The Best Amino Acids for Energy

Which aminos help with energy production, muscle building, weight loss, sleep cycles, and more? Find out the difference between nonessential and essential amino acid supplements, plus the science behind how they work in the body.

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.

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.

1. Citrulline

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.

2. Beta-Alanine

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.

Amino Energizer

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 own blend of balanced essential amino acids to see if it doesn’t boost your energy levels, your fitness performance, and your overall well-being.

Amino Acid Powder: The Top 10 Benefits

Learn about the difference between BCAAs and EAAs, plus the top 10 health benefits of amino acid powders and when it’s best to take them for optimal workout performance. 

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.

Top 10 benefits of amino acid powders.

BCAAs vs. EAAs

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:

  • Phenylanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

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. Amino acid powders give you an extra advantage in all your workout and sporting goals.

Caffeine Withdrawal: Symptoms and Solutions

Learn about the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, ranging from mild to severe. Also check out some tips on how to wean yourself from caffeine without the discomfort of withdrawal.

If you’ve ever had a coffee or soda habit, you may have experienced caffeine withdrawal symptoms. They’re uncomfortable, sometimes flu-like symptoms that can distract you from your work, disrupt your sleep, and make you irritable around your loved ones. Because coffee and soda are such normal beverages around the home and workplace, it can be easy to forget that caffeine, though mild, is still a drug just like any other. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association included “Caffeine Withdrawal” in a recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-51), a publication for health care professionals that describes the criteria of mental disorders. Caffeine withdrawal causes real symptoms in the human body, and this article will describe some of those symptoms, and a few different methods you can use to relieve them.

Caffeine withdrawal: symptoms and solutions.

Common Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, and it is also the world’s most commonly used psychoactive substance. Caffeine affects your neural activity, increasing alertness and reducing fatigue. If you regularly consume caffeine your body begins to rely on it, and when you stop, you can experience withdrawal. Here is a list of some common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

1. Headache

One of the most commonly reported symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, headaches are caused because caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain, slowing the blood flow. One study showed that those who consume fewer than 3 cups of coffee a day can reduce their cerebral blood flow by up to 27%. Once the blood vessels narrow, reducing your caffeine consumption allows the blood flow to increase to the brain again, which can cause painful, sometimes severe headaches as the brain readapts. The headaches will eventually subside, but read to the end of this article to find our suggested solutions for relieving the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

2. Difficulty Concentrating

Coffee, tea, and energy drinks with caffeine are often taken to boost concentration, so when you suddenly stop consuming them, that benefit ends. Caffeinated beverages are often used to improve focus before tests, athletic events, or presentations because caffeine causes your adrenal glands to up their production of adrenaline. Caffeine also boosts your excitatory neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine. Overall, caffeine works by raising your heart rate, your blood pressure, and stimulating your brain. Phasing out caffeine forces your body to suddenly adapt to doing without all those perks.

3. Fatigue

That feeling of tiredness you often use a cup of coffee to counteract? If you quit caffeine, that fatigue may return with a vengeance. Caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine receptors, a neurotransmitter that causes drowsiness. When that is removed from your body’s chemistry, the adenosine comes right back, and affects you in a way you may have become unaccustomed to dealing with on your own.

One study of 213 habitual caffeine drinkers showed that abstaining from caffeine for only 16 hours caused feelings of fatigue. Those who consumed caffeine the most had much more severe withdrawal symptoms. Because the energy caffeine provides only lasts up to 4-6 hours, it becomes easy for normal users to get into the habit of drinking multiple cups of coffee or energy drinks each day, just to maintain their desired level of alertness. It also deepens their dependency.

4. Anxiety

Because caffeine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol, just 1 cup of coffee can make some people anxious and jittery. However, suddenly stopping your caffeine consumption can cause this side effect as well, as your body has become physically and mentally dependent on a substance it’s no longer getting. Moreover if you take your caffeine in the form of soda or sweetened coffee you may be feeling the lack of sugar intake as well, which could amp up the restlessness and anxiety you feel and make your caffeine withdrawal even worse.

