How Amino Acids Support Female Muscle Growth

Is it truly more challenging for women to build muscle? To answer that question, we first separate the myths about gender differences and muscle growth from the actual science. Then, we offer tips everyone can use to get serious muscle growth results.

Female muscle growth. It’s not a phrase you hear too often. However, whether you’re a man or a woman, muscle building benefits your overall health and well-being. Strong scientific evidence shows that increasing your lean muscle mass can help you stay healthy as you age, support fat loss by keeping your metabolism running at full capacity and prevent the development of chronic diseases.

If you’re born male, you’re coached from a young age to want to grow up to be big and strong. But if you’re born female, you receive the opposite message. With the emergence of ripped and toned female fitness influencers taking social media by storm, the tides appear to be shifting. Nonetheless, society still tends to instruct girls to train themselves to be as dainty as possible—in part, so they can grow up to be women who attract big, strong men.

But the health benefits of muscle mass apply to everyone, regardless of gender. However, it can be more challenging for women to build muscle for a variety of reasons.

In this article, we’ll explore the scientific realities behind the common belief that muscle building comes more naturally to men than to women. Plus, we’ll offer tips that everyone can use to increase their physical strength and get serious muscle growth results.

Do Men Build Muscle More Easily Than Women?

If you’re at all familiar with the resources out there for people interested in muscle building, you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of it is written by male authors for male audiences. While that has begun to shift somewhat as more women get into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and sports science, these realms are still dominated by men.

In those realms, a concept that many take for granted is that muscle gains come more easily for men than for women. This concept is propped up by claims that men and women have significant physiological differences that give men an advantage when it comes to physical strength and performance.

 

How amino acids can maximize female muscle growth.

What Science Tells Us About the Differences Between Men and Women

Let’s begin by comparing the average metabolic rates—the calories you burn just by going about your day—for men and women. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, about 90% of the variations researchers identified in the baseline number of calories participants expended over a 24-hour period came down to differences in fat mass and muscle mass. Your age has a measurable impact too. Researchers found that participants between 50 and 65 years of age had baseline metabolic rates that were 4.6% lower than participants between the ages of 20 and 30.

Fascinatingly, they reported: “No sex difference in any energy expenditure measurement could be found.” However, women do tend to have slower metabolisms than men, but it’s not because they’re women, it’s because on average, women are smaller and have less muscle mass.

So, let’s look into muscle mass differences. Findings published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reveal that women have, on average, about 67% of the muscle mass men do.

Women lag further behind when it comes to the muscle groups of the upper body than those of the lower body. A research team from the departments of Physical Education and Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada set out to determine how gender differences influence strength and muscle fiber characteristics. They found that female participants had approximately 52% of the upper body strength and 66% of the lower body strength of men.

These differences appear to have more to do with the likelihood that men will have larger muscles than with innate sex-based differences, though. A study published in Ergonomics sought to measure the extent to which differences in strength between men and women can be explained by muscle size. Researchers found that when they adjusted their findings to take into account overall muscle mass as well as the size of specific muscle groups, 97% of sex-related differences were in strength. The researchers state that their findings suggest muscle size “almost entirely” accounts for the differences we expect to see between a man’s physical strength and a woman’s. In other words, if a man and woman have comparable muscle mass, they should be equally strong.

It appears that the vast majority of the differences we attribute to sex actually have to do with body composition. A woman and man with similar previous experience in terms of physical activity and comparative amounts of muscle and fat will perform similarly on standard measures of strength.

However, there are some differences between the ways men’s bodies and women’s bodies tend to respond to strength-training regimens and individual workout plans.

How Hormones Affect Female Muscle Growth

Hormones tend to be the first factor people point to when talking about physiological differences between women and men. It’s only logical, given that men’s increased muscle mass results from higher testosterone levels. Hormone levels fluctuate from person to person and over time, but on average, women produce far less testosterone than men do—between 15 and 20 times less, according to data sourced from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

However, the question of testosterone levels isn’t as clear cut as we tend to think. In fact, some men have lower testosterone levels than some women do. After a team of researchers from the U.K. analyzed the hormone levels of elite athletes, they found significant overlap between testosterone levels for male competitors and female competitors. It’s worth noting that the hormone profiles of elite athletes differ from those of average individuals. It’s also highly likely that women with naturally higher levels of testosterone are more likely to excel at the elite level in certain physical disciplines. The main takeaway is that the idea that men have higher testosterone levels and therefore build new muscle more easily doesn’t entirely hold up.

