Quick Protein vs Amino Acids Summary Points
- Amino acids are building blocks of protein.
- Proteins are nutrients consumed through foods or supplements that break down into amino acids and peptides to be absorbed and used to build body tissue.
- Both amino acid and protein supplements help to support muscle growth and recovery.
- Protein powders are generally cheaper than amino acid supplements and can also be absorbed faster.
- While both supplement categories can be helpful, protein powders would take priority for the majority of trainers.
What's the Difference Between Protein & Amino Acids?
Proteins are basically essential nutrients that the body needs and represent the foundation or building blocks of muscle tissue as well as other body tissues such as hair and skin. The majority of our protein intake comes from the consumption of meat, fish and poultry, however can also easily be obtained from a range of plant sources such as legumes, soy and nuts. The protein that we consume is broken down into amino acids.
Amino acids then are the building blocks of protein. That is proteins are made up of many single amino acids joined together. There are 22 standard amino acids, 9 of which are essential and they are responsible for a wide variety of functions in the body such as the production of hormones and co-enzymes as well as repair and immune responses.
Protein vs Amino Acid Supplements
- Single Protein Supplements – These are protein powders that only include the one type of protein. Whether it be whey protein, casein, beef, soy or pea, single protein supplements may also contain other ingredients such as carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
- Blended Protein Supplements – Blended proteins are those which contain 2 or more different types of proteins. This often helps to provide a more sustained digestion and release of amino acids to the muscles. Blended proteins powders come in many forms including pre and post-workout specific formulas as well as mass gainers and fat loss proteins.
Amino Acid Supplements
- Single Amino Acid Supplements – These products provide access to specific single amino acids such as leucine, lysine or methionine. They are commonly used for specific conditions, but can also be used to support muscle building, such is the case for leucine.
- Blended Amino Acid Supplements – Featuring more than one amino acid, blended amino acid supplements also come in many forms such as branched chain amino acid (BCAA) formulas, intra workouts or essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. As with single amino acid supplements, they can be in powder or capsule form.
Amino Acids vs Protein for Muscle Growth
Looking at it from a muscle building perspective, both are synonymous with muscle growth. After all, protein generally needs to be broken down into amino acids or at least di- and tri- peptides (2 or 3 amino acid compound) in order to be utilised. Going from food alone, you can’t consume single amino acids or pick and choose which one’s to have. We can only consume protein, of which different sources will have differing levels of each of the amino acids.
Looking at it from a supplements perspective, both will still be good for muscle growth, but amino acid supplements tend to be a little bit more expensive, due to processing needs. In addition, your body needs to be provided with all the essential amino acids in order to grow muscle.
Can Amino Acids Replace Protein Shakes?
While you can build muscle by taking a protein powder or a blended amino acid supplement, protein shakes may hold an extra edge. In some instances, single amino acid supplements tend to absorb more slowly than whole proteins, because they often compete with the absorption of simple sugars. Whole proteins on the other hand can digest to di- and tri- peptides, which can be preferentially absorbed without further breakdown to single amino acids. While this faster absorption may not matter for beginner trainers, it can most definitely have an impact on those who have been training for longer.
Protein vs Amino Acids - What's Best for You?
Ideally, you would be consuming both, especially if you’re an advanced trainer, someone who has issues with recovery or if you train at high intensities. This decision will also depend heavily on your diet and nutrition such as how much protein you’re having and when you’re having that protein. However, if you’re only allowed one option, protein is probably the most logical choice for the vast majority of trainers. It’s generally more cost-effective and provides all the amino acids you need to build muscle and grow. In addition, it can often be absorbed faster than single or blended amino acid supplements. The next time you have trouble choosing between these two, make sure you prioritise a good protein powder first and then add on an amino acid supplement after a good 6-12 months of training.