Amino Acid Pills vs. Powder: Which Is More Effective?

Amino acid pills vs. powdered supplements: why do you need amino acids, when do you need them, and which of these products works best? Discover the pros and cons of both delivery methods.

This article explores why you may need to take amino acid supplements, the difference between branched-chain amino acids and essential amino acids, plus the pros and cons of amino acid pills vs. powder supplements so you’ll know which one to choose for overall convenience and effectiveness.

Why Do You Need Amino Acids?

If you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, amino acids could be the boost you’re waiting for. Why is that? Because while both can be accomplished with increased muscle mass, you cannot build muscle without all nine essential amino acids.

Your amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is what you need for muscle growth. Essential amino acids (EAAs) are so-called because it’s essential that you ingest them—your body cannot make these amino acids on its own.

Your nine essential amino acids include: histidine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, methionine, valine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Without the proper amount of each of one, you won’t get protein synthesis for new muscle no matter how hard you work out, because your body simply doesn’t have the ingredients. It’s sort of like trying to make a cake with everything but flour, or trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the corner and side pieces missing. You can try, but you won’t get the desired result no matter how much time and effort you put in.

The Difference Between EAAs, Branched-Chain Amino Acids, and Other Protein Supplements

Many protein powders and amino acid supplements contain handfuls of amino acids, often the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are valine, leucine, and isoleucine. For example, creatine is a type of protein found in dietary protein (animal meats) and produced by some of your nonessential amino acids, while whey protein contains all EAAs in one amount or another (though not always the optimal amount of each).

Taking these products as dietary supplements pre-, during, or post-workouts can help prevent muscle soreness, boost muscle protein synthesis, and aid in muscle recovery. They can even help prevent muscle tissue loss while you sleep. The fitness-minded often use casein protein supplements for just that, due to its slow digestion rate (though amino acid supplementation prevents catabolism while you sleep just as well, if not better).

People take amino acid supplements to prevent muscle damage during workouts, to repair and build new muscle, and to keep the muscle gains they’ve made even as they sleep.

Amino Acid Pills or Powder: Which Works Best?

So much of sports nutrition is counting, measuring, weighing, and timing: wouldn’t a pill or capsule be so much easier? Think about it: pre-workout, just take a pill; post-workout, just take another pill! It sounds almost too good to be true, and by the end of this in-depth explanation, you may agree that is indeed the case.

Let’s talk about the difference between powdered and pill forms of these essential nutrients, and which one works better for athletic performance, weight loss, and muscle building.

Amino acid pills vs. powders.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Pills

When deciding between amino acid pills and powders, use this pros and cons cheatsheet.

Pros

The upsides to pill or capsule EAA supplements are easy to imagine: they’re as simple to transport as vitamins, can be taken with minimal (if any) water requirements, and involve zero mixing. They’re time-savers, they’re convenient, and they come pre-measured. What could go wrong?

Cons

One of the biggest cons: proper dosages. The amount of capsules, soft gels, or pills you would have to take pre-workout to meet the amounts of amino acids used in clinical studies might not be as convenient as you think, especially if you’re supplementing as a professional athlete or bodybuilder. You just can’t fit 25 grams of protein into a half-gram pill.

Another con: the digestion time. A capsule or tablet has be to be digested once consumed, and not only does that require time and energy, but it also means that whatever fillers or gelatin that’s keeping the pill together is also getting ingested, when all you really want are your essential amino acids.

During particularly high-intensity workouts, it’s helpful to take EAAs before, during, and after workouts in different amounts, and it’s hard to get the timing right if you’re ingesting pills instead of powder. Not only that, all the time spent measuring powder isn’t avoided if you have to keep doing math on the dosage amounts of pills.

Long story short: some substances work well in pill form, like caffeine, but not so much a full host of essential amino acids.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Powder

Pros

Amino acid powders, whether you’re using a complete EAA supplement or a medley of different protein supplements, are faster acting, longer lasting, and don’t involve swallowing large, hard objects. Amino acid powder products can give you anywhere from 10-30 grams of active ingredients in one serving, and puts them to work ASAP as soon as you ingest them.

Cons

Those supplement powder containers can be awfully big sometimes, so much so that there have actually been multiple class-action lawsuits filed against some companies based on the size of their containers being too big for the product itself, with consumers finding them half or even a third full. You can’t be carting a container big enough to be a drum to the gym and back every day, nor is it always convenient to blend up a shake just before leaving the office to go work out. It would be nice to get the EAAs that can step up your lean muscle mass in pill form, but…the pros and cons weigh more heavily in the direction of choosing powdered supplements over pills.

Take A Powder…Literally

At the end of the day, creatine, whey, weight-gain, EAA, and BCAA supplements simply don’t work well in pill form; you just need so much more than a pill or capsule can deliver in the right window of time. It’s less a question of personal preference than it is a basic math equation. The powdered forms of these amino acid supplements are superior when it comes to all the key points of effectiveness, though it is fun to dream of a day when you can get perfectly enhanced exercise performance from one little pill.

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.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

The best time to take protein supplements depends on your activity level, your personal goals, and the types of workouts you engage in. This article will provide you with specific, scientifically backed recommendations, and the reasoning behind that advice.

When taking protein supplements, people often wonder when exactly is the best time of day to consume them. Pre-workout? Post-workout? Is it okay to drink a protein shake before bed? Protein supplements can help people lose weight, build muscle, and recover from tissue damage due to injury or surgery. Because they’re so effective, most people want to be sure they’re utilizing protein the right way. So when is the best time to take protein? Short answer is: that depends on your health goals and the kinds of workouts you’re doing. For the longer answer and more detail, read on.

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

Protein is a source of energy for the body, essential for muscle growth, repairing damaged tissue, and preventing certain infections and diseases. Normal dietary protein comes from foods like meats, eggs, fish, dairy, grains, legumes, and seeds. Though animal products contain the most amount of protein, vegetables are sources of protein too, a fact well-known by those living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Of the most popular protein powders on the market in fact, a significant portion are plant-based.

Plant-based proteins include:

  • Soy protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Rice protein, which is lower in the essential amino acid lysine.
  • Pea protein, which has lower levels of the essential amino acid methionine and nonessential amino acid cysteine.
  • Hemp protein, which is low in lysine but high in fiber, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential, meaning your body can’t make them on its own, and needs to gain them from the foods you eat.

Dairy-based proteins include:

  • Whey protein, which is absorbed relatively quickly and contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Casein protein from milk curds, also containing the essential amino acids, and with a slower digestion rate than whey (which is why people often take casein before they sleep, so it will digest throughout the night… more on that timing below).

Animal-based proteins include:

  • Egg protein powder made from pure egg white protein.
  • Creatine, which is not found in plants but can be synthetically created. Though it is an animal protein, depending on its origin source, it may nevertheless be possible for vegans to use creatine as a supplement.

These are among the most commonly known protein powders available to buy, but we here at the Amino Co. have also developed an essential amino acid (EAA) blend that isn’t lacking or low on any of the amino acids required for protein synthesis and new muscle growth. It also blends free-form amino acids with whey protein and creatine, a nonessential protein that nevertheless has great value as a supplement. These forms of protein are used to help those who want to build muscle rapidly, and can even benefit those with muscle, neurological, or neuromuscular diseases.

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

From muscle building to weight loss, here’s a quick look at all that supplemental protein can do to benefit your body.

Exercise Performance and Recovery

Added protein has been shown to increase endurance during training and workouts, as well as reduce soreness and speed up post-workout recovery. The timing of your protein intake matters here, whether you’re eating high-protein foods or taking supplements. Read on to learn about workout-specific timing recommendations.