5. Irritability

Regular coffee drinkers are often cranky or irritable before their morning cup of java. It’s a lack of caffeine that may be the cause of that, because caffeine only lasts in your system for 4-6 hours and it’s worn off after a night’s rest. As coffee drinkers are used to the mood-altering effects of caffeine, the lack of it can bring feelings of irritability. One study of 94 caffeine drinkers who wanted to cut back on their caffeine intake showed that 89% of the participants were unsuccessful, reportedly due to the symptoms of withdrawal, which included anger and irritability.

6. Depressed Mood

Caffeine is well known for perking people up and elevating their mood because it blocks adenosine receptors. Studies have shown that those who consume caffeine regularly have a more positive mood compared to those taking a placebo. It can go so far as to reduce the risk of depression, as seen in one study on over 50,000 women which found that those who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of depression. Removing those benefits by ceasing caffeine consumption can cause a depression in mood, a side effect that could be quite dangerous, as depression is a serious condition that could alter someone’s life for the worse.

7. Tremors

Another serious side effect of caffeine withdrawal: tremors. Those with a serious dependency may find their hands shake after they quit caffeine, because caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system. Quitting cold turkey could be ill advised for those with anxiety disorders or a long-term caffeine addiction, as these hand tremors could last between 2 and 9 days after stopping caffeine intake. Tremors lasting any longer than that may mean you need to consult a medical professional to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause beyond consuming too much caffeine.

Ways to Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Here are some tips for treating caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

1. Over-the-Counter Medications

For headaches or difficulty falling asleep, over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and sleep aids can help in the short term, to get you past those first few days of caffeine withdrawal. Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin (Bayer) can help a caffeine withdrawal headache, but be sure to take them as instructed on the label, as some medications can cause stomach bleeding or kidney damage if overused.

2. Reduce Slowly and Stay Hydrated

Reducing your dependence on caffeine slowly is a way to minimize withdrawal symptoms while avoiding over-the-counter drugs. If you are drinking multiple cups of coffee a day, for example, you may want to take a month and reduce your caffeine consumption by 25% each week. That means 4 cups a day on a usual week should go down to 3 cups the next week, and so on until you can experience milder withdrawal symptoms. Switching to decaf or herbal tea after that can help you keep your habits and obey your taste cravings, and staying hydrated reduces instances of headache.

3. Amino Acids for Caffeine Withdrawal

Another option you might try is supplementing with the amino acid L-tyrosine for caffeine withdrawal (also known as tyrosine). Your brain synthesizes dopamine from tyrosine, which is normally gained from either high-protein food sources (cod, eggs, spirulina, beef, poultry, pork, dairy products, avocados, nuts, and seeds), or from another amino acid, phenylalanine.

The brain overproduces dopamine when you consume caffeine, first depleting your stores of tyrosine, then phenylalanine. When you stop caffeine consumption suddenly, your body may be unable to normally produce dopamine for a short time until it replenishes its amino acid stores.

Supplementing with a comprehensive amino acid supplement that includes tyrosine or phenylalanine (which helps restore both of them), could help you quit caffeine cold turkey, but without the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The last facet will be to replace the behaviors around caffeine consumption: heading to a coffee shop, having a soda as a midday pick-me-up, or relying on energy drinks when you need to focus. Replacing behavioral habits with new ones, and replacing your physiological dependence with the help of an amino acid supplement, may allow you to skip the backlash of removing daily caffeine from your life (and help keep you from backsliding into a habit you no longer want to participate in).

Remove Caffeine from Your Routine

Caffeine dependence is a very common predicament in the modern world. Most people are able to kick the habit on their own eventually, but relapsing is a common occurrence too. Consider using the tips above to stick to your new caffeine-free resolution, and consult a medical professional if you notice extreme withdrawal symptoms like double vision, confusion, or nausea, especially if they persist for longer than 9 days. Other than that, quitting caffeine is definitely doable, and you know you have the strength to see it through.