Furthermore, did you know that testosterone is not the only hormone involved in building muscle mass? Estrogen, which as you may know, women typically produce at higher levels than men do, has also been shown to have significant benefits for muscle growth.

Studies done with animal subjects and well-controlled studies with human subjects support the idea that estrogen can help to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue that often accompanies the aging process. It appears that estrogen has an overall positive impact when it comes to maintaining and increasing your lean muscle mass.

And an article published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews presented experimental findings suggesting that estrogen may have an anabolic effect on muscles, meaning it supports muscle gain. It appears to do this primarily by lowering protein turnover, which slows the rate of catabolism (muscle breakdown), and enhancing the sensitivity of muscle tissue to resistance training.

Estrogen also boosts your metabolism, making it easier to cut your body fat percentage. While that doesn’t directly contribute to muscle growth, it does mean the new muscles you build will be more visible.

Women and Men Build Different Types of Muscles

We all have two general types of skeletal muscle fibers: slow-twitch, or Type 1, and fast-twitch, or Type 2. Type 1 muscles help power you through feats of endurance, like marathons. And the more Type 2 muscles you have, the better you perform on tests of explosive strength, like Olympic weight training.

There’s a clear divide between the average percentages of Type 1 and Type 2 muscle fibers that women and men typically have. According to Greg Nuckols, an experienced fitness writer who holds a BS in Exercise and Sports Science and three all-time world records for powerlifting, women typically have more Type 1 muscle fibers than men do, about 27% to 35% more. Women also tend to have greater capillary density.

Both give women an advantage in many ways. Greater capillary density means an increased ability to circulate blood through your muscle tissue to bring in fresh oxygen and clear out waste products. And having a higher percentage of Type 1 muscle fibers gives you an improved capacity for glucose and fatty acid oxidation, which translates to a decreased risk of chronic conditions linked to metabolic health, like diabetes and heart disease.

However, Type 2 muscle fibers are thicker, quicker to contract, and engage when your body nears maximum exertion. If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass and build strength so you can lift heavier and heavier weights, you need to recruit your Type 2 muscles. There’s no evidence that Type 1 muscle fibers can be transformed into Type 2 muscle fibers (or vice versa), which means there may always be a gap between the level of explosive strength an experienced female weight lifter can generate and the amount a male lifter at the same level can generate.

Maximizing Muscle Growth as a Woman

While men may have some innate advantages when it comes to building muscle mass, studies show that both men and women gain muscle at the same rate when they commit to workout routines like resistance training, weight training, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Researchers from the University of Maryland Exercise Science and Wellness Research Laboratories conducted a study in which participants committed to a 6-month, whole-body strength-training program that worked for all the major muscle groups in both the upper and lower bodies.

They used MRI images to assess thigh and quadriceps muscle volume as well as mid-thigh muscle cross-sectional area before and after the strength-training program. Their findings showed that the thigh and quadriceps muscle volume increased significantly for all age and gender groups as a result of the strength-training program. The researchers found no significant differences related to either participant age or gender.

In some cases, women can make more significant strength and muscle gains than men. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined how men and women responded to weight-training and resistance-training approaches. The researchers found that after following the same short-term training program, female participants made more significant strength increases than male participants did.

For women interested in optimizing their body composition by decreasing their body fat percentages and increasing their muscle mass, there are certain strategies you can put in place to maximize your muscle-building potential.

Train Strategically

When it comes to building muscle, the first step is to institute a strength-training regimen. For those seeking to rapidly increase muscle growth who are comfortable and able to perform high-intensity workouts, the most effective strength-training approach will involve lifting increasingly heavy weights. That might mean using barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells, or other types of weights.