Muscle Building

Muscles can only be built when you have the proper amount of amino acids for protein synthesis, and when you’re consuming more protein than your body breaks down during workouts. Taking a protein supplement, especially one that contains all the necessary EAAs for muscle growth, can make a huge difference. Finding the right anabolic window, the period of time when the protein you take in will go directly to your muscles, is something the International Society of Sports Nutrition has done extensive research on, and we, too, will provide specific scientific reasoning below.

Muscle Loss Prevention

Muscle mass is lost not only during intensive workouts, but also naturally as we age. Each decade you live after the age of 30 brings with it a higher risk of losing muscle (anywhere between 3-8% per decade). Proper protein intake is not only valuable to athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who works out regularly, but it’s also important for each and every one of us as we age. Most Americans reserve their protein more for dinner than breakfast (3 times the amount on average is the difference between the two meals), and could use a supplemental boost of protein first thing in the morning to shore up their protein stores and help prevent the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

Fat Loss Facilitation

Protein is filling enough to help curb hunger pangs and chemically contributes to appetite suppression by reducing the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. A high-protein diet raises your metabolism and increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). More satiety means fewer calories consumed throughout the day, which quickly leads to safe, maintainable weight loss and the reduction of dangerous body fat.

The Enduring Power of Protein

Popular because they’re convenient and effective, protein powders and supplements are here to stay and can offer you a wide variety of options, from self-mix formulas and powders to ready-to-drink protein shakes. If you’ve got your preferred protein supplement ready to go, then it’s time to wonder: when should you drink protein?

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

Depending on your goals and activities, there are recommended times to take protein for the greatest effectiveness for your energy levels and muscle-building needs. Here are specific recommendations based on different types of workout activity.

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout and post-workout

The amino acid leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it promotes muscle recovery after workouts. Not only that, it activates protein synthesis, prompting new muscle to be built. One might think that due to leucine’s ability to boost endurance and stamina, one should take a BCAA supplement before a workout, but the science contradicts that idea. Not only are BCAAs only three of the nine essential amino acids needed to construct new muscle, leucine and the other BCAAs (isoleucine and valine) experience oxidative degradation during aerobic activity.

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

Adding these limited amino acids before your workout, especially in the unbalanced form of BCAAs instead of a complete EAA formula, means that a greater percentage will be oxidized and used for energy instead of muscle building. Your body does not want to be out of balance, so a sudden overabundance of a few amino acids will cause the body to clean up and reduce them in order to maintain equilibrium.

Rather than risk burning off the protein you put in because your body is only looking for energy sources, it’s better to take a full measure of EAAs within the hour after your aerobic workout, when your body is looking for supplies to rebuild. Leucine will be there to prompt muscle protein synthesis, and the rest of the essential amino acids will all be included in the ideal ratio for generating new muscle growth.

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

That being said, taking a complete amino acid protein supplement before an aerobic cardiovascular workout (like a high-intensity interval training or HIIT class), not only provides the necessary ingredients for muscle building, but also helps fight fatigue in a way that only taking BCAAs can’t, by fueling your body with the amino acids that help produce dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Whether you’re walking, cycling, running stairs, or jumping rope, start by taking your EAA supplement 30 minutes before your workout session. The biggest benefit comes when you take your EAA supplement within an hour after your workout, when your blood flow is strong and active. Not only will the amino acids rush in to replace damaged muscle fibers with new muscle, EAAs can also help calm unnecessary inflammation. That will help quicken your recovery, allowing you to feel only the good side effects of working out, like increased energy and light euphoria, instead of soreness and fatigue.

Resistance Exercise

Best time to take protein: Pre-workout, during, and post-workout

Research has shown that EAAs given 30 minutes before a resistance exercise workout prompt muscle protein synthesis much more effectively than consuming EAAs afterwards does. Taking a protein supplement before this type of workout helps prevent the breakdown of muscle protein during the activity, and also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus getting the amino acids quickly into the muscle where they’re needed.

Consuming EAAs after a resistance workout is not harmful by any means, as that method, too, will prompt the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, but it’s not ideal to leave the consumption of EAAs until after your resistance training is complete. Our recommendation is to first and foremost take a complete protein supplement before a resistance workout, and if possible take them throughout and/or after as well to get the most benefit.

Bodybuilding

Best time to take protein: Pre- and post-workout, and also before bed.

Immediately before and after a weight-lifting workout, we recommend that you take 15 grams of EAAs each. An EAA supplement has been shown to have a faster effect on muscle protein synthesis than either whey or casein protein alone. However, our Amino Co. blend of free-form EAAs with whey and creatine support ensures that you get a fast dose of EAAs and that the EAAs from whey will digest more slowly as you work out, offering a steady supply to help prevent muscle breakdown. Creatine helps prevent catabolism by supplying faster energy than your body can naturally generate from muscle cell mitochondria. This means more energy for more reps, which ultimately means more work put in and more muscle gained.

An hour after your post-workout dose of EAAs, we recommend another 15-gram dose. On off days, continue taking these same doses, measured between meals instead of surrounding your workout. Lastly, it’s also recommended you take another 15-gram dose before bed to keep your muscles fed as you sleep and to help prevent muscle breakdown as much as possible. You work hard to gain your muscles, and we encourage you to protect those gains at every opportunity. Set your alarm to take one more dose around 4 am if you know you won’t have a problem falling back to sleep, that way your muscles never go hungry for fuel.

It should be noted here that bodybuilders aren’t the only ones who benefit from taking extra protein before bed. One study of 16 elderly men showed that those who consumed casein protein (which digests slowly) before bed had increased muscle growth over those who took a placebo, despite being less active individuals. When you’re sleeping, it’s the protein that counts, and not the activity.

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

The majority of scientific studies into how our bodies process high amounts of protein show that you can safely consume plenty of protein without risk of harmful side effects. Unless your doctor advises against protein supplements or you have a known kidney issue like rhabdomyolysis, there is no need to worry about excessive protein intake; merely take your products as recommended and spread them throughout your day.

Timing Is Everything

At the end of the day, it’s true that people who work out need more protein, but even those with a less active lifestyle benefit from consuming extra protein for strength, for maintaining healthy weight levels, and for preventing the loss of muscle mass we all experience as we age.

Make a protein shake for breakfast, have another to curb your appetite between meals, and make another as a beneficial treat before bed. Know that the more regularly you take in balanced forms of protein like Amino Co.’s complete EAA blend, the more good you can do for your body. Whether you’re working out or not, upping your daily protein intake is safe and smart. Bulk up, slim down, and stay strong with protein!

Amino Acids and Muscle Protein Turnover: Keeping Your Muscles Strong and Healthy

Amino acids are the building blocks of the protein that makes up muscle. We know for certain that amino acids, particularly essential amino acids, stimulate the growth of new muscle proteins, keeping your muscles strong and healthy. Learn all about the relationship between amino acids and muscle health.

Muscle has always been recognized for its importance in mobility and physical activity, and there’s currently a newfound appreciation for the importance of maintaining muscle for better health outcomes. Likewise, there’s also a growing appreciation for the complex relationship that exists between amino acids and muscle tissue.

But before we proceed to discuss that relationship, let’s get comfortable with some key muscle terminology.

Three Components of Muscle Health

The process of building muscle (anabolism) is known as muscle protein synthesis, and the process of breaking down muscle (catabolism) is known as muscle protein breakdown. Muscle protein turnover refers to the cycle of muscle being made and broken down and then made again.

Here’s where amino acids come into the picture.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that make up muscle. And when there’s not a plentiful supply of amino acids coming from your diet—whether from whole food sources or supplements such as whey protein or other forms of protein powder—your muscles will release amino acids during muscle protein turnover so they can be used as needed by other organs and tissues.