The Relationship Between Energy and Amino Acids

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. Likewise, when people are asked to identify a benefit from a nutritional supplement, “improved energy” is often the first thing they report. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Almost everyone, even the most energetic among us, desires more energy. So it’s no accident that energy drinks have become so popular. However, the concept of energy is somewhat vague. What does having energy really mean?

To understand the relationship between energy and amino acids, we must first distinguish between physical and mental energy. These two types of energy are clearly related, but distinct. By considering physical and mental energy separately, we can better understand the physiologic basis for each.

Energy and Amino Acids: What Fuels Our Bodies?

Physical energy requires not just fuel for our bodies but also all the necessary vitamins and cofactors—the inorganic substances needed for certain enzymes to carry out their functions—required to convert food to an energy form our cells can utilize.

Assuming all vitamins and cofactors are available, the energy necessary for physiologic functions is derived from combining carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and (in some cases) alcohol with oxygen in a process known as oxidation. These energy substrates—molecules acted on by an enzyme—can thus be considered the “fuel” of the body.

The major form of chemical energy in the body is a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Energy is released when ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate.

ATP is regenerated by the metabolism of the macronutrient (food required in large amounts for optimum nutrition) energy substrates mentioned above as well as by the oxidation of amino acids.

Chemical Energy and Mitochondria

The energy needed to perform physical functions such as exercise comes from the chemical energy stored in ATP. ATP is the universal fuel used by all cells.

In general, food is digested and absorbed as its basic components (glucose and other simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids), which are then used for structural needs, stored away, or oxidized for energy.

The oxidation of nutrients into chemical energy involves complex biochemical pathways. The Krebs cycle, named for its discoverer, Sir Hans Adolf Krebs—and also known as the citric acid or tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle—involves a series of chemical reactions in which carbon structures derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are metabolized, with the production of ATP as a byproduct.

The TCA cycle operates inside mitochondria, which are specialized organelles within cells that are responsible for “digesting” nutrients and turning them into energy.

The energy and amino acid relationship.

Oxidation of Amino Acids for ATP Production

The majority of physical energy comes from the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates. However, every amino acid in the body can potentially be oxidized to produce ATP.

The amount of oxidation undergone by the essential amino acids (or EAAs)—the nine dietary amino acids that can’t be produced in the body and must be obtained from food—determines how much of each essential amino acid you need in a day.

The amount of protein synthesized by the body will decrease if a steady supply of EAAs is not maintained, leading to conditions such as muscle loss and impaired immune function. Therefore, any EAA that is oxidized must be replaced through the diet.

The oxidation of EAAs is important physiologically even though only a minimal amount of total energy production is derived from this process. For example, at rest, less than 10% of energy production comes from the oxidation of amino acids.

Exercise greatly increases the requirements for ATP, and part of that ATP comes from amino acid oxidation. This is one reason why the consumption of a number of whole foods and supplements, including whey protein, is recommended in the field of sports nutrition both pre-workout and post. However, amino acid oxidation does not increase uniformly during exercise.

Among the EAAs, there is a selective increase in the oxidation of leucine. However, even with the increase seen during exercise, leucine oxidation provides only about 3% to 4% of energy for ATP production. Yet leucine plays a crucial role in regulating protein synthesis and other metabolic processes, so extra leucine needs to be consumed after exercise to replace what was oxidized.

While amino acids, particularly EAAs, do not play a major role in overall energy production, there are a number of aspects of amino acid oxidation that are important for the body’s metabolic regulation. To understand the critical nature of EAA oxidation is to appreciate that the body regulates the availability of all EAAs at a relatively constant level.

Consuming a high-protein meal causes EAA availability to increase. This increased concentration of EAAs stimulates their oxidation and minimizes changes in EAA availability. By contrast, if you do not consume enough EAAs through your diet, metabolic adaptations occur that reduce the rate of EAA oxidation.

The oxidation of specific amino acids is important for the body. For example, the availability of certain amino acids depends on the oxidation of other amino acids.

