You wouldn’t go for a cross-country drive without making sure all your car’s fluids were topped off. After all, you know that what you put in your vehicle correlates directly to what you’ll get out of it. Similarly, when you fail to top off your workouts with the proper supplements, you limit how far you’ll go in the gym—and really, who wants that?
Below, we spotlight the importance of one of bodybuilding’s most critical supplements: amino acids.
Types of Aminos (Essential and Nonessential)
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are small chemical compounds that contain both an amino functional group and a carboxyl functional group. These compounds are then synthesized together to form proteins which the human body uses—which is where you as a bodybuilder come in.
After all, since bodybuilders like you need to synthesize significantly greater amounts of protein compared to non-athletes (due to the fact that you’re constantly working to produce muscle growth and strength gains), you’ll need to supplement properly to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Where Do EAAs Come In?
While there are many different types of aminos, essential amino acids (EAAs) are those that cannot be made by the body. As a result, you’ll need to get these from a combination of food and proper supplementation.
Here are some of the top bodybuilding EAAs, although to get the muscle growth benefits, these essential amino acids must be consumed as part of a supplement that contains an ideal ratio of ALL the EAAs.
- Leucine: Leucine is considered a vital essential amino acid for both protein synthesis and other various metabolic functions; it helps regulate blood sugar levels, while also promoting the growth and recovery of muscle/bone tissues and growth hormone production. Leucine prevents the breakdown of muscle proteins caused by stress (e.g., intense workouts).
- Isoleucine: This amino is able to increase endurance, boost energy levels, and help heal muscle tissue.
- Lysine: Lysine is recognized as an amino acid that’s a necessary building block for all of the body’s proteins. It also plays a major role in calcium absorption.
- Valine: As it supplies the muscles with the extra glucose responsible for energy production during physical activity, valine aids in the prevention of muscle breakdown. It’s also important for maintaining a smooth-running nervous system as well as cognitive functions.
Nonessential aminos are those that our bodies CAN produce (even if we’re not consuming them from foods we eat). For bodybuilders, supplementing with some of these is also important. Nonessential amino acids include:
- Glutamine: The most abundant amino acid in the body, glutamine accounts for more than 60% of the total intramuscular free amino acid pool. It’s used by many cells in the body as fuel for growth. Evidence suggests that during times of stress the body can’t produce enough glutamine to keep up with demand, which can lead to reduced performance. Athletes, therefore (especially those that participate in strenuous endurance events), may need to rely on glutamine supplementation.
- L-citrulline: L-citrulline boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which improves blood flow throughout your body. This is noteworthy since healthy blood flow is critical to developing muscle gains.
- Arginine: Arginine functions as both an immune system and athletic performance booster—which explains its status as a bodybuilding staple. Additionally, arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide (NO), which aids in blood circulation. The latter is critical for muscle-protein synthesis. However, citrulline is the optimal nutritional supplement to increase arginine concentrations in the blood, thereby increasing NO production and stimulating muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth.
- Aspartic acid: This nonessential amino acid has been proven to play a major role in the body’s energy cycle. Aspartic acid is also necessary for stamina, brain, and overall neural health.
Don’t Resist: Why EAAs Go Great with Resistance Exercise(s)
A study was conducted on the effect of EAAs on muscle growth (or hypertrophy). It found that regardless of age or gender, resistance training—when combined with proper EAA supplementation/ingestion—can augment the post-exercise muscle-protein breakdown (MPS) response and elicit a greater anabolic effect than exercise plus carbohydrate.
Furthermore, researchers note that EAA supplementation—in combination with resistance training—has been shown to significantly increase myofiber cross-sectional areas in young men, while also playing an important role in muscle adaptations.
Finally, proper EAA supplementation can help your body recover from those grueling gym sessions. The study points to several others which support the fact that EAAs (when supplemented within the context of exercise), enhance the recovery of muscle function as measured 1-4 days after heavy exercise while decreasing proxy markers of muscle damage or soreness.