Muscle can therefore be thought of as the main reservoir of amino acids for the body.

And in combination with a high-protein diet and/or amino acid and protein supplementation, weight training usually increases both muscle mass and strength.

So, muscle health comes down to three key components:

  • High-protein diet
  • Essential amino acid (EAA) supplementation
  • Regular weight training

Anabolic and Catabolic Stimuli

When we refer to anabolic stimuli, we’re talking about factors and lifestyle choices that promote the growth or synthesis of new muscle. These include:

  • Dietary protein intake
  • Exercise (particularly weight-bearing or resistance exercise)
  • Anabolic hormones (such as growth hormone and testosterone)

We know for certain that amino acids, particularly EAAs, stimulate the growth of new proteins.

Factors that are catabolic, or promote muscle breakdown and loss, include:

  • Low-protein diets
  • Low-energy diets
  • Illness and stress

During times of illness and stress, we have an increased need for amino acids to support immune system function and to respond to the actions of catabolic hormones that are released in response to stress.

Amino acids are the building blocks of the protein that makes up muscle.

Another Quick Lesson on Amino Acids and Muscle Protein

Muscles are made up of individual fibers constructed of proteins, and these proteins are made up of amino acids connected to one another in long strings of almost infinite variety.

Some amino acids are derived from dietary protein, but others are synthesized by the body via chemical reactions that occur in the liver and other select sites.

Amino acids that must be obtained from the diet are called EAAs, and amino acids that can be made in the body are called nonessential amino acids (NEAAs).

The Production of New Muscle Protein

Muscle proteins are assembled from amino acids using information encoded in our genetic material—deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The sequence of amino acids in a protein is unique and distinguishes one protein from another. But for protein synthesis to occur, all 20 “proteinogenic” (aka protein-creating) amino acids must be present.

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is the nucleic acid that carries instructions from the nuclear DNA—the DNA within each cell’s nucleus—into the part of the cell where protein is synthesized (ribosome).

There’s also another type of RNA known as transfer RNA (tRNA). Transfer RNA carries amino acids to the proper site for protein synthesis. When protein synthesis is taking place, enzymes link tRNA molecules to amino acids in a highly specific manner.

Transcription is one of the first processes to occur in protein synthesis, and it refers basically to the creation of the RNA strands that carry the genetic code.

The genetic code is then transferred to an amino acid sequence in a protein through a process known as translation. During this process, the amino acids carried by tRNA molecules are positioned sequentially and linked together.

One by one, amino acids are added to the growing chain until a signal to stop is received. After the protein has been synthesized completely, it’s removed from the cell structure that makes the protein for both further processing and to perform its function.

While all of this might seem complicated, a simple way to think about muscle protein synthesis is to compare it to the construction of a building.

The DNA is basically the idea for the design of the building. The mRNA is the written plan or blueprint, and transcription is the process of writing up that plan. The charged tRNA and process of translation—or tRNA plus its amino acid—are the construction company that builds the product by “putting the bricks together.” And the protein is the final product—or completed building—ready to serve its function.

Amino acids are the building blocks of the protein that makes up muscle.

There are many detailed molecular studies of all the independent steps along these complicated biochemical pathways of muscle growth and breakdown, but these don’t always predict what will be observed in human beings. For example, mRNA may be produced to initiate protein synthesis, but if amino acids are not available, the protein cannot be made.

What’s the Deal with Muscle Protein Breakdown?

It’s easy to understand the importance of muscle protein synthesis, as that’s the metabolic basis for muscle building. But why do muscles need to be broken down as part of muscle protein turnover?

We’ve already learned that muscle protein breakdown is essential when other important tissues and organs are in need of a constant supply of EAAs. However, muscle protein breakdown also helps improve muscle function.

You see, muscle fibers become damaged during exercise and unable to generate the same contractile force as new fibers. Without the process of muscle protein turnover, our bodies wouldn’t be able to get rid of the older, damaged fibers (protein breakdown) and replace them with new, better functioning ones (protein synthesis).

In fact, accelerated muscle protein turnover can improve exercise performance even if total muscle mass does not change. This is because a heavy workout induces local inflammation due to the damaged muscle fibers. But the more rapid the muscle turnover, the more quickly the post-workout inflammation will subside.

Amino Acids and Muscle

EAAs are the most potent stimulators of muscle protein turnover. Without an adequate supply of these amino acids, muscle protein turnover is limited because there are not enough EAAs to maintain muscle protein synthesis at an accelerated rate.

In order to stimulate muscle protein turnover, since EAAs can’t be produced in the body, you must get them from your diet. However, it’s difficult to get enough EAAs from food alone. This is where a balanced EEA supplement can come in handy.

Amino acid supplements can help improve skeletal muscle function without increasing muscle mass—if that’s your goal.

For example, an endurance runner will improve muscle function and decrease inflammation by consuming EAAs after a workout without adding extra muscle weight.

However, if you’re looking for strength gains and your goal is to increase muscle mass, then supplementing with an EAA powder is also a must. But to build muscle and add to the extra mass, you’ll want to be sure you’re consuming EAAs with sufficient calories from non-protein sources.

Whether you’re interested in increasing muscle mass or muscle function, or simply want to grow old with as much ease and mobility as possible, supporting healthy muscle protein turnover is essential. And striving to achieve a balanced intake of EAAs each day will help ensure all these goals are within your reach.

Stay Hydrated! 14 Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much water without being replaced. Preventing dehydration is especially critical for people who are active or who sweat a great deal. Read on for 14 must-know signs of dehydration.

The human body is 70% water. Fluids are important for protecting the joints, maintaining organ function, transporting oxygen to cells, and sustaining body temperature. Dehydration, which is most common during hot weather or strenuous workouts, happens when the body loses too much water without being replaced. Even mild dehydration can produce symptoms such as mood swings, headaches, muscle cramps, and fatigue.

Perspiration, hot weather, sun exposure, and lack of fluids throughout the day cause dehydration, which is the main determinant of heat exhaustion, which, in turn, can lead to life-threatening heat stroke. Preventing dehydration is especially critical for people who are active or who sweat a great deal. Read on for 14 must-know signs of dehydration.

Causes of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids exceeds the intake. More water is exiting individual cells and the body than the amount of water ingested through drinking. When this happens, the body loses enough fluid to undermine its capability to function normally, and then demonstrates symptoms of the fluid loss. While infants and young children have a greater risk for dehydration, many adults, especially older adults, have critical risk factors.

People lose water every day when expelling body fluids, along with salts and electrolytes, and as water vapor when exhaling. Bodies are always readjusting the balance between intake and release of water, salts, and electrolytes. Losing too much fluid puts the body out of balance, or dehydrates. Mild and moderate dehydration can be adjusted by drinking fluids containing electrolytes or salts. Severe dehydration can be critical or even life-threatening.

Many conditions can increase your risk of dehydration:

  • Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased urination when ill
  • Heat exposure, humid weather, too much exercise, or work-related activity
  • Diseases such as diabetes
  • Inability to seek appropriate water and food
  • Impaired ability to drink
  • Lack of access to safe drinking water
  • Skin infections or injuries

14 Signs of Dehydration

The symptoms of dehydration can sneak up on you, so beware of the most common dehydration alerts!

1. Fatigue

People feel very sluggish or tired when they are dehydrated. Chronic dehydration reduces blood flow and blood pressure because of decreased water content and oxygen in the blood. Muscles and nerves cease to function after exertion. The heart has to work harder to keep the skin and muscles supplied with oxygen and nutrients, which can cause you to feel drowsy or lethargic. When you feel fatigued after an illness, doctors recommend rest and fluids. Most bodily functions are impacted by fluid balance, making small changes significant in daily performance and activities.