Take tyrosine, for example. This amino acid is produced in the liver from the oxidation of the EAA phenylalanine. Maintaining an adequate amount of tyrosine in the blood is critical, as tyrosine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

Specific tissues and organs also have metabolic preferences for certain amino acids. Most prominently, glutamine (a nonessential amino acid) is a preferred substrate for the gut.

Amino Acids Augment Mitochondria

Only recently have we begun to appreciate the difference in energy levels the number of available mitochondria and their ability to operate at full capacity can make. Both amino acid supplementation and exercise are known to increase numbers of mitochondria and enhance their function.

By contrast, alcohol or drug use has been shown to induce mitochondrial defects by increasing oxidative stress and damaging mitochondrial genetic material—deoxynucleic acid, or DNA. When alcohol damages mitochondrial DNA, it impairs mitochondrial function, which further increases oxidative cell stress, leading to a vicious cycle of accumulating cell damage and decreased energy production over time.

Mental Energy: What Balances Our Brains?

Energy drinks typically contain caffeine (with a range of 6 to 242 mg of caffeine, according to Consumer Reports) and perhaps some B vitamins.

Whether used to help one wake up first thing in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up, these beverages clearly aid in sharpening concentration and increasing the body’s overall feeling of energy.

Surprisingly, when it comes to maintaining mental energy and focus, amino acids play as important a role as caffeine. In contrast to caffeine, however, amino acids impact mental energy by modulating neurotransmitters within the brain.

Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters are produced through the conversion of amino acids as they pass through the blood-brain barrier. In addition, two amino acids—glutamate and aspartate—are themselves considered neurotransmitters.

The interaction of neurotransmitters in the brain determines many aspects of behavior. To simplify a very complex system, the key determinant of mental energy is the balance between the neurotransmitters dopamine (excitatory) and serotonin (inhibitory).

The amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the brain are dependent on the availability of the precursors for their productionTyrosine is the amino acid precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan is the amino acid precursor of serotonin.

Tyrosine is also derived from the oxidation of phenylalanine. However, neither phenylalanine nor tryptophan is made in the body, as both are EAAs.

Increasing the amount of phenylalanine consumed in the diet will, via conversion to tyrosine, increase mental energy by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Conversely, increasing tryptophan consumption, such as through the use of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan, will induce a feeling of sleepiness or lack of energy by promoting serotonin production.

Amino Acid Balance and Mental and Physical Energy

Amino acids help support both physical and mental energy via a wide range of actions. While supplementation with individual amino acids may produce particular reactions, disrupting the body’s balance by consuming a single or small combination of amino acids may be counterproductive when it comes to other functions.

An amino acid supplement containing relatively high levels of phenylalanine (tyrosine is nearly insoluble and difficult to add to a dietary supplement) and low levels of tryptophan can provide mental sharpness and focus. However, an isolated increase in phenylalanine can also induce Parkinson-like symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Likewise, consumption of leucine can counter the accelerated rate of oxidation that occurs during exercise, but the use of leucine in isolation will activate the oxidation of valine and isoleucine, thereby limiting muscle protein synthesis.

Consequently, to replace the oxidized leucine and enhance post-workout muscle recovery, it is necessary to provide all three of the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Finally, all EAAs must be available in sufficient quantities to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the metabolic basis for increased muscle growth, strength, and function.

Hence, the gold standard approach for the maintenance of both mental and physical energy involves choosing a free-form amino acid formulation that takes into account not only the direct actions of the component amino acids but also the importance of maintaining a relative balance of EAAs to sustain maximal benefit.

Creatine: What It Is, What It Does and the Best Way to Benefit

Creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement. More than 500 papers have been published examining the response to supplemental creatine, generally on exercise performance. The large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

The amino acid creatine was first discovered in 1832, when the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul extracted the compound from meat. However, over 150 years passed before the public paid any attention.

