Amino acids provide fuel-efficient energy, speed muscle repair, act as neurotransmitter precursors, enhance exercise and mental performance, and much more. Tour de France riders and pro bodybuilders swear by them, but are they really the magic elixir people swear by? Is it as easy as taking an amino acid tablet and watching your muscle mass expand and energy levels skyrocket?
The precise mix of amino acids—types, balance, and ratios—can have beneficial or adverse effects on your blood sugar levels, hormones, and metabolic processes. Many of the amino acid nutrition products on the market contain only a few rather than all the essentials, and are formulated in unbalanced ratios that can have negative physiological effects.
In this article, we’re going to be setting the record straight. First, we’ll explain the types of amino acids that are best for supplementation—whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, or heart health you’re after—and then we’ll be discussing the best form of supplementation, pill or powder, to help you reach your health goals.
Types of Amino Acids
Amino acids come in three categories: essential amino acids, conditional amino acids, and nonessential amino acids.
When it comes to supplementation with amino acid tablets or powders, you’re looking at primarily the essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own. You must get your essential aminos from your diet or supplementation.
Let’s take a look at the essential amino acids and how each one can help optimize the health of your body and brain.
A precursor is a chemical that is converted into another compound, and histidine is a precursor to histamine, which tells your body when you’re allergic to something. Histidine also helps to defend against oxidative damage from exercise. It helps produce carnosine, which in turn reduces lactic acid accumulation in your muscles so you can perform better during your workouts.
One of the branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine helps to keep blood sugar levels balanced, heal wounds, and detoxify nitrogenous waste such as ammonia from the body. Isoleucine is also essential to the development of red blood cells and can help protect against anemia and blood loss.
Leucine is another branched-chain amino acid with direct effects on muscle building. It triggers muscle protein synthesis, suppresses muscle protein breakdown, promotes muscle recovery and healing, and regulates blood sugar levels.
This immune-boosting, antiviral essential amino acid—you might know it as the cold sore buster—also plays a role in growth hormone release (growth hormone helps improve muscle recovery). Taking lysine as a single amino acid supplement however, at least in the concentrations needed to boost growth hormone, can cause gastrointestinal upset, which is why it’s important to combine it with the other essential amino acids in proper ratios.
Sulfur-containing methionine is responsible for producing the antioxidant glutathione and the detoxifying and heart-healthy amino acids cysteine and taurine, and helps your body process and eliminate fat. Methionine acts as a liver helper, reducing fat buildup and neutralizing toxins.
This essential amino is a precursor of the “feel-good” hormones norepinephrine and dopamine, and as such can help increase energy and stamina during a workout. Phenylalanine also has pain-relieving properties and generates thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism.
Threonine balances protein in the body and is critical to growth and development as well as to the production of the amino acids glycine and serine. Emerging research shows glycine promotes muscle growth, glutathione production, and restful sleep. It also bolsters collagen production, which is crucial for healthy joints, ligaments, and tendons.
As a precursor for serotonin, tryptophan has pain-killing properties that can help to increase tolerance to a tough workout. Tryptophan also plays a role in vitamin B3 production for blood sugar control, cholesterol lowering, and protection against free radical damage.
The third branched-chain amino acid, valine helps to prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins during exercise, thereby accelerating recovery. Valine also helps to regulate blood sugar levels and the nervous system, and is vital to growth and development.
Put It All Together and What Have You Got?
A nutritional supplement that contains all nine of these building blocks of protein is proven to aid in the growth of lean muscle tissue and accelerate recovery not only after a strenuous workout, but also in times of illness, injury, or surgery (1).
Studies show that even when you exercise in a fasted state or undergo an intense endurance session such as a marathon, an essential amino acid supplement (EAA supplement) protects your lean muscle mass from breakdown and reduces inflammation and muscle damage (2).
Evidence also indicates that a properly balanced EAA supplement enhances the effectiveness of a resistance training workout by stimulating muscle protein synthesis and increasing net protein balance and muscle strength, mass, and function (3, 4).
EAAs' effect on lean mass and muscle growth benefits all ages, even older adults (5,6). Research shows that EAAs far surpass other protein supplements in that they are able to increase the receptivity of aging muscle to muscle-building signals (7).
Essential amino acid supplements do more than just build muscle. They also protect the heart by maintaining healthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels and supporting healthy blood flow and preserving heart strength and function (8,9). They encourage healthy aging by improving physical function, strength, and mobility in people with normal age-related decline (10,11). And EAA supplements can help reduce the accumulation of liver fat and promote kidney health.
What About BCAA Supplements?
We’ve already learned a bit about the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine. A subcategory of essential amino acids, the BCAAs are touted as the muscle-building aminos, and BCAA supplements are sold separately as performance enhancers.
They indeed do great things.
BCAAs are metabolized in your muscle, not your liver, which means they provide instant energy during exercise. They help increase power output and stimulate muscle protein synthesis. They lower blood glucose and inflammation, help form red blood cells, promote fat loss, and repair muscles faster.
But they are also not as effective, and in some cases even dangerous, when taken without the other essential amino acids.
BCAA supplements can decrease B vitamins, which are needed for hormone production, healthy skin, nails, and hair, brain function, DNA synthesis, nervous system regulation, and so much more.
BCAAs also enter the brain through the same transporter as the amino acid tryptophan. If there are higher levels of BCAAs, then tryptophan gets shoved to the side and can’t get through, which reduces serotonin levels and causes fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety, cravings, lack of focus, and possibly even depression.
Taking BCAA supplements can raise levels to too high of a degree and promote insulin resistance and metabolic disorders in certain instances, such as when combined with a high-fat diet.
That’s not to say that BCAAs in and of themselves are “bad” or ineffective. When they are part of a properly proportioned EAA supplement they act as the magical elixirs you’ve heard tales of.
The Right Proportion of EAAs
We’ve learned that the benefits of amino acids are found in a formula that contains all the essential amino acids. The proper ratio depends on the targeted health benefit you’re after.
For instance, if you’re looking to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, then you’ll want an EAA formula with a higher proportion of leucine. If you’d like support with healing after injury or surgery, then you’ll want a proportion of essential amino acids that is both fast acting (free amino acids) and slower digesting with the addition of a whey protein concentrate. An EAA supplement designed to optimize physical performance when taken pre-workout is optimized with the addition of creatine and citrulline, for example.
The different amino acids and proportions vary throughout the hundreds of clinical trials that demonstrate their healthful effects. That’s why The Amino Company partnered with leading sports nutrition researchers, led by Dr. Robert Wolfe, to examine the research and develop the most potent and balanced amino acid formulas for your specific health needs.
Amino Acid Tablets vs. Powders
If you browse through our EAA supplement line you’ll notice that we don’t sell amino acid tablets, only powders. This is not an oversight on our part. Rather, we don’t want to sell you on new products that don’t work, no matter how convenient they may seem.
Here’s why it’s difficult to get all your essential amino acids from a pill.
While a time-saving tablet may be appealing, it’s not providing you with a proper dose of EAAs. You can't fit 25 grams of protein in a half-gram capsule, and would need to take 10 or more tablets to meet your needs, which pretty much cancels out the convenience.
An amino acid powder, on the other hand, can be formulated to precise ratios in just one scoop, and it’s as easy as mixing in 8 ounces of water. No need to do the math. It’s already done for you!
Then there’s digestion to consider. An amino acid tablet isn’t as digestible because the gelatin and fillers have to be digested first, which takes time and impairs the absorption of the essential amino acids, which is all you really need! An EAA powdered supplement also gets to work building muscle quicker than dietary protein and is a more efficient way to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and anabolism (12).
Depending on the brand, amino acid powders do not require any gelatin or fillers or additives. They are just pure, free amino acids.
In short, amino acid powders work faster, longer, and deliver the benefits promised.
The Best EAA Supplements
Protein powders flood the market and it's easy to get roped in with shiny marketing claims and miracle promises. We encourage you to follow the science when searching for a supplement to help increase your protein intake.
Amino Co protein blends are developed by top nutrition scientists in the precise ratios needed to maximize muscle growth, reduce inflammation and muscle soreness, accelerate muscle repair and recovery, promote heart, liver, and kidney health, and speed healing from injury, illness, and surgery.
We promise our products have no added fillers, lubricants, chemicals, or preservatives, and they are:
- Soy free
- Gluten free
- GMO free
- Keto friendly
- Patent protected
Some of our blends are even vegan-approved and are higher quality protein sources than soy protein products.