2. Skin Elasticity Loss

Doctors pinch the skin to see how fast it bounces back. Skin that is properly hydrated snaps back to normal quickly, but dehydrated and dry skin stays elevated and goes back to normal slowly. Hydration keeps skin looking young and minimizes sagging. Properly hydrated skin looks doughy, while dehydrated skin demonstrates a lack of resilience and elasticity.

3. Lightheadedness, Confusion, and Irritability

When blood pressure drops because of dehydration, standing up too quickly causes dizziness, a condition called orthostatic hypotension. Severe dehydration can lead to intense confusion and dizziness. Dehydrated infants and children may become irritable, fussy, and confused, while blood pressure falls. A dehydrated person may seem delirious and lose consciousness.

Even mild levels of dehydration can affect mood and cognitive functions. Dehydration reduces water volume by 1.5%, impacting a person’s mood, energy, and ability to think coherently. Changes in electrolyte levels can also change levels of serotonin, which affects mood changes.

In physical activity, the body directs blood to the muscles. Dehydration removes the ability to direct enough blood to the brain, producing a dizzy spell. Exertion raises body temperature and breathing rate, diluting blood vessels in the brain and causing dizziness or lightheadedness.

4. Constipation

Water absorption is needed for proper digestion, including bowel movements. Fluids move things along, through the intestines and out of the body. Water maintains smooth and malleable intestinal walls. If you are dehydrated, the colon redirects fluid into the bloodstream.

5. Muscle Cramps

Hydration and electrolyte balance are critical to muscle contraction. If sodium and potassium levels are low, you can experience painful muscle spasms. If a muscle is unable to relax, there can be a muscle cramp or spasm. Dehydration can turn muscle spasms into muscle cramps when muscles contract and harden for a period of time, from a few seconds to a few hours. Hydrating can reduce the pain and eliminate continued cramping.

Lack of adequate fluid makes muscles hypersensitive. When the nerves that connect to the muscles are not surrounded by adequate water and sodium, there can be involuntary muscle contraction or spasms causing muscle cramps.

6. Discolored Urine

Concentrated, discolored urine indicates dehydration. When blood pressure levels fall, the kidneys try to store water instead of removing it from the body. Medications, foods, and certain diseases can change urine color as well.

7. Minimal Urine

The quantity of urine can predict a person’s state of hydration. It is a sign of dehydration if someone goes without a bathroom visit for a period of 4 to 6 hours. Children who become dehydrated can also produce a lack of wet diapers.

If urine is both minimal and discolored, it is likely that dehydration is the culprit. Dehydration occurs when the volume of water in the body is depleted. Kidneys, which filter waste, tell the body to retain water. Thus, there is less water in the urine, making it more concentrated and darker.

8. Heart Rate Increases

Dehydration is associated with plunging electrolyte levels, causing increased heart rate and heart palpitations or spasms in the actual heart muscle. When blood pressure decreases, breathing and heart rate accelerate to show potential dehydration.

9. Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure occurs when the blood flow is not sufficient for transporting enough oxygen and nutrients to various organs. While low blood pressure does not always signify dehydration, blood pressure can sometimes drop because of a lack of fluid in the body. When low blood pressure is caused by dehydration, fluid intake facilitates an increase in blood volume, which then helps increase the blood pressure reading.

10. Overheating

Fluid levels keep body temperatures regulated to avoid overheating or having heat stroke. Overheating can come from physical exertion or being in a hot environment. Bring water when working out or being outdoors in the heat.

11. Lack of Tear Production

Dehydrated children and adults can cry and stop producing tears. Adults can have dry mucous membranes, making the nose, mouth, and tongue dry and sticky. Eyes may appear sunken.

12. Dry Mouth

Dehydration can be indicated by a dry throat, mouth, and tongue. Some people feel hunger when dehydrated, which is why a University of Washington study indicated that a single glass of water can easily stop nighttime hunger pangs in almost all cases. Late stage hydration manifests as “dry mouth,” that dry, parched, thick feeling in the mouth that many of us have experienced.

13. Bad Breath

A person who is well hydrated has sufficient saliva in the mouth to keep it adequately moistened. Saliva has antibacterial properties to regulate bacterial growth in the mouth. When dehydrated, lower saliva production causes bacterial overgrowth that leads to bad breath.

14. Headaches

Dehydration can trigger stress that can cause a headache because it alters the body’s natural balance. The headache warns people that their physiological equilibrium is unbalanced.

Another reason for headaches is liquid deprivation, making the blood more concentrated and causing inflammatory proteins in the circulatory system to irritate nerves surrounding the brain.

The most serious warning signs of dehydration include:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Extremely dark, yellow urine
  • Parched skin
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Accelerated breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Fainting

If left untreated, dehydration can bring on confusion, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, weakness, pneumonia, and even death.

Dehydration Diagnosis

In addition to assessing your dehydration symptoms, doctors will start diagnosing dehydration by taking your blood pressure, which will be low. To ascertain just how dehydrated someone is, further tests are typically ordered. Blood tests measure electrolyte levels, especially sodium and potassium, as well as kidney function. Tests performed on the urine can determine the effects of dehydration and its extent and check for a bladder infection.

Dehydration Treatment

To treat dehydration, replace lost fluids and lost electrolytes. The best treatment approach depends on age, severity, and cause.

An over-the-counter oral rehydration solution formulated with water and salts is a helpful way to restore lost fluids and electrolytes to infants and children. Adults likewise need to replenish with fluids when experiencing mild to moderate dehydration from diarrhea, vomiting, or fever. Individuals who work or exercise outdoors in hot and humid conditions can stay hydrated with cool water or sports drinks containing electrolytes and a carbohydrate solution.

If children and adults are severely dehydrated, they need to be treated by emergency personnel who restore fluid volume and seek underlying causes. Hospitals can administer salts and fluids through a vein, enabling quick absorption to speed recovery time.

Home remedies can help with mild to moderate dehydration. They include:

  • Sipping small amounts of water
  • Drinking carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks, such as sports drinks
  • Sucking on popsicles made from juices and sports drinks
  • Sucking on ice chips
  • Sipping through a straw
  • Removing or loosening clothing
  • Being in an air-conditioned or fan-cooled area
  • Using a wet towel, spray bottle, or mister

Dehydration Prevention

Dehydration is easy to prevent. Preparation goes a long way.

  1. Drink plenty of fluids, including sports drinks that contain electrolytes, and bring water bottles to outdoor events and work areas where increased sweating, activity, and heat stress can increase fluid loss.
  2. Replace fluids at a rate equal to the loss.
  3. Avoid exercise and exposure when there is high air temperature with high humidity. Plan outdoor events at other times.
  4. Give older people, infants, and children enough drinking water and fluids containing electrolytes. Encourage incapacitated or disabled people to drink and give them adequate fluids.
  5. Minimize alcohol consumption in hot weather, because it increases water loss and interferes with the ability to notice early signs of dehydration.
  6. Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing and carry a personal fan or mister.
  7. Limit exposure to hot temperatures. Find air-conditioned or shady areas for cooling.
  8. Clemson University has developed recommendations for fluid intake when a person needs to endure outside activity in hot weather:
    1. Drink 2 cups of plain water (or diluted fruit juice) during the 2 hours before exercising; 1 to 2 cups within 15 minutes of the activity.
    2. Drink 1/2 to 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.
    3. Drink 3 cups for each pound of body weight lost.

