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!

What Are the Best Muscle Recovery Foods?

Wondering what muscle recovery foods are good for prevention and relief of delayed onset muscle soreness? This comprehensive list of foods full of healthy fats, amino acids, and natural sugars will support your workout and recovery goals.

After starting a new workout, you’re in for some growing pains. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS can affect anyone, from those new to working out to elite athletes incorporating different exercises into their routines. Whenever you push your muscles, either with unfamiliar exercises or longer durations, you’re creating microscopic tears to the muscles, which then cause stiffness, soreness, and pain. Are sore muscles a good sign? Yes, in a sense, because it means you’re using your muscles in new ways that will eventually lead to a better fitness profile. But don’t fret! Eating muscle recovery foods can help ease the discomfort and may even help decrease muscle soreness in the first place.

Using food as your method of recovery and prevention may truly be the best road to take. The other suggestions to help muscle recovery either take extra time or come with other risks, and none of them can get in front of DOMS before it starts. Getting a massage after every workout would be great, but do you have the time, the money? Rest and ice packs are perfectly reasonable options too, but it’s the rest that might bother you if you’re really excited about a new workout and seeing results. Do you really want to take a couple of days off after every workout to let your muscles recover? It might not be a bad idea, but with the right foods pre- and post-workout, it might not be necessary either.

The last refuge to treat the ache and pain of muscle soreness is to use painkillers. Whether it’s over the counter fare you’d take for any pains (a wincing headache for example, or to relieve menstrual cramps), or prescription painkillers meant for more serious pains (a wrenched back or dental surgery). And these pain killers come with health-compromising side effects that are best avoided.

So what can you eat that will make a difference? Here are some foods you might want to include on the menu on gym days.

 Muscle recovery foods for prevention and relief.

Muscle Recovery Foods

Whether for their protein content, iron content, anti-inflammatory properties, or amino acids, these foods can help your muscles heal faster.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese has around 27 grams of protein per cup, and is often a regular food in the fitness community for those without any dietary restrictions surrounding milk products. In fact, the casein protein found in cottage cheese curds (as opposed to the whey protein found in watery milk) are often isolated and used as a workout protein supplement. As a slow-digesting protein, casein can help build and rebuild muscle while you sleep if it’s your last snack before bed.

The essential amino acid leucine is also present in cottage cheese, and comprises around 23% of the essential amino acids in muscle protein (the most abundant percentage of them all). Foods with leucine can help you build muscle by activating protein synthesis, and the faster you rebuild your muscle, the faster your muscle repair and workout recovery!

Eat it plain, or combine cottage cheese with some of the other recovery foods on this list to stack the benefits. Cottage cheese can even be used in baked goods and pancakes or included in protein shakes—don’t be afraid to get creative.

Sweet Potatoes

Adding sweet potatoes to your post-workout meal can help replenish your glycogen stores after a tough workout. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin C and beta-carotene as well, and are loaded with fiber which helps to control appetite and maintain healthy digestion and build muscle.

Sweet potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or on a grill, cut into fries, spiced with cinnamon, or made savory with garlic powder and pepper. Enjoy them at the dinner table or on the go: a baked potato wrapped in foil can join you just about anywhere.

Baking Spices

Speaking of what you can put on sweet potatoes, it turns out some baking spices are good for post-workout recovery as well. Not so much in the form of gingerbread cookies or cinnamon rolls, but a study showed that cinnamon or ginger given to 60 trained young women (between the ages of 13 and 25) significantly reduced their muscle soreness post-exercise. If you’re already having a sweet potato, make it a little sweeter with some cinnamon, add it to oatmeal, or put some in your coffee for the extra boost.

Coffee

Did we just mention coffee? Good news: coffee’s on the list too. Research suggests that about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee can reduce post-workout pain by 48%, and another study showed that pairing caffeine with painkilling pharmaceuticals resulted in a 40% reduction of the drugs taken. If you do need pharmaceutical pain relief, maybe coffee can help you minimize just how much you take—caffeine is a much less dangerous stimulant than pain pills.