It wasn’t until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that creatine finally rose to notoriety, when the performance of several British athletes so exceeded expectations that it was later revealed they’d incorporated creatine supplementation into their nutrition regimen.

Since then, interest in this amino acid has only grown, with creatine now being reported as the most widely used performance-enhancing compound by both amateur and professional athletes.

In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans consume almost 9 million pounds of creatine each year.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a nitrogenous compound synthesized from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. While it’s considered technically an amino acid as well, creatine isn’t one of the 20 amino acids used to build the proteins in our bodies. Rather, it helps support energy metabolism in the muscles.

Because of this, creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement in the world, with more than 500 papers already published examining the effects of supplemental creatine, especially on exercise performance. And, indeed, the large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

Where Does Creatine Come From?

As stated earlier, creatine is produced in the body, but we can also obtain the amino acid from the foods we eat, especially meat and fish. People who have low levels of creatine in their diet, particularly vegetarians, seem to benefit the most from creatine supplementation.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

How Does Creatine Help Exercise Performance?

Creatine supplementation actually performs two important functions for the muscles of the body.

  1. It provides the extra energy needed for high-intensity, short-duration exercise.
  2. It delivers that energy where it’s needed most.

Energy for High-Intensity Exercise

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine, or creatine phosphate (CP), in the muscles. CP serves as a source of energy for explosive exertion, such as that found in sprinting and weight training.

In addition, the muscles of the body are powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the major form of chemical energy needed for muscle contractions. However, muscles run through their supply of ATP very quickly, and something extra is necessary to help regenerate it.

This is where CP plays a role. CP is broken down by the muscles to provide the extra energy you need when you’re using more ATP than you’re regenerating in your mitochondria—the energy factories of the cell.

It’s this extra supply of energy (although quickly used up) provided as CP that’s credited with producing greater gains in muscle mass and strength from resistance training and improving performance in the high-intensity activities of athletes such as weight lifters and sprinters.

Energy Where It’s Needed Most

While it’s long been recognized that supplementing with creatine can increase the amount of CP in muscle—thereby improving athletic performance in areas that require more rapid use of energy than can be supplied by ATP production alone—the “energy carrier” role of the creatine-phosphocreatine system is less well appreciated.

Without the creatine-CP system, ATP would be unavailable to the contracting muscles because it’s this pathway that provides the cellular energy transport through which ATP moves from the mitochondria to the muscle cell site that needs it.

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Athletes

As mentioned earlier, creatine supplements are widely used by athletes, and the use of creatine has been shown to benefit those engaged in high-intensity, short-duration exercise.

Benefits of creatine for athletes may include:

  • Increased skeletal muscle mass
  • Increased muscle contraction speed
  • Increased strength
  • Improved muscle recovery
  • Enhanced fatigue resistance

However, the extent of the beneficial effect offered by creatine supplementation depends on how much is consumed in the normal diet and the athlete’s chosen sport.

For example, studies have shown that the benefits of creatine begin to wane after approximately 90 to 150 seconds. Therefore, athletes involved in endurance exercises such as long distance running wouldn’t achieve the same benefit with creatine supplements.

However, a recent study did show that creatine has the ability to raise the lactate threshold (the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than it can be removed), which would result in endurance athletes being able to exercise longer without fatiguing.

In athletes, the beneficial long-term effects of creatine, such as improvements to body composition based on increased lean body mass, are generally attributed to enhanced training capacity. For instance, creatine supplementation may enable you to lift heavier weights, which in turn would help your muscles grow larger.

But what about older adults? Would creatine supplements help them too?

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Older Adults

The process of aging is associated with decreased muscle mass, strength, and function. And as we grow older, our ability to perform resistance exercise or high-intensity training often decreases.

However, a review of the literature indicates that creatine supplementation—even without resistance training—seems to enhance muscle creatine stores, muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults. Creatine has been found to increase bone mineral density in this population as well.

Other studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of creatine on neurological function in both younger and older adults.