Dehydration Prognosis

If dehydration is treated and the cause is determined, most people will recover well. If the cause is heat exposure, too much exercise, or decreased water intake, dehydration is easy to remedy. Severe dehydration is challenging, and the prognosis depends on how well the underlying cause responds to treatment.

Know the 14 signs of dehydration.

 

 

What’s with Wearable Fitness Technology?

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology and what are your best options?

Wearable fitness devices have become all the rage. Just scope out all the gym rats glancing down at their wrists between sets! You’ve probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

The craze began with basic wearables like pedometers, heart rate monitors, and calorie counters, and has morphed into more sophisticated devices that can track all your fitness data. Wearable fitness devices track your heart rate, the distance you travel, how many calories you burn, and how much exercise you do each day. Set your fitness and health goals, and your fitness tracker will alert you when you’ve reached them. Some of these devices can connect to apps on your smartphone to measure your long-term progress and share your data with fitness groups.

Best Fitness Trackers

Wearable fitness devices have become popular in recent years. You have probably seen people wearing fancy watches that can track heart rate and fitness activities, but just what exactly is wearable fitness technology?

Fitbit

With the promise of multi-day battery life, Fitbit has a variety of activity trackers to suit your needs and budget. No matter which model you choose, you’re covered with distance, calorie burn, and step counting, while more sophisticated models also offer heart and sleep monitoring.

An upgrade from the Fitbit Charge 2, the Fitbit Charge 3 features a streamlined design and the smartwatch features you depend on. Lightweight with a grayscale touchscreen display, the Charge 3 monitors heart rate and daily steps, and jumps on board automatically to track workouts and even menstrual cycles for women if you wish. You can also take texts and calls and check your social media accounts on this handy wearable device.

Or you can get fit with the more top-of-the-line Fitbit Ionic or Fitbit Versa fitness trackers. They’ve got more app compatibility, better visuals on the screen, and built-in GPS. If you’re willing to splurge, then the Ionic or Versa are sweet upgrades.

Garmin

A smart option for runners and outdoorsy types, the Garmin Vivosport is lightweight with an integrated GPS and heart rate monitor. This water-resistant tracker does everything from sleep tracking to workout tracking. It helps you measure your fitness goals with personal records and a virtual pacer, and you can sync up with the Garmin Connect app to track your metrics over time.

Want a slimmer, sleeker, slightly cheaper Garmin option? You could opt for the Vivosmart 4, which is a lighterweight choice that also comes equipped with a Body Battery Energy Monitor so you know when to go hard and when to back off, as well as a function that measures your oxygen saturation levels. Still, you won’t get the GPS integration function with the Garmin Vivosmart and may miss the better lit display of the Vivosport.

And then there’s the least expensive option, the Garmin Vivofit, which is a slim-fitting fitness tracker that tracks the basics—steps, distance, calories, sleep—but doesn’t have all the smart functions you may desire.

Apple Watch Series 4

Leave it to Apple to make its mark on the fitness industry. The Apple Watch is for iOS users looking for the best of the best in fitness trackers. It’s compatible with most third-party fitness apps, boasts GPS tracking, changes in altitude, onboard heart rate monitoring, and even an electrocardiogram app certified by the FDA. Your Apple Watch comes complete with Bluetooth and Siri, all in typical Apple style.

Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Android users can get onboard the fitness tracker train with the Samsung Gear Fit2Pro, complete with GPS technology and smartwatch bells and whistles. It has an ultra-detailed display, it monitors your heart rate, and it tracks your fitness data. Samsung has designed a fitness tracker with a minimalist look that stores and streams music, tracks typical fitness metrics, is water resistant, and features a top-notch display. And yes, you can still get social and take phone calls and texts.

Withings Steel HR Sport

Withings emerged onto the wearable tech market in 2015 with its Activité Pop smartwatch, and it’s holding strong among the best wearable fitness tech companies in 2019 with its newly released Steel HR Sport. This hybrid watch is stylish, with a traditional analog face and integrated smartwatch features, GPS connectivity, and activity tracking. It measures your steps in percentages, monitors your sleep, and tracks your heart rate and VO2 max so you know how much oxygen you’re using when exercising. If you’re looking for subtlety with all the digital dressings, the Steel HR Sport might be your favorite.

Moov Now

Perhaps the best wearable fitness tracker for those on the budget, the Moov Now is noted for its outstanding 6-month battery life, and while it doesn’t have the fancy trappings of many of the other fitness trackers on this list, it will keep track of your steps, your boxing and rep-based activities, and even monitor your swimming and running goals as well as your sleep.

Polar Loop

An “activity band with smart guidance” this wearable fitness tracker offers the same functions as the others, tracking sleep, calories, and steps. Sync it up with your smartphone to account for goal setting and reminders, and enjoy the personalized guidance and motivation throughout your day. Rest easy knowing its waterproof and durable.

Smartwatch

Skagen created the Signatur Connected Hybrid Smartwatch, a classier option compared to a standard smartwatch. The company specializes in elegant, smart devices that do not look like wearable tech. This watch tracks activities, and it synchronizes with your smartphone. This is an excellent choice if you are looking for a more sophisticated wearable.

Smart Shoes

This option is considered “invisible” wearable tech. Under Armour, for example, has integrated a fitness tracker right into the soles of the shoes, so you do not need to wear a smartwatch to record your fitness data. These smart shoes have an accelerometer that records running metrics, as well as Bluetooth, and keeps all metrics logged in an app.

Science and Benefits

The National Institutes of Health says that if you walk fewer than 5,000 steps per day, you have a sedentary lifestyle—if you take more than 10,000 steps per day you are considered “active.”

With reminders and accountability tools, wearable fitness trackers can help people get more active. Using a smartwatch can also reduce the strain of upper vertebrae, known as “text neck” and cervicalgia, because wearers raise their arms to look at wrist-worn displays instead of lowering their heads to look at the phone.

Another benefit of wearable technology is that it helps you engage with your surroundings. “What we’re really trying to achieve is the idea of freedom from your phone,” says David Ng, a wearable product manager for Samsung. Trackers that monitor your heart rate are also great because they can keep track of your resting heart rate—a key value when it comes to hypertension and heart disease.

Science, however, has not been so in awe of wearable fitness technology.

Research published by the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that activity trackers had no effect on health and fitness. The results of another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that subjects who didn’t use fitness trackers lost more weight than the group that used wearable fitness technologies.

When considering the less-than-stellar findings, it’s important to note that most existing studies, including the two mentioned above, used devices that are several years old—outside experts agree that fitness tech is improving.

“There are two things, specifically, that apps and devices are actually getting better at,” said Mitesh Patel, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In his opinion, the first is leveraging social networks to foster competition and support. A study, conducted by Liza Rovniak, a Penn State psychologist, showed that support networks are effective at increasing physical activity in unmotivated adults. The second factor devices are improving, according to Patel, is goal setting. He sustains that the problem with early fitness trackers was that they all used the same goal (step count) and they all set the bar way too high. Today’s fitness wearables tailor their feedback to users’ individual habits, instead of telling you to take 10,000 steps.

Of course, there will always be people who prefer to track their own progress and go to the doctor to measure heart rate. But wearable tech is an excellent option to consider if you want to develop a new relationship with your fitness routine, but you can also decide to keep on working out the traditional way, without any wearable fitness technologies—the important thing is that you find time to exercise!

Should I Take Amino Acids Pre-Workout?

The before, during, or after debate on amino acids for working out can leave you utterly confused as to when you should take your amino acid supplement. I’ll cover the details, but the quick and easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes!

The before, during, or after debate on amino acids for working out can leave you utterly confused as to when you should take your amino acid supplement. I’ll cover the details, but the quick and easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes! An amino acid pre-workout powder can help support muscle building, reduce the breakdown of muscle, increase blood flow to the muscle during your workout, and help prevent fatigue and boost performance.

