Amino acid powders are supplements taken much the same way as protein powders like creatine and whey protein. They are important to muscle building for a very simple reason: they are the bricks and mortar of your muscles, and without them your body cannot synthesize new muscle for repair or growth.
Many people are familiar with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), used by bodybuilders and the fitness-minded alike, but BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids (EAAs) required for muscle creation. For more on the difference between BCAA and EAA supplements, plus the benefits you can expect from supplementing with amino acids, read on.
The three BCAAs are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and they make up about 35% of our muscle protein. They are isolated for supplementation because they reduce the amount of protein breakdown that occurs due to vigorous workouts, and they help preserve the muscle's stores of glycogen, which is the muscles' quickest energy source. Leucine is the big player among the three, and it's also one of the main components of whey protein.
However, the reason people sometimes consume BCAAs instead of whey protein is because when these amino acids aren't bound up with other components, they can digest and absorb faster, giving them a bigger impact as a workout supplement. The reason some people take complete EAA supplements over BCAAs is similar: you can't increase your muscle mass without all nine of them, meaning that a full court of EAAs has an even greater positive impact on your fitness goals.
The essential amino acids include:
If you ever need a mnemonic device to remember them (taking a biology quiz maybe?), notice that in this order, the first letter of each essential amino acid spells out Pvt. T.M. Hill: good old private T.M. Hill can help you remember your EAAs, just as Roy G. Biv can help you remember the order of the colors in the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).
Essential amino acids are so called because they're needed in your body, but your body can't create them itself, so it's essential that you gain them by ingesting them.
Essential amino acids are indispensable, and there are six more amino acids that are considered conditionally essential—arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine. Their creation in the body isn't always possible (like when we are infants). The rest of the amino acids are made in-house by your body.
The Top 10 Benefits of Amino Acid Powder
When your goal is to build lean muscle with your workouts, protein is key, and you can't have protein without amino acids. Here are the best benefits you can expect from taking amino acid powder as a workout supplement.
1. Balanced Dosages
The great thing about getting your amino acids in powdered supplement form is the same perk you get when using meal replacement shakes for weight loss: it comes pre-measured, guaranteeing that you receive the proper ratio of amino acids every time. Even high-quality protein supplements don't always take into account the ideal ratio of amino acids that are scientifically required for building new muscles, so when shopping for the right workout aid, be sure to purchase a comprehensive and balanced amino acid powder, one that has exactly what you need in precisely the right amounts.
2. Improved Muscle Growth
Leucine especially shines here, as it has been clinically shown to boost muscle protein synthesis after physical exercise. That window of post-workout recovery is when your muscles are wide open for material to rebuild the cells that were damaged during exercise, and create even more muscle in preparation for the next workout. For more on the best time to take amino acid powder, read (or skip!) to the end of this article.
3. Increased Endurance
Amino acid supplements alter the way your body uses fuel, namely by changing the way you burn carbs and fat. Athletes like sprinters who require short bursts of strong energy have to deal often with glycogen depletion from their muscles. There's only so much glycogen your muscles can hold, and if you use it up too quickly, you'll run into fatigue or exhaustion and will have to cut your workout short. With amino acid supplementation, however, glycogen stores are better protected, as was seen in this 2011 study involving 7 men who were put through a workout designed to sap their glycogen supply. Those given amino acids instead of a placebo had a 17.2% increase in how long it took them to hit the wall of exhaustion.
4. Better Fat Burning
Amino acids protect glycogen stores by burning fat instead of glycogen for fuel. Amino acids help to retrain your body's metabolic processes. For instance, the amino acid L-carnitine has been shown to increase fat loss without any other changes being made to your diet or exercise routine. If you're on a low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet, even better: your body will learn to access your fat stores for energy as much as possible, because it can't get the quick energy from carbohydrate intake.
5. Reduced Fatigue
Piggybacking off the above-mentioned benefits, amino acids have the ability to prevent the mental fatigue that can accompany really long workouts. When your amino acids are low, such as during a grueling workout, your body works to produce more, specifically tryptophan. And when the amino acid tryptophan gets too low, its production leads to feelings of mental fatigue and tiredness (it's why turkey is considered sleep-inducing—the tryptophan in the meat!). If you're supplementing with the proper amount of amino acids, this process never has to begin, and thus there is no extra tryptophan running around making you feel depleted and tired.
6. Increased Focus
Without extra tryptophan making you soporific, your mental focus is able to sharpen. Amino acid supplements have been shown to boost your short-term memory and mental processing abilities, and so are particularly valuable in competitive sports or contests, when fast strategizing can help you win.
7. Muscle Sparing
When you workout, you're causing little micro-tears in your muscles. It's necessary damage, sort of like how you need to be exposed to viruses to develop an immunity to them (it's the reasoning behind vaccines, which contain deactivated viral cells).
Usually the muscle damage is minimal, just enough to stimulate your body into sending resources to repair and then rebuild bigger, better, and stronger muscles than ever before. Sometimes, however, muscles are broken down out of desperation for energy. This is catabolism, a destructive form of metabolism, and those who work out hard, especially bodybuilders, know to guard against it.
During the day you can feed your body energy, but what is your body eating while you sleep? In some instances it resorts to cannibalizing itself in a sense, breaking down the muscle you've worked so hard to build. Amino acids can help prevent catabolism by protecting your muscle fibers from taking too much damage in the first place; plus you can supplement right before going to bed (but more on when to take amino acid powders below).
8. Improved Post-Workout Recovery
Free amino acids in an amino acid powder are quickly absorbed, which helps increase your muscle protein synthesis rate and shorten your post-workout recovery time. The muscle soreness that used to linger can be dispatched much quicker with proper amino acid supplementation. Quicker recoveries mean you can work out again sooner, putting you in a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle), where workout and recovery revolve around one another in beneficial harmony.
9. Reduced Muscle Soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be a real hinderance to your fitness goals, but because amino acids help protect your muscles better and rebuild them quicker, they've been scientifically shown to reduce muscle soreness.
10. Improved Athletic Performance
When you count up all the ways amino acid supplements aid you and your muscles, the finally tally shows that they improve your overall athletic performance in more ways than one. Smarter, better, faster, stronger: amino acid powders can help you be all of these things with just a few scoops a day.
When to Take Amino Acid Powder
The fourth edition of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning states that our muscles are particularly receptive to amino acid supplements within the first 48 hours after a workout. Likewise a study published in Frontiers in Physiology asserts that 5.6 grams of just BCAAs ingested after strength training exercise leads to a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis. Similarly the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reminds us that you need a healthy supply of all the essential amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is why we recommend a comprehensive EAA blend when seeking to build muscle tissue.
A number of studies have shown that all nine EAAs play important roles in muscle growth and repair, and when it comes to the timing of when you should consume your essential amino acid powder supplement, you almost can't go wrong: pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout, plus another helping before bed if you're concerned about catabolism. While some forms of workout will require more or less supplementation regarding dosage amounts, pairing amino acid supplementation with a high-protein diet will have you covered.
The Amino Advantage
In your quest to build lean muscle mass through working out and eating right, consider adding a high-quality, gluten free, non-GMO amino acid powder like the one we offer here at Amino Co. Our Athletic Performance blend gives you an extra advantage in all your workout and sporting goals.