Incorporating weightlifting into your training sessions encourages muscle growth because of the strain it places on your muscles. This wear and tear breaks down the muscle tissues. Then, during the recovery process that takes place while you sleep and on rest days, your muscles rebuild themselves. Each time this process takes place, your muscles grow bigger and stronger.

Adding high-intensity interval training to your exercise routine can also increase your muscle gains. This method of training involves short burst of intense exertion—a great tactic for recruiting your Type 2 muscles.

Increase Your Protein Intake

As you know, your muscles are made up of proteins. In order for your muscles to successfully rebuild themselves after workouts, you need to provide them with an adequate supply of dietary protein.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much protein your muscles need to properly build and repair themselves. Factors like age, weight, activity level, and training goals will all influence the amount of protein an individual needs to consume.

Federal guidelines set the minimum recommended amount of protein consumption for adults at 17% to 21% of your daily calories, and that’s without taking weight training into consideration.

As Jim White, RD, ACSM, explained, resistance training increases the process of protein turnover. By eating proteins laden with all the essential amino acids, you’re providing your body with the raw materials it needs to build muscle.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, if you’re looking to build muscle mass, you should aim to consume between 0.5 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. That means a 150-pound woman, for example, should set a protein intake target of 75-120 grams of protein each day. It’s also important to consider the percentage of your overall calorie intake that comes from protein.

White, as well as other experts, recommends prioritizing the post-workout window for protein consumption as this has the biggest impact on muscle growth. Findings published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition indicate that protein consumption before workouts can also be a key factor. Eating protein both before and after workouts can boost your performance, speed your recovery time, and increase your lean muscle mass.

Amino Acids Can Boost Female Muscle Growth

While it’s entirely possible to meet your body’s protein needs through diet alone, it can be helpful to add in high-quality supplements, including protein powders. Especially if you have a busy schedule that makes it challenging to consume enough protein during meal or snack times, it can be highly beneficial to provide your body with amino acids from other sources.

Researchers have found that certain supplements can be particularly helpful when it comes to building and maintaining muscle mass. If you’re wondering about the best amino acids for muscle growth, here are three to consider.

How amino acids can maximize female muscle growth.

1. Creatine

Creatine, an amino acid compound found naturally in the human body as well as in foods like red meat, has been the subject of hundreds of studies. If you’re lifting weights and looking to amplify your results, you may want to consider supplementing with creatine.

Media reports may have lead you to believe that creatine supplementation can adversely impact the health of your kidneys, but scientists have repeatedly and conclusively found that not to be the case.

After going over all available data on the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of creatine supplementation, researchers from the Higher Institute of Physical Education and Readaptation in Brussels, Belgium found no evidence that creatine causes liver dysfunction in healthy individuals (individuals with pre-existing kidney disease should avoid creatine). The researchers concluded that individuals who take creatine “do not report any adverse effects, but body mass increases.” They also noted that creatine may benefit the health of your heart and help reduce your risk of neurological diseases.

Studies show that supplementing with creatine can increase your lean body mass, enhance your anaerobic working capacity, and minimize the muscle damage caused by extreme exertion.

2. Beta-Alanine

This naturally occurring amino acid has also been the subject of extensive research.

One reason for this is that beta-alanine is the rate-limiting precursor of carnosine, an amino acid found in high concentrations in human skeletal muscle. One study on the effects of beta-alanine supplementation found that it can increase concentrations of carnosine in your muscles, which in turn helps to prevent muscular fatigue.

A separate study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found pairing beta-alanine supplementation with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can substantially increase both endurance and aerobic metabolism. It also showed a clear and impressive impact on subjects’ lean muscle mass.

Plus, a third study that examined how beta-alanine impacted anaerobic power output by using tests of physical strength such as timed sprints and a 90° bent-arm hang found that supplementing with beta-alanine improved participants’ results across all categories. Participants who supplemented with beta-alanine were able to achieve simultaneous weight loss and lean body mass increases.

3. Citrulline

Supplementing with citrulline can significantly increase your blood levels of not only this important amino acid, but two other crucial amino acids as well: ornithine and arginine. This can have a wide range of health benefits.