Why Amino Acids Make Ideal Pre-Workout Supplements

You’re taking your sports nutrition goals seriously. You load your plate with whole foods and make sure to prioritize quality protein at every meal. Maybe you’re even incorporating protein powder or other dietary supplements into your regimen. You commit to each training session. You should be seeing major muscle growth gains and yet, you seem to be stuck.

The problem may be that you’re ignoring just how essential a role the fittingly named essential amino acids play when it comes to increasing your muscle mass. No matter how much time you put into weight training, if you fail to provide your muscles with the raw materials they need to grow, you won’t see the results you’re craving.

Key Facts About Amino Acids

You may have heard amino acids described as the building blocks of protein. That’s not a bad description, but it doesn’t entirely do justice to the importance of amino acids.

Not only do amino acids provide structural integrity to protein, but they’re also vital to the synthesis and metabolism of proteins, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters. They regulate the activity of numerous metabolic pathways. They contribute to cognitive function. In short, amino acids are involved in just about everything that occurs inside the human body.

There are 20 amino acids present in the human body. Nine of those are called essential amino acids because unlike the others, your body cannot synthesize them de novo—in plain English, they can’t be made from scratch. Instead, it’s essential that you supply your body with these amino acids via the food you eat or supplements you take.

Researchers have categorized six of the other amino acids as conditionally essential. Under most circumstances, your body can produce these amino acids, but when you’re under extreme duress, that ability becomes compromised.

The remaining four amino acids get grouped together as nonessential. In some instances, you’ll see people refer to 11 nonessential amino acids—when they do so, they’re simply lumping in the 7 conditionally essential amino acids listed above. Your body absolutely needs the nonessential amino acids, but it also has the ability to synthesize them, so it’s nonessential that you get them from your diet.

The easy answer to the question should I take amino acids pre-workout is yes! An amino acid pre-workout powder can help support muscle building and boost performance.

When it comes to using amino acid supplements to facilitate muscle growth and muscle recovery, all the key players can be found on that list of the nine essential amino acids. Here are some key facts about what each of these amino acids does inside your body.

Phenylalanine 

The analgesic (pain-killing) and antidepressant properties of this amino acid typically spark the most excitement. It’s also a precursor to norepinephrine and dopamine, two of the feel-good brain chemicals. When it comes to sports nutrition, the primary benefit of phenylalanine is that due to its ability to raise norepinephrine and dopamine levels in your brain, it may lower your rate of perceived exertion during exercise, helping you stay in a positive headspace through even the most grueling endurance exercise workouts. Our bodies also need phenylalanine to produce metabolism-regulating thyroid hormones.

Valine

A true power player when it comes to muscle synthesis, valine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA)—more on these later. One of valine’s main functions is preventing muscle breakdown. That means if you take valine prior to or during an exercise session, it can help decrease muscle damage, allowing you to recover faster. Valine also stimulates your central nervous systems and regulates blood sugar levels.

Threonine

This amino acid helps keep your connective tissues and muscles strong and elastic, in part because it’s a precursor for two other amino acids: serine and glycine. The benefits of glycine have received a lot of attention from researchers lately. Studies show it can encourage muscle growth as well as decrease muscle loss, among other desirable effects. Threonine can also shorten the time it takes your body to heal wounds and recover from injuries. Plus, it supports healthy fat metabolism and stops fat from building up in the liver.

Tryptophan

Another amino acid that serves as a precursor for a feel-good brain chemical—in this case, serotonin, which can help quell physical sensations of pain. That means boosting your tryptophan can increase your tolerance for pain during challenging workouts. The human body also needs tryptophan to manufacture vitamin B3, which ensures your blood sugar levels stay balanced, forestalls free radical damage, and stymies the accumulation of cholesterol.

Isoleucine

Like valine, isoleucine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid. It’s a crucial component of hemoglobin, the protein in your red blood cells that transports oxygen. Our bodies also use isoleucine for muscle repair, which means upping your isoleucine levels lets you bounce back faster from taxing workout sessions.

Methionine

The principal task of this amino acid is to assist your body with metabolizing fat. Plus, it provides your body with the sulfur it needs to produce glutathione, its most abundant antioxidant compound, as well as cysteine and taurine, two other amino acids that contain sulfur. Thanks to its lipotropic properties, methionine can safeguard your liver function by preventing the buildup of fats.

Histidine

This amino acid, which has some antioxidant properties itself, is a precursor to histamine and helps your body synthesize carnosine. This can directly impact your physical performance because histamine can flush the potentially damaging free radicals generated during exercise from your system, while caronsine keeps lactic acid from accumulating in your muscles.

Leucine

Along with valine and isoleucine, leucine is both an essential amino acid and a branched-chain amino acid. It’s the most abundant amino acid found in human muscle tissue. In addition to enhancing stamina and endurance as well as promoting muscle recovery, leucine initiates the process of protein synthesis and helps to maintain your body’s nitrogen balance and energy supplies.

Lysine

Research indicates that lysine can simulate the release of growth hormone, meaning it can offer vital support to your muscle-building efforts. Lysine also ensures you body properly absorbs calcium. Plus, it demonstrates significant antiviral properties and encourages the production of antibodies, making it a phenomenal immune system booster.

Understanding Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Scientific analysis shows that 35% of your muscle protein is composed of three essential amino acids: valine, isoleucine, and leucine. These are, as you may have noticed if you’ve been paying close attention, the infamous branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids get their name from their molecular structures, which have distinctive, branch-like shapes.

The popularity of BCAA supplements with athletes skyrocketed based on studies indicating that they can help to reduce physical fatigue, sharpen mental focus, decrease muscle breakdown, preserve muscle glycogen stores, stimulate muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle soreness, and more.

Leucine, found in high concentrations in whey protein, is arguably the most important BCAA. But as I mentioned earlier, simply increasing your intake of dietary protein or even adding a whey protein supplement is not the most effective way to benefit from leucine or other amino acids. When taken in supplement form, amino acids can be digested and absorbed more quickly, which maximizes their impact.

As I’ve discussed in previous articles, taking BCAA supplements is also not the most effective way to increase muscle concentrations of these beneficial compounds. There’s no question that BCAAs facilitate muscle growth and optimize athletic performance, but when you take them on their own, they have a minimal impact.

That’s because in order for your body to build complete proteins, it requires all the essential amino acids—and in their appropriate concentrations. Taking a supplement that contains only BCAAs throws off your amino acid balance. Taking an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement that contains the appropriate ratios of all the amino acids needed for protein synthesis is a far better way to amplify your muscle-building results.

When Should I Take My Amino Acids?

Now that you have an increased understanding of how amino acids prevent protein breakdown, facilitate healthy weight loss, improve recovery, and increase energy levels, among other benefits pertinent to those engaged in various physical pursuits, let’s discuss the optimal timing for taking an amino acid supplement.

One of the main reasons to take amino acids for fitness is to build muscle. When you exercise, muscle breaks down in order to release amino acids for the energy the muscles need to contract. Some of the released amino acids are used to rebuild the lost muscle protein. But many of the amino acids are oxidized and cannot be used for muscle protein synthesis. That’s where taking amino acids pre-workout comes in. They help replace the amino acids that are oxidized when your muscle protein breaks down as you exercise.

Taking an amino acid pre-workout powder before resistance exercise is especially important to maintaining and building muscle mass. During resistance exercise blood flows to the muscles at an increased rate. When you ingest amino acids pre-workout, there are more essential amino acids available to strengthen and build muscle.