Turmeric

Another spice on the list, turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and has been shown to be a proven and reliable pain reliever. Whether it’s helping you with delayed onset muscle soreness or pain from an injury (workout-related or otherwise), turmeric eases both pain and swelling by blocking chemical pain messengers and pro-inflammatory enzymes.

As with the other spices, it can be easily added to baked goods, to coffee, and to oatmeal. With its beautiful golden color, you can even make what’s called “golden milk” or a turmeric latte by combining 2 cups of warm cow’s or almond milk with 1 teaspoon of turmeric and another teaspoon of ginger, and then sip your muscle soreness away.

Oatmeal

Speaking of oatmeal (and isn’t it nice that so many of these ingredients can be easily combined?), it, too, can help relieve muscle soreness. This complex carb gives you a slow and steady release of sugar, along with iron needed to carry oxygen through your blood, and vitamin B1 (thiamin), which can reduce stress and improve alertness. This is why oatmeal is a great way to start the day, but since it also includes selenium, a mineral that protects cells from free-radical damage and lowers the potential for joint inflammation, it’s a great food for those in high-intensity workout training as well (like, up to Olympic level training).

Use oatmeal as a daily vehicle for other healthy ingredients, including the spices on this list, and enjoy its reliable benefits.

Bananas

Easily sliced into oatmeal, included in smoothies, or eaten alone, not only are bananas a healthy way to replace sweets (frozen and blended they can even make a delicious ice cream alternative), bananas are also a great way to get much-needed potassium. Research suggests potassium helps reduce muscle soreness and muscle cramps like the dreaded “Charley horse” spasm that contracts your muscle against your will and might not let up until it causes enough damage to last for days. A banana a day could keep the Charley horse away, and is particularly delicious (and helpful) when paired with its classic mate: peanut butter.

Peanut Butter

The healthy fats and protein found in nut butters like peanut or almond butter can help repair sore muscles. A reliable source of protein for muscle building, with fiber for blood pressure aid, vitamin E for antioxidant properties, and phytosterols for heart health, peanut butter offers up a ton of benefit and is easy to eat anywhere. Make a sandwich, use it to help bind together portable protein balls filled with other ingredients, add it into smoothies, or just eat it from the jar with a spoon (no one’s judging).

Nuts and Seeds

If you’re a fan of protein balls, then you’re well acquainted with nuts and seeds, which are great additions to these protein-rich foods. While providing essential omega-3 fatty acids to fight inflammation, various nuts and seeds can provide you protein for muscle protein synthesis, electrolytes for hydration, and zinc for an immune system boost. Something as simple as a baggie full of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and cashews can help maximize your muscles. Mixing in seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin) adds a healthy density that can curb your hunger and satisfy your appetite for longer. They’re small but powerful assets in quick muscle recovery.

Manuka Honey

This is not your grocery store honey in its little bear- or hive-shaped bottle. Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush in New Zealand, with a milder flavor than that of bee honey and a much thicker texture. It’s anti-inflammatory and rich in the carbs needed to replenish glycogen stores and deliver protein to your muscles. Drizzle it over yogurt or stir it into tea to gain its benefits.

Green Tea

Green tea is particularly helpful for muscle recovery purposes. With anti-inflammatory antioxidants, it makes an excellent pre- or post-workout drink to prevent muscle damage related to exercise, and also helps you stay hydrated.

Cacao

Cacao has high levels of magnesium, antioxidants, and B-vitamins, which reduce exercise stress, balance electrolytes, and boost immunity and energy levels. The antioxidant flavanols in cacao also help up the production of nitric oxide in your body, which allows your blood vessel walls to relax, lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy blood flow. Adding cacao powder to your high-quality protein shakes or a glass of cow/almond/coconut milk post-workout will bring you its benefits.