According to findings published in the The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, even a single dose of citrulline can improve your physical performance as measured by a flat barbell bench press. It can also reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. Participants were able to complete approximately 53% more repetitions and reported 40% less muscle soreness at both 24 and 48 hours afterward.

A separate study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that citrulline reduced muscular fatigue and improved muscle metabolism as measured by oxidative ATP production and the rate of phosphocreatine recovery after exercise.

All in all, it appears that this amino acid can improve endurance and speed up recovery time.

Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Your muscles aren’t composed of single amino acids, but rather 20 separate amino acids. Building muscle mass requires a steady supply of all those amino acids. Nine of those are essential amino acids, meaning you must get them from the foods you eat or supplements you take.

While certain amino acids have been shown to have more dramatic results when it comes to muscle growth, your rate of muscle protein synthesis will be limited by whichever essential amino acid is in the shortest supply. That’s why some of the foremost experts on amino acids believe that taking an essential amino acid (EAA) blend is ultimately the most effective way to build your muscle mass. Using a supplement formulated to include all the required amino acid building blocks stimulates the production of new muscle tissue more effectively than any single amino acid could.

How to Use Amino Acids for Bodybuilding

Amino acids have become some of the most popular types of bodybuilding supplements across multiple disciplines. Both BCAAs and EAAs can be used on their own or in the form of “stacks”—specialized blends of multiple supplements that work together synergistically to provide even greater benefits than when taken on their own.

Bodybuilding usually refers to increasing and sculpting muscle mass for appearance as well as strength. In a more general sense, bodybuilding can refer to increasing muscle mass and function for the purpose of competing in sports such as football or power sports (e.qg., shot putting, discus throwing, etc.). It is a given that bodybuilding requires resistance training. If bodybuilding is for the purpose of improving competitive performance in a specific sport there are likely to be training requirements unique to that sport. This discussion on amino acids for bodybuilding will, therefore, not focus on the specific aspects of training. Regardless of the goal of training, amino acids play a key role in bodybuilding.

The Impact of Nutrition on Bodybuilding

Training tends to be the first factor most consider when seeking to build lean muscle, however, the nutrients we provide our bodies with can be equally influential—or more so—in determining how quickly we progress toward our goals. No matter how intensely you train, you will not be able to achieve the results you desire if you’re lacking certain crucial nutritional elements.

Obtaining all the nutrients you need from your diet alone in the quantities necessary for maximal bodybuilding results can be challenging. That’s where workout supplements come in.

By taking targeted sports nutrition supplements, you can ensure you get all the nutrients you need to build muscle, speed recovery time, decrease muscle soreness, amp up energy levels, and more.

Bodybuilding Supplements Then and Now

Depending on how broadly you interpret the idea of dietary supplementation, the idea of bodybuilding supplements can be traced back to ancient Greece.

According to Professor Andrew Dalby and other experts, Greek and Roman athletes consumed large quantities of meat and wine as well as herbal concoctions and tonics with the goal of increasing their strength and stamina.

In the early 1900s, Eugen Sandow, a pioneering German bodybuilder whose legacy earned him the honorific “father of modern bodybuilding,” advised all who wished to maximize their muscle growth to adhere to the dietary rules he himself followed. Bodybuilder Earle Liederman, who rose to prominence in the 1920s, recommended drinking what he called “beef juice” or “beef extract” (a substance the luminaries of today’s wellness landscape call “bone broth” and chefs simply refer to as “consommé) in order to speed muscle recovery.

In the 1950s, protein powders entered the picture as recreational and competitive bodybuilding became ever more popular with ever-broader audiences in the United States and elsewhere. Irvin P. Johnson, who operated a bodybuilding gym in Chicago, was one of the first to market egg-based protein powder. According to an article he published in Iron Man with the title “Build Bigger Biceps Faster with Food Supplements,” his specialized line of protein powders fueled serious strength gains. According to the article, he went from only being able to leg press 165 pounds for 10 repetitions to 660 pounds for 12 repetitions!