Taking amino acids before a cardiovascular workout, such as a high-intensity interval training (HIIT class), can help reduce fatigue by balancing the uptake of amino acids that are responsible for the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

That said, taking amino acids after a workout (within an hour after exercise) gives your body a boost when it comes to replacing damaged muscle fibers with new muscle protein. Essential amino acids are also important for reducing inflammation, thereby accelerating workout recovery.

To maximize all the beneficial effects of amino acids, it’s best to take a high-quality essential amino acid blend both before and after exercise. If you’re carrying out a resistance-training regimen, you may also see benefits from taking amino acids during your training sessions. This approach to amino acid supplementation is optimal for improving muscle strength as well as accelerating recovery.

A Personal Reflection on Exercise for Older Adults

As we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

There’s no doubt about it: physical activity helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life. But as we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

New to Exercise? Here Are Some Tips!

If you haven’t exercised in years, you might benefit from some help from a certified exercise trainer to develop a program specifically designed for your capabilities and goals. You’ll see benefits from almost any type of exercise, so a trainer may not be necessary if you are otherwise healthy and mobile with good knowledge of the proper form for strength exercises. Just start cautiously and build up slowly. The key to making exercise part of your life is to do something you enjoy. From walking to swimming to tai chi…it all works!

Some of the best types of exercises are those which use your own body weight for resistance, which reduces the risk of injury while still being an effective way to build muscle strength and even muscle mass. Some examples are push-ups, including wall push-ups, resistance band exercises, balance exercises, chair squats, water aerobics, and even brisk walking. Combined with flexibility exercises, research shows these low-impact exercises contribute to better balance with a reduced risk of falls, improved overall physical health, and enhanced quality of life.

Regardless of what type of workouts or exercise program you engage in, it will be necessary to push yourself, both to create the exercise habit and to reach new performance and fitness gains. You are actually in a pretty enviable position, because you should see some rapid improvement as soon as you begin to train. The improvement will be especially dramatic if you couple your exercise with premium essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. And what better motivation to continue exercising than results you can see!

It’s also important to moderate your expectations. Please be aware that at some point you will plateau in your progress. This is a normal part of developing and sustaining fitness. When you hit a plateau, you just need to push harder and increase your activity levels to keep improving. Resist the urge to baby yourself! You are capable of more than you realize.

The key to success is consistency. You have to make exercise a nonnegotiable time of the day. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is the surest way to maintain the consistency that you need.

An Exercise Pro? I’ve Still Got Tips!

If you are an exercise aficionado, you’re starting with the tremendous advantage of being in much better shape than the average person your age. Even so, I’m guessing you still face challenges. The challenges are part physical and part psychological, and the two aspects may merge together indistinguishably. I can relate, as I fall into this group and have talked with many former athletes in the same situation.

When I was young, my athletic focus was basketball. I was even drafted by the Warriors into the NBA. When my basketball career ended, I took up distance running seriously. Although not a world-class runner, I nonetheless embraced the challenge of setting both short- and long-term goals, and I trained hard to reach those goals. Being a scientist, I approached training for marathons methodically. I carefully recorded every workout in detail, including distance, time, etc. I did interval workouts twice per week and recorded every split of every interval. I raced steadily from age 25 until last year at age 69 when I had my hip replaced.

As I got older, I faced the same challenges that all of my friends who ran faced. Injuries became more frequent and it took longer to recover, not just from injuries, but from workouts. What was most discouraging was that, regardless of my workouts, I inevitably got progressively slower over the years. At 65, I was still trying to do the same program as when I was younger, but with drastically less success. I was running quarter-mile intervals at a considerably slower pace than I could maintain for an entire 26-mile marathon when I was younger. Intellectually, I understood that the days of 65-second quarter-mile intervals were long in the rearview mirror, but psychologically, it was much harder to accept. I would look at the workouts in my running log that I used to do and feel overwhelmingly discouraged at the decline in my ability. I could understand why almost everyone I knew from years of running had given it up.

At some point, I decided that I would rather keep running at a slower pace and within my reduced capabilities than quit altogether. This is a realistic modification when it comes to exercise for older adults. I retired the old running logs and started a new one so I could train refreshed. I wish I could say that, all of a sudden, I saw the light and loved running again, but it doesn’t really work that way. I still get frustrated when I’m jogging and someone breezes by me like I’m standing still. Nonetheless, I have made enough peace with my current abilities that I keep plugging away every day. I now take naps after good workouts, as I recognize I don’t recover very fast anymore. I never question why I am still working out—it’s just what I do.

The moral of my personal story is to keep doing whatever activity or sport you love. As difficult as it may be, it’s productive to move past the dismay of needing to play from the forward tees on the golf course when you used to play from the tips, or the disappointment you feel because you can only play doubles in tennis now. The benefits of participation in activities you enjoy trump any of these psychologically “negative” aspects. The social aspect of joining workout classes in the gym or a golf group is a great hack for adjusting to retirement. You just need to let go of what you used to do, and be happy with what you can do now.

Supplements for Seniors

I have found that using an EAA supplement before and after exercise has benefited my training tremendously, especially when it comes to recovering faster. I take a pre-workout beverage that seems to give me energy to get started and sustains my effort throughout the workout. I also take a post-workout muscle support supplement that seems to reduce inflammation and improve my gains in strength.

I have seen firsthand how combining EAA supplements with exercise positively influences body composition. One of the advantages of my line of work as a researcher is that I have been able to measure my body composition on a regular basis for the past 45 years.

When I was young and training twice a day for competitions, I had about 4% body fat. I predictably gained fat and lost muscle with time, despite continued training. At 65, my body fat was 22% of my body weight. Two years ago, at age 69, I started combining EAA supplements with my normal exercise routine. Even with the surgical stress of a hip replacement, I have increased my lean body mass and reduced my fat mass to slightly less than 20%. It is remarkable to have your body composition moving in a positive direction when you are in your 70s! And I entirely credit the regular use of EAA supplements in conjunction with my habitual exercise routine for the improvements in both body composition and performance that I have experienced in the last couple of years. I hope I’ve inspired you to follow suit!

Exercise for older adults helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life.

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone. Increasing muscle strength and mass requires a close interaction between exercise, daily diet, and EAA supplementation. Let’s take it step by step.

In a previous blog post, I covered aerobic exercise and how essential amino acid (EAA) supplements can be used to mitigate the effects of muscle breakdown and improve performance. But what about combining EAA supplements and resistance training? Does that lead to any impressive benefits?

If you’ve spent any time in the company of individuals seeking to increase their physical strength and build muscle mass recently, you’ve likely heard them talking about branched-chain amino acid supplements (often referred to as BCAAs). They’ve become about as ubiquitous as whey protein! Proponents believe BCAAs can maximize muscle growth, decrease post-workout muscle soreness, enhance mental focus, and more. But recent studies indicate that when it comes to using amino acid supplements to enhance muscle protein synthesis (the building of muscle protein), there may be a much more effective option.

Before exploring the relationships between resistance exercise, amino acid supplements, and muscle protein turnover, let’s get clear on some of the basic terminology.

Resistance Training, Defined

Resistance training can take many forms. You can lift weights to build muscles, or use the machines at the gym, or even use your own body weight in resistance exercises such as planks and pull-ups. If you’re curious about resistance training but not sure where to begin, I recommend checking out this post.

Research links resistance exercise to a wealth of benefits, including better joint function, increased bone density, and enhanced muscle, tendon, and ligament strength.

To get the best results from any exercise program, including resistance training, it’s vital to provide your body with the fuel it needs to power through workouts and recover in between sessions. Increasing muscle strength and mass requires close interaction between exercise and daily diet.

