtain all the essential amino acids you need as well as the non-essential amino acids. Because it requires less processing, whey protein powders are also generally cheaper than amino acids. The one benefit that amino acid supplements have over whey protein powders is that it can be absorbed slightly faster as it is already at its most simple form. Thanks to its versatile and inexpensive nature, whey protein is perhaps a better choice for a supplement than amino acids. However, amino acid supplements still have their place, especially as an intra-workout for more dedicated trainers.

Amino Acids vs BCAA

Amino acid supplements is a term that encompassed single amino acids, but can also be a collection of essential amino acids. BCAA supplements however or branched chain amino acid supplements are more specific amino acid supplements that have BCAAs as their core ingredient. There are three branched chain amino acids including leucine, isoleucine and valine; with leucine being the most anabolic of all amino acids. As BCAAs are in high volume in skeletal muscle (approximately 35% of muscle volume), it makes sense then to supplement with BCAAs to not only stimulate muscle growth, but to restore lost levels of BCAAs due to muscle breakdown during exercise. If you were only using one supplement, it would be best to utilise an amino acid supplement as it would most likely contain all the essential amino acids, which have been shown are needed on top of branched chain amino acids for optimal muscle growth and recovery.

Amino Acids vs Glutamine

Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid as well as the most abundant free amino acid in the body. Glutamine is found abundantly in the protein based foods that we eat, however supplementation of the amino acid becomes important for athletes, bodybuilders and serious trainers as it is known to aid in recovery as well as supporting the immune system. Similar to creatine though, you can have all the glutamine in the world, but without an adequate amount of essential amino acids in your diet, you will not get the results you’re after. Glutamine is an excellent supplement, but an amino acid supplement is more important, unless you’re already consuming a protein supplement.

Amino Acid Supplements

Amino acid supplements are considered secondary supplements, as a good protein powder and a diet high in protein should more than cover your amino acid needs. However, they still have their place, especially as an intra-workout as they are quickly absorbed and provide a powerful prophylactic (prevention) measure to muscle breakdown during exercise periods. Knowing whether to get amino acids or other supplements such as creatine, glutamine and BCAAs can be a tough decision, but now that you’ve read through this article, that choice should be a breeze.

Børsheim E, Bui QU, Tissier S, Kobayashi H, Ferrando AA, Wolfe RR. ‘Effect of amino acid supplementation on muscle mass, strength and physical function in elderly.’ Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;27(2):189-95. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2008.01.001. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Antonio J. ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Aug 30;4:6.
Ferrando AA, Williams BD, Stuart CA, Lane HW, Wolfe RR. ‘Oral branched-chain amino acids decrease whole-body proteolysis.’ JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1995 Jan-Feb;19(1):47-54.
Calder PC, Yaqoob P. ‘Glutamine and the immune system.’ Amino Acids. 1999;17(3):227-41.
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