The bodybuilding supplement industry grew at an exponential rate throughout the 1970s and 1980s, fueled both by increased interest in recreational bodybuilding as well as advancements in advertising. Then, in October of 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a piece of legislation that transferred responsibility for determining the safety of dietary supplements such as protein powders and other mainstays of sports nutrition from the government to the manufacturers of the products. Unless they added a new dietary ingredient, manufacturers were no longer required to provide the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with evidence to substantiate the safety or efficacy of their products. Legal experts believe this opened the door for the supplement industry to sell even more of their products. According to a Consumer Reports publication, annual sales of sports nutrition supplements hit $2.7 billion in 2010. And according to the “Sports Nutrition and High Energy Supplements – Global Market Outlook (2017-2026)” report sports nutrition and high energy supplements made $44.58 billion in 2017 with an outlook of $124.85 billion by 2026.

Defining the Term “Bodybuilding Supplements”

Just as the term bodybuilding can encompass both physique-focused and performance-focused endeavors, so too can the term “bodybuilding supplements” encompass a multitude of dietary supplements utilized by individuals engaged in bodybuilding as well as weight lifting, mixed martial arts, and other athletic pursuits to increase lean body mass as well as bring about other desirable outcomes such as:

  • Decreased body fat
  • Sharper muscle definition
  • Enhanced athletic performance

Amino acids have become some of the most popular types of bodybuilding supplements across multiple disciplines. Both branched-chain amino acid supplements (BCAA supplements) and essential amino acids (EAAs) can be used on their own or in the form of “stacks”—specialized blends of multiple supplements that work together synergistically to provide even greater benefits than when taken on their own.

Making the Most of the Building Blocks of Protein

Amino acids have earned the nickname “the building blocks protein” because of the vital role they play in creating muscle tissue. While it’s certainly possible to obtain all the amino acids you need simply by eating high-protein foods like eggs, lean meats, legumes, vegetables, and pseudo-grains like quinoa, amino acid supplements can be a convenient and efficient way to maximize the benefits of amino acids.

One of the most compelling reasons to use supplements can be captured in a single word: bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how efficiently a substance can be metabolized and the percentage of what’s ingested that’s utilized for its intended purpose inside the body.

Several factors determine the bioavailability of each amino acid. For example, when taking in amino acids from a food source, the amount of fat contained in that food influences the length of time it takes for amino acids to be put to use. The way you cook food can also impact the amino acids it contains. Some heat-sensitive amino acids can even decompose when cooked. And not all amino acid supplements are metabolized at the same rate. The physical nature of the supplement will have the most significant influence on its bioavailability. A BCAA powder, for instance, will be digested differently than a supplement in pill or liquid form. The extent to which a supplement is pre-digested as well as whether it contains any fillers or binders impact its overall bioavailability.

Understanding Muscle Protein Turnover

Muscle protein turnover is the metabolic basis that powers increased muscle mass, strength, and function.

Muscle protein turnover refers to the constant breakdown of older muscle proteins that are no longer operating at peak efficiency and their replacement with newly synthesized, more efficient muscle protein fibers. The balance between protein synthesis and breakdown determines whether a muscle is growing or shrinking.

Muscle function is accomplished by the contraction of muscle protein fibers. Muscle strength and function are determined by how many muscle protein fibers you have and the efficiency with which they contract. Increasing muscle protein mass and contractile efficiency is accomplished by optimizing muscle protein turnover.

For bodybuilding, the goal is to make the rate of muscle protein synthesis exceed the rate of protein breakdown. Further, the increased balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown should optimally be accomplished mainly by stimulating synthesis, not lessening breakdown—protein breakdown gets rid of muscle proteins that are not functioning efficiently, so it is good to keep that process functioning at full speed.

The Mechanics of Muscle Protein Synthesis

Muscle proteins are composed of a series of amino acids hooked together in a specific order determined by the messenger RNA (mRNA) in the cell for each specific muscle protein. The sequence of the mRNA is dictated by the DNA in the cell. There is a specific molecule for each amino acid (tRNA) that delivers it to the mRNA as required for incorporation into the protein that is being produced.

A simple, conceptual way to think about the process of 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 RNA is the written plan or blueprint, and transcription of the mRNA from the DNA is the process of writing up the plan. The tRNA molecules that bring the amino acids to the mRNA for incorporation into protein are like trucks that bring bricks to the building site, and the hooking of amino acids together in the proper order on the mRNA corresponds to the builder putting the bricks together according to the blueprint. The protein is the final product, or completed building, ready to serve its function.