Tart Cherries

Tart cherry juice has been shown to minimize post-run muscle pain, reduce muscle damage, and improve recovery time in professional athletes like lifters, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Enjoy tart cherry juice as a drink, or include the dried fruit as a part of your own muscle-building trail mix with the nuts and seeds discussed above. It’s not the only fruit or fruit juice you might include either. The nutrients in fruits like oranges, pineapples, and raspberries can also help speed up your recovery.

Salmon

Rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, muscle-building protein, and antioxidants, salmon is an extremely efficient post-workout food. Not an option if you are vegan or vegetarian, of course, but for the meat eaters among us, or those on the Paleo diet, salmon can specifically help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and provide you with an abundance of the protein needed for muscle growth. Eat this protein within 45 minutes after working out for maximum effect, either grilled, cooked up in salmon cakes, or raw in the form of sushi or sashimi. All of the above goes for tuna as well, by the way—reasons you might become a pescatarian.

Eggs

If you are an omnivore or ovo-vegetarian, eggs are great way to gain protein first thing in the morning, and an even more effective food to have immediately post-workout to help prevent DOMS. Like cottage cheese, eggs are a rich provider of leucine, and like salmon, eggs contain vitamin D (in their yolks). For your convenience, eggs can be boiled and brought along for immediate consumption after your training. Boil a dozen at the start of each week during your meal prep, and have an easy protein source in the palm of your hand every other day of the week.

Spinach

Did we really get all the way to the end of the list without a vegetable? So sorry! Let’s fix that with spinach. A powerhouse of antioxidants, not only can spinach help prevent diseases like heart disease and various cancers, but it also helps you recover quickly from intense exercise. Spinach’s nitrates help to strengthen your muscles, and its magnesium content helps maintain nerve function. Spinach helps to regulate your blood sugar (in case you worry about the spikes you might get from the sweeter items on this list), and can be added to many dinners, snuck into smoothies, or eaten on its own either raw or sautéed in olive oil.

Resist Damage and Recovery Quickly

These foods help with recovery from DOMS and reduce the amount of soreness you get in the first place by providing your body with the proteins and nutrients it craves when you’re working out to the best of your ability.

A quick note before you go. In your quest for pain-free muscles, you’ll want to avoid:

  • Refined sugar: Just one sugary soda a day can increase your inflammatory markers, as can white bread and other products with refined sugar. Natural sugars don’t bring that kind of adverse effect, so get your sugar from whole foods instead.
  • Alcohol: The dehydration caused by alcohol requires its own special recovery, and will deplete many of your vitamins (especially B vitamins). Some research suggests that alcohol can interfere with how your body breaks down lactic acid, which would increase muscle soreness. If you’re on a mission to build muscle, it’s best to avoid alcohol.

If you’re eating pretty well and avoiding what you shouldn’t eat, but still find muscle soreness a burden after working out, there is always the option to supplement.

What is the best supplement for muscle recovery? Evidence shows that getting all your body’s essential amino acids in balance will help specifically with muscle sprains and pulls, so when supplementing, just make sure you cover the waterfront (rather than choosing one or two essentials and neglecting the rest). Other than that, a diverse diet can be had in choosing natural preventions and remedies for healthy muscle recovery.

Did You Know You Can Find All the Essential Amino Acids in Egg Whites?

Egg whites are as close to a pure amino acid supplement as you can get in a naturally occurring protein food source. The egg white in an average large egg contains approximately 3.4 grams of protein, with essential amino acids comprising 40% of the total amino acids.

Many nutrition experts consider eggs to be one of the healthiest foods in the world. Including eggs in your diet can help you meet your dietary protein intake goals. Egg protein is of particularly high quality since it contains all nine essential amino acids. Given how few calories the whites content, it’s common for individuals seeking to lose weight or limit cholesterol intake to eat them on their own—and yes, you can find all the essential amino acids in egg whites.

In fact, egg whites are as close to a pure amino acid supplement as you can get in a naturally occurring protein food source. Egg whites are composed of nearly 100% protein with no fat or cholesterol. The egg white in an average large egg contains approximately 16 calories and 3.4 grams of protein, with essential amino acids comprising 40% of the total amino acids. Pretty impressive!