Because of positive results in animal studies, there was initially great interest in the possible benefits of creatine supplementation in Parkinson’s disease. However, a recent meta-analysis did not find evidence to support its use, though more studies were recommended.

Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation

According to the Mayo Clinic, supplemental oral creatine is generally considered safe for a period of up to 5 years. However, there is some evidence that the use of creatine in high doses may cause heart, liver, or kidney damage.

Other potential side effects include:

  • Water retention
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps

How to Supplement with Creatine

If you’ve decided you’re ready to add supplemental creatine to your diet, you need to know what forms are out there and when and how much you should take.

What Forms of Creatine Are Available?

Creatine is available in an almost bewildering array of forms. These include:

  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Creatine citrate
  • Creatine malate
  • Creatine ethyl ester
  • Creatine magnesium chelate
  • Creatine pyruvate

However, the best known and most studied form is by far creatine monohydrate. It’s also inexpensive and generally well tolerated by most individuals.

When Should You Take Creatine?

While creatine itself is not used for energy during exercise—unlike glycogen, your muscles’ primary source of fuel—as noted earlier, it does serve to transport energy in the mitochondria to contracting muscles.

Therefore, in theory, it shouldn’t matter whether you take it before your workout or after, especially when you consider its potential beneficial effect even without exercise.

A recent paper supports the notion that it’s preferable to take creatine—in the form of creatine monohydrate—after a workout. However, further inspection of the data the researchers used reveals that taking creatine after a workout really doesn’t make that much difference.

Other researchers have argued that the beneficial effect of creatine supplementation is more pronounced with pre-workout consumption, and still others maintain it doesn’t really make any difference.

The bottom line is that if there’s still a lot of debate on the best time to take creatine, the fact that you actually take it probably matters more than when you take it.

How Much Creatine Should You Take?

Taking as many as 20 grams of creatine powder or liquid a day for 5 days and as many as 5 grams a day thereafter is often recommended for optimal support of athletic performance.

However, doses at high levels such as these can cause undesirable side effects, including muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain, and dehydration.

It’s also likely that much smaller doses can help promote muscle growth and improved muscle function over time.

Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan, the typical daily dietary intake of creatine is about 1 gram, which is the same amount that’s produced in the body each day.

Therefore, a 1-gram dose of creatine would be approximately double the amount of creatine you get on a daily basis from your diet. This increase should be adequate to promote enhanced muscle protein synthesis—if supplemental essential amino acids (EAAs) are provided at the same time.

 Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

Why You Need Additional Amino Acids with Creatine

Whether you’re an athlete looking to maximize performance and muscle gain or simply moving into your golden years and seeking to increase or maintain muscle strength as you age, your success rests on muscle protein synthesis.

This is because the muscle-building process is dependent on the activation of muscle protein synthesis to increase muscle mass and strength—even in the absence of exercise. And muscle protein synthesis requires energy in the form of ATP as well as amino acids to help build muscle proteins.

While creatine alone can provide extra energy for muscle protein synthesis, without increased availability of all EAAs, only a limited amount of new muscle can be produced.

This is why results from creatine supplementation can be variable. If adequate amounts of EAAs aren’t available, there can be only minimal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

What do we mean by this?

As stated earlier, there are 20 different amino acids that make up the proteins responsible for the construction of muscle fibers. And nine of these—the essential amino acids—are not produced in the body. For new muscle protein to be created, all the EAAs are needed in proportions specific to the composition of each particular protein.

An EAA supplement is a powerful stimulus of muscle protein synthesis, but the amount of protein produced will ultimately be limited by how much energy (in the form of ATP) is ready to go at the site of muscle protein production. And this is where creatine comes in.

Creatine provides the necessary energy to support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. And, consequently, there’s an interactive effect between EAA availability and the amount of creatine in muscles.

In other words, while creatine supplementation alone can’t produce new muscle protein, the presence of extra creatine can enhance the stimulatory effect of supplemental EAAs by providing the additional energy needed for the production of new protein.

For those interested in all the benefits creatine has to offer, this is indeed a winning combination.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance