When people supplement with amino acids, they're usually looking for some very key boosts: muscle building, weight loss, and energy. Whether it's energy to get through a workout or bodybuilding session at the gym, or energy that carries you through your daily activities (of which greater muscle strength and less body fat also help), amino acids are effective supplements for improving your health and physical performance. But which are the best amino acids for energy? Let's explore some of the options.
The Best Amino Acids for Energy
Here are some of the amino acids that have been proven to help increase energy, decrease muscle fatigue, and improve athletic performance.
Citrulline is a nonessential amino acid, meaning it is naturally produced in your body. However, people often supplement with citrulline to boost their exercise performance, mostly because one of citrulline's uses is to increase blood flow to your body and muscle tissues. Citrulline does this by revving up your body's production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that relaxes the blood vessels and opens them up, allowing more oxygen and other nutrients to move through the body faster, thereby increasing energy and stamina.
This 2015 study found that taking citrulline supplements allowed cyclists to bike 12% longer than the placebo group, while this 2010 study showed that taking citrulline increased the amount of reps bodybuilders could do by 53% over the control group.
Citrulline is also known to help reduce muscles soreness and appears to be totally safe for use, with no adverse side effects reported up to 15 grams.
Beta-alanine is another nonessential amino acid that improves muscular endurance, enhances anaerobic exercise capacity, and reduces muscle fatigue. Beta-alanine helps combat the acid buildup in your muscles during intense exercise (especially short bursts of energy like sprints or a single strength-training session). Increasing levels of beta-alanine could help improve your physical performance and prolong your endurance.
A brief yet effective pre-workout supplement, the one reported side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is a feeling of tingling skin if taken in high doses.
3. Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The branched-chain amino acids are three of the nine essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. BCAAs are so-called because their chemical structures involve branching chains of molecules. Naturally found in high-protein foods like meat, fish, eggs, and plant sources of protein like beans and legumes, BCAAs and the other essential aminos are substances your body needs to consume, if not by food then by supplement.
Many athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness-minded folk will take BCAA capsules or powders to help enhance their workouts because these particular amino acids make up over 30% of our muscle protein. BCAA supplements have been studied and scientifically proven to help improve running endurance, reduce both physical and mental fatigue, and diminish muscle soreness after activities like running and weight training.
The only problem with BCAAs is that they are only a third of the nine essential amino acids needed to create new muscle, and that excessive amounts of BCAA powders taken without the other six essential aminos can lead to counterproductive catabolism—basically the cannibalizing of your muscle tissue to access those other amino acids. Not only does catabolism reduce your lean muscle mass, but it also damages your energy levels, because you're wasting energy on destructive metabolism instead of the virtuous cycle of only using energy to build, repair, and maintain muscle growth.
4. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in your body, and the essential amino acids are the ones you need to import from outside the body, because they cannot be synthesized within. EAA supplements contain not only the three branched-chain amino acids, but the other six as well: histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. They help with everything from hormone creation, immune support, muscle building, metabolism regulation, and energy transport. Here are some of the most vital roles each essential amino plays in your body.
- Valine: A branched-chain amino that stimulates the growth of new muscle and is actively involved in energy production.
- Leucine: This branched-chain amino acid is used in both new protein synthesis, muscle repair, wound healing, blood sugar regulation, and the production of growth hormones.
- Isoleucine: The final branched-chain amino, this isolated form of leucine (hence the name) is heavily concentrated in your muscle tissue where it aids muscle metabolism and energy regulation.
- Histidine: This neurotransmitter is used to create histamine and is needed in digestion, sexual function, immune response, and for regulating your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
- Lysine: Used in hormone and enzyme synthesis, lysine also plays a major role in new protein creation, energy production, and the generation of elastin and collagen (which keep our joints, skin, and hair supple, making lysine one of the amino acids for anti-aging).
- Methionine: This amino is important for tissue growth, zinc absorption, detoxification, and metabolism.
- Phenylalanine: Precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, this amino also helps produce the other nonessential amino acids.
- Threonine: Another contributor to elastin and collagen for anti-aging, threonine also aids in fat metabolism for energy usage.
- Tryptophan: Most often thought of as the chemical in turkey which makes you sleepy, tryptophan regulates sleep, mood, appetite, and is needed to create serotonin (the "happy hormone").
As you can see, all the essential amino acids are needed to build muscles and produce the fuel needed to use them, making each and every one an important amino acid for energy. The best supplements for improved energy should come with a whole host of EAAs.
The Energy Enhancement of Essential Amino Acids
Energy creation and expenditure is a cycle in the human body, requiring not only the generation of energy from food and body fat, but also the use of it to build and strengthen our muscles. Here is how supplementing with essential amino acids contributes to each aspect of the energy cycle.
Improve Exercise Performance
The branched-chain amino acids have been extensively studied to show they increase physical performance and reduce energy fatigue. A recent 2017 study found that BCAAs significantly improved muscle recovery and decreased the muscle soreness experienced by athletes over the placebo group in a 16-person trial. A 2017 review of eight other studies found that BCAAs across the board helped to promote muscle recovery and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Even leucine alone has shown an ability to increase strength performance in untrained, non-athletic men (although this increase is greatly limited by the availability of all the other EAAs)—that means amino acid supplements are a great place to start for those who are new to fitness.
Prevent Muscle Loss
When working out and when getting older, we lose muscle mass to other needs in the body. Though BCAAs alone cannot definitively preserve your muscle, and BCAAs without a balanced amount of the other essential aminos might cause catabolism as they seek the other ingredients they need to synthesize new protein, a more thorough amount of the essential amino acids have been shown to preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle breakdown.
This 2009 study of older adults who were on bed rest and susceptible to muscle atrophy demonstrated that 15 grams of EAAs helped maintain muscle protein synthesis, while the placebo group's muscle synthesis decreased by 30%. Another 2009 study found equivalent results in older women who were able to preserve and even increase lean body mass with supplemental EAAs. When talking about amino acids for anti-aging, preventing age-related muscle wasting is a huge area of importance.
Promote Weight Loss
EAAs can be effective in stimulating fat loss, significantly decreasing the percentage of body fat in men over an 8-week study (the same effects have been shown in animal studies). While fat is, in a sense, a fuel source (the principle behind the ketogenic diet for example is to train the body to burn fat for energy almost exclusively), an excessive amount of fat, especially around your midsection, is not only dangerous to your cardiovascular health, but it's also a lot more cumbersome weight to carry throughout your day, requiring extra energy that could be better spent. EAA supplementation can lead to better metabolism performance, greater muscle mass, and lower body fat all at once.
The best amino acid supplements should contain all the essential amino acids relevant to building muscle, producing energy, and losing excessive weight. The health benefits derived from the right aminos go beyond sports nutrition and into the realm of optimum nutrition for your longevity and quality of life. Check out Amino Co.'s blends of balanced essential amino acids to see if they don't boost your energy levels, your fitness performance, and your overall well-being.