The details of how muscle protein is made are important only so that it is clear why all the amino acids must be available in abundance. If the mRNA dictates that the next amino acid in the chain making up the protein is a particular amino acid that is deficient, then the process is halted and no muscle protein is produced.

How Amino Acids Impact Muscle Protein Synthesis

We must derive certain amino acids, as I touched on earlier, from dietary protein. However, the human body can synthesize other amino acids through chemical reactions that occur in the liver and select sites throughout the body.

The amino acids that must be obtained from the diet are called essential amino acids, or EAAs, while the amino acids that can be made in the body are called nonessential amino acids, or NEAAS.

The nine essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, phenylalanine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Three of the EAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, have been subcategorized as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), a descriptor which refers to their chemical structure. We typically put the number of nonessential amino acids at 11, as that’s how many NEAAs can be found in human protein, though other NEAAs like citrulline and ornithine can be found elsewhere in the body.

Since your body can produce NEAAS and they are available in abundance, the availability of EAAs serves as the limiting factor for setting the rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Using Essential Amino Acids to Stimulate Muscle Growth

Consuming essential amino acids, either as dietary protein or supplements, is the most potent stimulus of muscle protein synthesis. Consuming nonessential amino acids, either alone or with EAAs, has no impact.

EAA supplements have been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle mass, strength, and physical function in at least 25 clinical trials. The muscle-building response to EAAs is 2 to 4 times greater than the muscle-building response to the same amount of a whey protein supplement. The muscle-building response to EAAs is even greater than the response to hormonal treatment with testosterone, growth hormone, or insulin.

There is one very big must when it comes to EAA supplementation, however. In order to be effective, all the EAAs are required. That being said, there are varying degrees of importance among the EAAs.

Leucine, which is both an EAA and a BCAA, is particularly important. Leucine is the most abundant EAA in muscle protein, so it should comprise the highest proportion of an EAA supplement. Beyond its role as a component of muscle protein, leucine can signal the molecular mechanisms within the cell to initiate the process of protein synthesis. Important as leucine may be, however, it cannot function alone. All the other EAAs are required as well, roughly in proportion to their relative content in muscle. It is not possible to make muscle protein from leucine alone.

The Role of Essential Amino Acids for Bodybuilding

It is clear from the above discussion that making sure you consume enough essential amino acids is an important part of bodybuilding. Even when using EAA supplements, the main source for your essential amino acids intake will likely be dietary protein. Therefore, the place to start is with your diet.

Protein is the key dietary component of the basic bodybuilding diet. It will increase your muscle mass. You should set a goal of eating approximately 30% of your caloric intake as high-quality protein.

When I say high-quality protein, I mean a protein that contains a high abundance of essential amino acids. High-quality proteins are generally animal-based proteins. These protein food sources also have a significant amount of non-protein calories. Therefore, eating a sufficient amount of high-quality protein to supply all the EAAs you need is difficult through normal diet alone.

You will most likely run into issues with the flexibility of your diet when eating this amount of high-quality protein food sources because of the non-protein calories. Therefore, EAA supplements can play a vital role in helping you meet your dietary goal for EAA intake.

While the focus of your basic diet should be high-quality protein, you must remember that energy substrates (carbohydrates and fat) are important too. As an example, in a tightly controlled study, subjects drank the same amount of protein in the form of milk. In one case, it was skim milk, and in the other case whole milk. The stimulation of muscle protein synthesis was greater with the whole milk. Under these study conditions, the additional calories provided by the fat in the whole milk helped to fuel muscle building.

You must be in a positive energy balance to gain a significant amount of muscle mass. Carbohydrate is of less importance for resistance training than it is for endurance training, but you should eat enough fruit and vegetables to meet the RDAs for micronutrients. Also, carbohydrate intake will stimulate insulin release, and insulin is an anabolic hormone that will increase the amount of muscle protein made from your EAA intake.

Fat intake will also amplify the anabolic effect of EAAs, and therefore you can eat animal-based, high-quality protein foods without worrying about eating too much fat.

