There’s some debate around the topic of consuming essential amino acids while fasting. Does it break a fast? Reduce the benefits of fasting? Or support your health, fitness, and weight-loss goals while fasting? Let’s find out!
Fasting is when you go for a set period of time without taking in any food or beverage with a caloric value.
People fast for different reasons. You may fast for religious or spiritual reasons, to detoxify the body, to prepare for a medical procedure or lab test, or to achieve greater mental clarity, to name a few. Whatever your reason, you’re getting some big fasting benefits:
- Increasing fat burning (fat oxidation)
- Lowering blood sugar
- Improving metabolism
- Lowering inflammation
- Supporting lean body mass
- Improving body composition
- Clearing away toxins and damaged cells (a process called autophagy)
By lowering inflammation, fasting helps improve many health conditions, such as arthritis and gastrointestinal disorders, and autophagy helps to lower the risk of chronic conditions like heart disease.
There are many different types of fasts, but intermittent fasting is emerging as perhaps the most sustainable and effective way to reach your fasting goals. There are various ways to intermittent fast—the 16:8 method, 24-hour fast, or 5:2 method—and all have a great track record when it comes to subduing the insulin response, a primary benefit of fasting.
A study out of the University of Alabama put a group of obese men with diabetes on an early time-restricted feeding schedule. One group ate within an 8-hour window from 7 am to 3 pm every day. The other ate within a 12-hour window from 7 am to 7 pm. The group who ate within an 8-hour window significantly lowered insulin levels and improved insulin sensitivity. Other proven benefits included lower blood pressure, reduced oxidative stress, and decreased nighttime hunger, which contributes to weight loss (1).
Why Take Essential Amino Acids While Fasting?
To understand the benefits of consuming essential amino acids while fasting, it helps to understand just what essential amino acids are and how they work in the body.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The essential amino acids (EAAs) are the ones your body cannot make on its own. There are nine of them:
When it comes to essential amino acid supplementation, three amino acids have stolen the spotlight—the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA supplements are beloved by bodybuilders and athletes looking to build muscle and enhance athletic performance.
The health benefits of BCAAs are greatly diminished, however, when they are taken separate from the rest of the essential amino acids. In order to get the greatest muscle gain and fat loss, it’s necessary to supplement with a complete essential amino acid supplement with the ideal proportion of EAAs to BCCAs.
Value props of an essential amino acid supplement include:
- Stimulating muscle protein synthesis
- Reducing soreness after exercise
- Preventing fatigue
- Accelerating recovery after exercise, injury, or illness
- Boosting mental clarity
- Improving physical performance
- Strengthening immunity
- Lowering inflammation
- Decreasing hunger
Consuming essential amino acids has proven invaluable to people following a ketogenic diet. The high-fat, ultra low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein keto diet shifts your metabolism away from burning glucose for fuel and into ketosis, a metabolic state that burns ketone bodies and fat for fuel. The essential amino acids lysine and leucine can be converted into ketones for extra energy.
Because amino acids are metabolized in muscle and not liver, they also don’t spike insulin, thereby supporting your fasting goals.
But...does taking essential amino acids break a fast?
Technically, yes. Any time you consume calories (even as minimal as 10 calories from a scoop of EAAs), you’ve broken a fast. If you are fasting for spiritual reasons, then EAAs should be avoided along with any other food or beverage with calories or that activates an insulin response.
If you are fasting for health or weight-loss reasons, however, supplementing with a scoop of EAAs activates a negligible insulin response, certainly not enough of a response to disturb your fasting goals.
In fact, supplementing with EAAs supports your fasting efforts when ingested 30 minutes pre workout and during a workout.
Working out in a fasted state leaves you vulnerable to fatigue. Essential amino acids help fight the mental and physical fatigue that occur when glycogen levels are low. They’re also the building blocks of muscle protein and help protect against skeletal muscle breakdown (catabolism) during and post workout. They even help combat muscle soreness so you can recover faster.
In addition to protecting against protein breakdown and muscle loss, essential amino acids are also proven to help suppress appetite and hunger cravings during a fast.
But not all essential amino acid supplements are the same. If you opt for an EAA with all nine of the essential amino acids, then you’ll also be increasing your intake of tryptophan, which, as a precursor to serotonin, increases fatigue.
That’s why Amino Co researchers created a patented formula of EAAs that leaves out the tryptophan, so that you can benefit from improved muscle performance during exercise, enhanced mental clarity and concentration, reduced fatigue and dehydration, and speedier recovery times even when you are fasting!
You can learn more about this fasting-friendly EAA supplement here.
Breaking a Fast with EAAs
You can’t fast forever, and coming out of a fast is just as important as the fast itself. The key to breaking a fast healthfully is to increase protein intake. And a great way to do that is to supplement with an essential amino acid protein powder. EAAs help to promote insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) release, which is subdued during a fast. This hormone helps support muscle-building mechanisms in the body as well as the insulin response.
Finally, fasting is not appropriate for everyone. If you are pregnant, elderly, or managing a chronic disease, please check with your doctor before engaging in any type of fasting regimen. As for taking essential amino acids, supplementation has been proven safe and side-effect free even for kids!