Protein is, hands down, the most important nutrient for anyone engaged in a regular resistance exercise training program. Protein contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscle tissue. Even if you make sure to prioritize protein intake at every meal, you can still amplify your anabolic response via amino acid ingestion. In the most basic terms, taking amino acid supplements promotes muscle protein synthesis (sometimes abbreviated to MPS response) and can help your body build the most muscle in the shortest amount of time.

Understanding the Role of Amino Acids

In technical terms, amino acids can be defined as simple organic compounds that contain a carboxyl (-COOH) and an amino (-NH2) group. When these compounds link together, they form protein molecules. And it is those protein macromolecules that make up your muscles.

Your body needs 20 different amino acids to produce protein. Scientists categorized nine of these as essential amino acids.

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

Your body absolutely requires these nine amino acids not only to produce protein but also to carry out basic bodily functions that keep you alive. However, it cannot make them. Instead, they must be obtained from the food you eat. Anyone seeking to optimize her physical performance and muscle growth should review this list below outlining some of the important roles the essential amino acids play:

  1. Leucine: Many bodybuilders and athletes sing the praises of leucine supplementation—and for good reasons. One of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine plays a significant role in muscle anabolism. It also activates mTORC1 (more on what that means later).
  2. Lysine: This amino acid contributes to muscle growth as well as tissue repair and nutrient uptake throughout the body. Lysine is the second most abundant protein found in human muscle tissue.
  3. Valine: Another of the three BCAAs, valine promotes muscle growth and tissue repair. Studies show that valine can have significant anabolic effects.
  4. Isoleucine: The third BCAA, isoleucine makes major contributions to hemoglobin synthesis as well as the regulation of energy and blood sugar levels. Isoleucine also speeds recovery, decreasing the time needed to repair post-exercise muscle damage.
  5. Threonine: Best known for keeping your muscles and connective tissues strong and limber, threonine also contributes to muscle protein synthesis. Plus, it can speed healing and help you bounce back faster from injuries.
  6. Phenylalanine: Adequate levels of phenylalanine are crucial for the structure and function of a vast number of proteins and enzymes. One of this amino acid’s most notable functions is as a precursor to another amino acid, tyrosine, which your body converts into a number of brain chemicals including dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
  7. Methionine: Your body needs methionine in order to carry out tissue repairs as well as to generate new tissue. Without methionine, the synthesis of protein cannot begin. Methionine also spurs the formation of collagen and cartilage.
  8. Histidine: Another of the amino acids involved in muscle anabolism, histidine combines with beta-alanine to form the dipeptide carnosine, which improves your performance during high-intensity exercise. Histidine is also involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin as well as tissue repair.
  9. Tryptophan: This amino acid maintains the balance between protein synthesis and breakdown in adults. And like phenylalanine, tryptophan is a precursor for important brain chemicals—in this case, serotonin and melatonin.

Amino Acids Flip the Switch for Muscle Growth

After you’ve considered the list of the ways the essential amino acids contribute to muscle protein turnover, you will hopefully have grasped a key fact: BCAAs are not the only amino acids involved in muscle growth and repair. So when it comes to amino acid supplementation for sports nutrition purposes, taking a BCAA supplement simply doesn’t make sense.

Over the course of the 3 decades I have spent conducting NIH-funded research on muscle metabolism, I have garnered extensive data on how the muscles of the human body maintain themselves. The protein in your muscles continually break themselves down and rebuild themselves. In order to do this, they need a steady supply of all 20 of the amino acids involved in muscle protein turnover.

In order for muscle protein synthesis to begin, you must provide your body with one of the organic compounds that flip the “on switch.” Research indicates that leucine, an EAA and BCAA, may just be the most potent activator of the MPS response.

As I mentioned above, leucine supplementation activates the mTORC1, or the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1, thereby flipping the switch that turns on muscle protein synthesis. Scientists have found that leucine supplementation on its own requires a protein dose containing between 2.5 and 3 grams of protein in order to activate mTORC1. However, when individuals consume leucine in combination with the other eight essential amino acids, the required dose drops to 1.8 grams of leucine.

The mTORC1 pathway controls both anabolic and catabolic signaling of skeletal muscle mass, meaning it regulates both muscle growth and muscle tissue breakdown. Research has shown that pairing resistance exercise with essential amino acid supplementation has an additive effect when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis via the mTORC1 pathway.

In other words, taking essential amino acids maximizes the hard work you put in during your training sessions and makes it easier for you to gain muscle.

How EAA Supplements Amplify the Benefits of Resistance Exercise

Resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein turnover. Muscle protein turnover is the balance between how much muscle protein is broken down and how much muscle protein is built back up. This is how muscle fiber function improves. Newer, better functioning fibers are synthesized to replace older ones that are not functioning as well. Both muscle protein breakdown and muscle protein synthesis are stimulated.

Since resistance exercise increases the efficiency of muscle protein synthesis, the increase in synthesis will be slightly greater than the increase in breakdown. The stimulation of protein synthesis is limited, however, because some of the essential amino acids released by protein breakdown are oxidized and not available to be reused for synthesis. Thus, even though the muscle is able to produce new protein more efficiently during resistance exercise, the balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown remains negative (i.e., net loss of muscle protein) in the absence of nutrient intake.

Therefore, performing resistance exercise in a fasted state does not result in a positive muscle protein balance. To tip the balance in favor of muscle building, you must consume essential amino acids to replace those oxidized while exercising.

If you’re simply looking to increase muscle strength, then you only need to consume EAAs. But, if increasing muscle strength and muscle mass is your goal, you need to eat extra calories in addition to EAAs. You can tailor your nutrition to your resistance-exercise goals—mass, strength, or both—by adjusting your EAA and extra calorie intake.

Together They Are Stronger

As I mentioned briefly earlier, there is an interactive effect between resistance exercise and EAAs. Both stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and the combined effect is greater than either of their individual effects.

Essentially, resistance exercise primes the muscle to produce protein at an accelerated rate, but muscle protein synthesis is limited by the availability of essential amino acids in the fasted state. With targeted supplement support, you can go from fasted to full of free essential amino acids ready and waiting to be put to use. The ingested EAAs are rapidly consumed by the muscle, in part because blood flow to muscle is increased by resistance exercise, and in part because the molecular mechanisms in the muscle cells that regulate the rate of synthesis are turned on. The net result is that the major gain in muscle mass that occurs after resistance exercise is due to the combined effects of exercise and the increased availability of EAAs.

In my research, I have found that when EAAs were given before resistance exercise, muscle protein synthesis was stimulated more than when given after exercise, but the EAAs given after exercise still caused a significant stimulation.

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone.

When Do I Take My EAA Supplements?

Unlike EAA supplementation for aerobic training, EAA supplementation during resistance training necessitates a before, during, and after approach that is customized according to your muscle and strength-building aims.

If an EAA supplement is ingested 30 minutes before resistance exercise, the muscle is put into a very anabolic state (where it is building up). If EAAs are consumed immediately after exercise there is also a stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis, but less so than if given before the workout.

So, you’ll want to take EAAs before a resistance workout to prevent the net breakdown of muscle protein during the workout. During resistance exercise, there’s an increase in blood flow to the muscle, and this increase can help deliver the ingested amino acids directly to the muscle for absorption. By increasing the blood concentrations of EAAs, the concentration gradients force EAAs into the muscle cells instead of out. Without EAA supplementation, the EAAs are forced out of the muscle.

Consuming EAAs after the workout will further stimulate protein synthesis and prolong the muscle-building response. The optimal approach is to take EAAs before and after resistance workouts, and throughout if possible.

Together, resistance exercise and EAAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis greater than they can alone.