But why is it so important to ensure your diet includes foods that provide all essential amino acids? Read on to learn more about the importance of amino acids to your health and well-being, as well as why eggs and egg whites are such valuable sources of amino acids.

Why Are Amino Acids Important?

The body is largely composed of thousands of proteins. Proteins are made of strings of amino acids hooked together in a specific order. All of the proteins in the body are in a constant state of turnover, meaning older proteins get broken down and replaced with newly synthesized ones. During this process, amino acids are released. While many of these unchained aminos can then be reutilized to help make new proteins, others are irreversibly oxidized and therefore unavailable for protein synthesis.

There are two general types of dietary amino acids: those that can be produced by the human body, which are called nonessential amino acids, and those that must be obtained through the diet, which are called essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids are the only macronutrient required in the diet for survival. High-protein foods that contain all the essential amino acids are deemed to be complete protein sources. The primary sources of essential amino acids for most people tend to be meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, though it is possible to get all your essential amino acids from plant-based complete protein sources. Because of their vital importance, there are dietary requirements for each of the nine essential amino acids:

  1. Histidine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Threonine
  8. Tryptophan
  9. Valine

There are no dietary requirements for the 11  nonessential amino acids, however, since they can be made in the body.

That said, you will get additional nonessential amino acids from high-protein foods, as all dietary proteins that contain essential amino acids also contain nonessential amino acids.

Using Essential Amino Acids to Determine Protein Quality

International standards for protein quality come from a scoring system developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization. The scoring system, called the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS), takes into consideration key elements such as:

  • Proportion of essential amino acids to nonessential amino acids
  • Profile of essential amino acids relative to the individual dietary requirements for those amino acids
  • Protein utilization efficiency, meaning how well the body can digest it

Egg white protein—made up largely of a protein called albumin—has one of the highest DIAASs known. This is due not only to the fact that over 40% of the total amino acids are essential aminos, but also to the specific profile of the essential amino acids in egg whites.

The figure below shows the profile of essential amino acids in egg whites and egg yolk compared to the profile of essential amino acid requirements. You can see how the essential amino acid profile of an egg white is nearly a perfect match to essential amino acid requirements.

Egg whites are as close to a pure amino acid supplement as you can get in a naturally-occurring protein food source. The egg white in an average large egg contains approximately 3.4 grams of protein, with essential amino acids comprising 40% of the total amino acids.

16 Amino Acids Found in Egg Whites

As touched on earlier, egg whites contain around 93% protein and all of the amino acids needed to prevent deficiencies and protect your overall health and well-being.  On average, the egg white of one large egg yields 3.4 grams of protein and 1.4 grams of essential amino acids—which totals up to 11 calories of essential amino acids.

Laboratory testing shows that egg whites contain the following quantities of these 16 amino acids respectively:

Alanine: 5.7 g/100 g Arginine: 5.9 g/100 g
Aspartic acid: 9.2 g/100 g Glutamic acid: 15.7 g/100 g
Glycine: 3.2 g/100 g Histidine: 2.41 g/100 g
Isoleucine: 7.1 g/100 g Leucine: 9.9 g/100 g
Lysine: 6.4 g/100 g Methionine: 5.4 g/100 g
Phenylalanine: 7.5 g/100 g Proline: 3.8 g/100 g
Serine: 8.5 g/100 g Threonine: 4.0 g/100 g
Tyrosine: 3.75 g/100 g Valine: 8.8 g/100 g

Because egg whites provide all nine essential amino acids (a category that includes the three branched-chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine), they qualify as a complete protein source.

The human body needs essential amino acids to carry out numerous crucial functions, from synthesizing protein and building new tissue to generating energy and recovering from stress and injury. The essential amino acid tryptophan, for example, helps regulate your mood and has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also lowers your risk of developing high blood pressure and assists with appetite regulation.

Egg whites also offer substantial quantities of nonessential amino acids such as arginine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, and proline. These amino acids are nonessential only in the sense that our bodies can produce them. Their contributions to our physical and mental health are every bit as indispensable as those of essential amino acids. Take proline, which stimulates collagen production and stymies the buildup of plaque in the arteries, among other critical functions.

Egg whites are as close to a pure amino acid supplement as you can get in a naturally-occurring protein food source. The egg white in an average large egg contains approximately 3.4 grams of protein, with essential amino acids comprising 40% of the total amino acids.

Why Some People Prefer Egg Whites to Whole Eggs

Egg whites have an incredibly high-protein content proportionate to their total number of calories. They also contain no saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, or sugar. This makes them especially appealing to individuals with specific dietary concerns related to heart disease, diabetes, or weight loss.

Plus, egg whites can be prepared in a multitude of ways, making them a versatile ingredient beloved by athletes striving to maintain a high-protein intake. Plus, several of the amino acids in egg whites support muscle growth and speed recovery between workouts.

“Eggs are all-natural and provide one of the highest quality proteins of any food available,” said Dr. Mitch Kanter, executive director of the Egg Nutrition Center, the research arm of the American Egg Board. The bulk of the protein in eggs comes from the whites—nearly 4 of the 6 grams found in an average egg.

According to Kanter, “High-quality protein helps build muscles and allows people to feel full longer and stay energized, which can help them maintain a healthy weight.” Egg whites are an excellent source of protein, with 3.4 grams of protein per 16-calorie egg white. That’s about 5% of your daily protein needs.

“Although we often think of protein’s function in building and maintaining muscle, newer research suggests other benefits of protein,” Kanter continued. “For example, numerous studies since 2010 have found that protein-rich breakfasts, including those containing eggs, result in blunted postprandial glucose and insulin responses, greater satiety, and lower energy intake at a subsequent meal, suggesting a positive role of eggs for hunger and weight management.”

Egg whites are also a good source of riboflavin and potassium.

Analysis shows that 62% of the riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) in eggs can be found in the whites. This vitamin helps the body release the energy stored in carbohydrates, which can speed up your metabolism and stimulate the production of red blood cells. The National Institutes of Health consider eggs to be a valuable source of riboflavin, which also has notable antioxidant properties.

A single egg white typically nets approximately 54 milligrams of potassium, a mineral and electrolyte strongly linked to heart health, among other benefits. One reason potassium is so integral to cardiovascular function, according to a wealth of research, is that it can lower blood pressure by promoting vasodilation—the widening of blood vessels.

Egg whites also contain another compound that impacts blood pressure levels. A research team at Clemson University found that a peptide in egg whites called RVPSL (a subcomponent of protein) can reduce blood pressure in an equivalent manner to a low dose Captopril, a high-blood-pressure drug. This effect appears to be due to the way it blocks angiotensin-converting enzymes, which increase blood pressure.

Should You Avoid Egg Yolks?

Eating whole eggs has been a controversial choice for nearly a century, largely due to the cholesterol they contain. Given how firmly some health experts advise against eating egg yolks, it would be understandable if you assumed they have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. That’s not the case.

It may be surprising, but egg yolks are also a great source of essential amino acids. The average egg yolk contains 2.7 grams of protein (compared to the egg white value of 3.4 grams), and the profile of egg yolk protein is also outstanding. In fact (and the infographic featured earlier offers a visual representation of this), the profile of essential amino acids in egg yolk parallels that of essential amino acid requirements just as closely as egg white protein does.

Of course, the essential amino acids in the yolk come at a higher calorie cost, as there are approximately 46 calories in the average egg yolk and approximately 44 kcal/g of essential amino acids in the yolk. The extra calories are largely in the form of fat. The yolk also contains about 160 milligrams of cholesterol.

It’s clear that both the white and the yolk of eggs are great sources of high-quality protein. Eating the whole egg is more convenient and tastes better to most people than separating out the egg white.

The argument against eating whole eggs has always been the fat and cholesterol in the yolk. The yolk adds extra calories, but the main worry has been related to the development of cardiovascular disease from the cholesterol in the yolk.

Attitudes are changing about cholesterol in the diet, and these changing attitudes have affected dietary recommendations for whole egg consumption. The American Heart Association recommends that total cholesterol intake be less than 300 milligrams per day. This is about what you get in two eggs, so if you eat two eggs a day you wouldn’t want to eat any other sources of cholesterol.

The USDA dietary recommendations are more lenient towards whole egg consumption. While the 2010 recommendations limited cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day, the 2015 recommendations drop the limit on dietary cholesterol. The USDA Dietary Guidelines state that eggs are good sources of high-quality protein and don’t specifically limit the number of whole eggs in the diet. In the healthy eating patterns recommended by the USDA, eggs are part of a balance of protein food sources.

Amino Acids for Hair Loss

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.

We lose anywhere from 50 to 100 strands of hair a day, so there’s no need to be alarmed by clumps of hair in the shower drain or loose hairs on the carpet. But if you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing hair thinning, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense. After all, amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is needed to grow tissue cells, including the cells that make up your hair.

Lysine and Iron for Hair Loss

Iron deficiency is the number one nutritional deficiency in the world. If your hair loss is caused by a lack of iron, there’s a chance that you may also be low in the essential amino acid lysine. Studies link hair loss to low levels of both iron and lysine. A 2002 study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology showed that when female participants supplemented with iron and lysine, hair loss decreased, but when subjects supplemented with just iron, hair loss stayed the same. Researchers note that patience is required, as the benefits of iron and lysine supplementation for hair loss may take a few months to be noticeable.

Lysine is one of nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. In addition to supporting the body’s uptake of iron, it also plays a role in zinc uptake. Low levels of zinc have been linked to pattern baldness, which accounts for 95% of hair loss in men and affects 45% of women. Lysine also helps to build collagen, a protein component of hair.

Complete proteins such as red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, cheese, cod, sardines, soybeans, nuts, legumes, and brewer’s yeast are rich in lysine. If you’re on a low-protein or vegan diet you may be at risk for not just iron and lysine deficiency, but a possible protein deficiency overall. Being deficient in even just one amino acid could accelerate hair loss. If you think you might be protein deficient, start by following the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein: 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.

Amino Acids for Healthy Hair Growth

Healthy hair depends on two amino-acid-built proteins: keratin and collagen.

Ninety percent of every strand of hair on your head is made of a tough, fibrous protein called keratin. Keratin is formed from long chains of amino acids that allow your hair to bend, twist, and turn without breaking, lending strength and elasticity to hair.

Collagen is another building block of hair. A 2016 study from Japanese researchers linked hair loss to decreased collagen near hair follicle stem cells beneath the scalp. Eating protein-rich foods and taking essential amino acid supplements can support the health of your hair by helping your body produce more keratin and collagen.

The 4 amino acids that help boost keratin hair growth are:

  • Cysteine
  • Lysine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine

The 4 amino acids that help increase collagen production are:

  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Glycine
  • Proline

But amino acids don’t stop there. They also help form red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients to hair cells. Healthy hair depends on these nutrients.

We’ve already seen how lysine can help protect against hair loss, but let’s take a look at other key amino acids for hair loss in more detail.

Arginine

Beyond producing keratin for healthy hair, arginine (or L-arginine) can help put a stop to hair loss in several ways. It’s an excellent immune enhancer, and as such provides a shield against disease-related hair loss.

Arginine is best known for boosting nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels and opens up the potassium channels of cells, thereby improving blood flow throughout the body. By increasing nitric oxide, arginine supports optimal circulation and reinforces blood supply to the hair root, which helps boost hair growth.

Arginine has also demonstrated effectiveness as a topical agent that can help protect hair from bleaching and coloring treatments. When researchers replaced part of the ammonia in a coloring agent with arginine, hair did not sustain as much damage.

Arginine is not an essential amino acid, which means the body can make it on its own, but during times of stress or injury, arginine may become a conditionally essential amino acid (not enough arginine is being produced to meet all demands and dietary support may be called for). Arginine is abundant in dairy, fish, poultry, beef, sesame seeds, chickpeas, oatmeal, soybeans, granola, pumpkin seed, sunflower seeds, and nuts.

Cysteine

Cysteine is a nonessential amino acid that makes up a quarter of keratin. Several studies indicate that cysteine supplementation can help decrease hair loss in men and women with androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness/hair loss).

Cysteine also helps produce a very potent antioxidant called glutathione, which can help protect hair follicles from oxidative stress. Topical cysteine is considered a safe treatment for straightening hair.

To ensure adequate cysteine intake, eat dairy, pork, poultry, legumes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and grains. Taking a supplement of L-cysteine or N-acetyl cysteine can induce vomiting and other symptoms of gastric distress. Cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine, and adequate methionine intake generally ensures a sufficient amount of cysteine.

Methionine

Methionine is an important amino acid necessary for the production of keratin and procollagen—the precursor of collagen. It lends structure and strength to your hair and helps to prevent hair loss by building a sulfurous network of chains.

Researchers presented the results of a study examining the efficacy of methionine as a hair loss treatment at a dermatological congress in Florence in 2006. Scientists divided 30 people into two groups. The control group took a placebo and the variable group supplemented with an amino acid preparation containing methionine and vitamin B complex. After 6 months, those supplementing with methionine had 10% more hair regrowth than participants taking the placebo. Other studies show that methionine may help slow hair thinning and greying.

Unlike arginine and cysteine, methionine is an essential amino acid that you must get from the foods you eat and the amino acid supplements you take. Methionine amino acid-rich foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Seeds
  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Nuts, especially Brazil nuts

Glycine and Proline

Glycine impacts hair health because it’s central to collagen production, as is proline, which also plays a key role in cartilage production. Both are nonessential amino acids that you can find in fish, meat, dairy products, soybeans, spinach, cabbage, beans, kale, banana, kiwi, legumes, broccoli, spinach, and soybeans.

Tyrosine

In addition to thinning hair and hair loss, the color of hair might also take a hit due to stress or adrenal, thyroid, or pituitary gland dysfunction. This is where the amino acid tyrosine can come to our aid.

Tyrosine helps form melanin, which imparts color to our skin and hair. By keeping tyrosine levels adequate in the body, we can help stabilize the body’s production of melanin. Food sources of melanin include pumpkin seed, lima beans, dairy and soy products, almonds, and fish.

Important Hair-Loss Nutrients

Healthy hair depends on a nutritive diet full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition to amino acids for hair loss, the following nutrients help keep hair in lustrous condition.

  • Vitamin A supports sebum production to keep hair follicles lubricated.
  • Vitamin C is a key nutrient in collagen synthesis for strong hair.
  • Iron, silica, and zinc encourage new hair growth and protect against hair loss.
  • Vitamins E, B5, B6, B12, and folic acid improve blood circulation for better nutrient delivery to hair follicles.
  • Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 contribute to hair health by promoting circulation and cell growth.

If you are deficient in any of these nutrients or an amino acid, hair is likely to feel dry and brittle and a supplement program may be in order. However, it’s important not to take hair loss supplements that target a specific nutrient if you are not deficient in that nutrient, as too much of a vitamin, such as too much vitamin A or C, can actually cause hair loss. A complete and balanced essential amino acid supplement, however, does not carry that same risk.

If you’re noticing more hair loss than normal and witnessing visible thinning of your hair, then you could be dealing with an imbalance of hormones, low thyroid, too much testosterone, or a nutritional deficiency, such as too little protein or iron. If nutritional deficiencies are at play, amino acids for hair loss are an effective and natural first line of defense.