What you do want to keep in mind with your bodybuilding diet is that the more you eat, the bigger you will get. If you do eat a lot while lifting heavy weights and consuming EAA supplements as recommended, a significant part of the weight gain will be muscle.

You will also gain fat with this dietary approach, so you need to carefully monitor your body composition to be sure that the extra fat you put on does not counteract the benefits of the muscle gain. In a sport like powerlifting, that is not likely to be the case, but if you are bodybuilding for appearance, you must reach a balance between muscle and fat gains. This can be accomplished by incorporating aerobic exercise into your training program.

How to Use Essential Amino Acids for Optimal Bodybuilding Results

amino acids for bodybuilding

The research documenting the optimal use of amino acids for bodybuilding is extensive. Experts can provide precise guidance on the effects of taking EAAs both pre-workout and post-workout.

Consuming 15 grams of EAAs 30 minutes before starting your workout will elevate blood concentrations of essential amino acids throughout your workout and stop the muscle breakdown that would otherwise occur. A 15-gram dose of EAAs achieves a greater response on muscle protein synthesis than either casein or whey protein can, without creating the fullness that can hinder a workout.

Then immediately after your workout, take another 15 grams of EAAs. One hour later, take another 15-gram dose.

These recommendations stem from the assumption that you will be working out every day. When you do take off days, you should still consume the same amount of EAAs. Instead of using your workouts to determine the timing, however, take your EAAs between meals.

Between the completion of dinner and breakfast the next morning, you may go for 12 hours or more without food. During this post-absorptive time, muscle tissue breakdown transpires in order to supply amino acids to tissues and organs that have no protein reserve. Therefore, to fuel maximal muscle-building response around the clock, you should consume another 15 grams of EAAs before bedtime. If you have wholly committed to maximizing muscle gain, you can even set your alarm for a final dose at about 4 am.

Alternatively, you can take 20 grams of casein protein at bedtime. Because casein coagulates in the stomach, your body digests it at a slower rate, meaning the amino acids it contains are then absorbed over many hours. While the anabolic effect will be less than if you take the EAAs, this approach will save you the trouble of getting up in the middle of the night.

The total amount of supplemental EAAs you ingest should be in the range of 60 grams per day. Consuming this amount of EAAs will stimulate the production of new muscle protein without you having to also take in a significant amount of non-protein calories. The result will be a lean body with increased muscle mass and minimal increase in fat mass. Sixty grams of EAAs in addition to what you eat as part of your bodybuilding diet is needed to drive protein synthesis past what may be your normal genetic limit.

Do EAA Supplements Have Side Effects?

This a reasonable question, because bodybuilding requires a much higher than average EAA intake. An important caveat to state up front is that I am focusing exclusively on side effects from EAA supplements.

When your EAAs come from an unusually high amount of dietary protein intake, that will increase the rate of amino acid oxidation and as a result, burden the kidneys to excrete the ammonia and urea that are natural byproducts of NEAA oxidation.

The great thing about EAA supplements, however, is that there is no such increased oxidation of NEAAs when EAAs are consumed. This is because NEAAs are not also being consumed but are rather being produced in the body. In fact, the oxidation of the NEAAs actually goes down, since they are being incorporated into protein at an increased rate.

Consequently, there is no reason to worry about the side effects of EAA supplements. The FDA has determined EAA supplements to be Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS), while the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Science has determined that there is no upper limit of consumption beyond which would not be safe.

BCAAs and EAAs—Which Amino Acid Supplement Is Right for You?

If you search for “essential amino acids” on Google you will see many sites advertising branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and others advertising essential amino acids (EAAs). You may be left wondering: Are BCAAs and EAAs the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? Which is right for you?

Discussions of amino acids are rife with acronyms, but the two most common just might be BCAAs and EAAs.

If you search for “essential amino acids” on Google, the top results will be filled with sites proclaiming the health benefits of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. And you’ll also discover just as many sites where prominent experts in sports nutrition claim that BCAAs are worthless and the true heroes of the amino acid world are essential amino acids, or EAAs.

Understandably, you may be left wondering about the differences between BCAA supplements and EAA supplements. With all the strident advertising claims, it can be quite challenging to determine the basic facts about both types of amino acids, let alone which supplement option will be right for you.

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) Explained

Essential amino acids (EAAs) belong to a broader class of amino acids involved in protein synthesis and fittingly referred to as proteinogenic amino acids. One of the primary ways your body uses these amino acids, which have been nicknamed the building blocks of protein, is for muscle growth.

The class of proteinogenic amino acids can be split into two primary subcategories: essential amino acids (EAAs) and nonessential amino acids. Nine amino acids have been classified as essential because the human body cannot synthesize these on its own, meaning you must obtain them from dietary protein sources or nutritional supplements. The nine essential amino acids are:

Leucine Lysine Tryptophan
Isoleucine Threonine Histidine
Valine Phenylalanine Methionine

While the nonessential amino acids undeniably contribute to your overall health and well-being in crucial ways, the human body can produce them from a combination of essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and fats, rendering them comparatively nonessential.

EAAs play a variety of important roles in the body, including acting as precursors for the production of brain neurotransmitters and supporting immune function. However, as I mentioned above, the main role of EAAs is as constituents of proteins, including muscle protein.

Since all proteins in the body are continually broken down and re-synthesized, an adequate supply of all the EAAs is required or body protein will be lost. Most of the EAAs in body protein that is released as a result of protein breakdown are available for reincorporation into protein. However, approximately 15% of the EAAs released from protein breakdown are oxidized, which means they are irreversibly lost. The EAAs that are oxidized must be replaced through your diet since they cannot be produced in the body.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Explained

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) exist as a subcategory of essential amino acids. The three branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—got their name because of their distinctive, branch-like chemical structures.

When it comes to BCAA benefits, leucine dominates. Researchers have proposed that leucine holds a variety of regulatory roles in the body. Initial interest in the unique qualities of leucine concerned its primary role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, or the building of new muscle tissue. We can trace this interest back to a 1975 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that demonstrated leucine’s capacity to stimulate protein synthesis in isolated rat muscle.

Then in 1988, two scientists named Garlick and Grant conducted studies with rats to explore the possibility that the same effect could be elicited in a living creature. Their findings showed that a mixture of BCAAs could increase the muscle protein synthesis response to insulin.

The next major advance came in 2000 when the Journal of Nutrition published a study that investigated the potential mechanism by which leucine acts as a stimulator of muscle protein synthesis. The study authors showed that leucine ingestion stimulated muscle protein synthesis in rats and that the increase in synthesis was accompanied by the activation of several molecular factors (including the mTOR pathway) within the muscle cell that are required for initiation of the process of protein synthesis.

Researchers refer to these factors collectively as the initiation factors, and the entire molecular processes involved in the initiation of protein synthesis as anabolic signaling. The takeaway, at this point, was that leucine can activate anabolic signaling.

But an interesting phenomenon occurred when humans entered the research picture. When scientists began to study the beneficial effects of leucine on human subjects, it became evident that providing leucine alone disrupted the balance of plasma amino acids. Most notably, increased availability of leucine not only caused increased oxidation of leucine but the accelerated oxidation of the other two branched-chain amino acids as well.

Because providing leucine alone created isoleucine and valine deficiencies, supplement companies typically formulate their proprietary blends of BCAAS to contain all three amino acids even though no special qualities of either valine or isoleucine have been identified.

Based on both historic and recent studies, we now have a good grasp of what happens when humans take branched-chain amino acid supplements. Scientists have shown that taking between 2 and 4 grams of leucine as part of a complete BCAA dietary supplement may positively influence a variety of physiological endpoints, including increased muscle mass, improved recovery from exercise, and enhanced mood and cognitive performance during prolonged exercise.

There is no doubt that leucine can be considered a nutraceutical, a designation that honors its regulatory effects beyond its role as one of the building blocks of body proteins. It’s clear that increasing the amount of leucine you consume each day can help you to build muscle and optimize your exercise performance, among other benefits.

What You Should Know About Muscle Protein Synthesis

As I briefly noted in the section on EAAs, one of the major contributions amino acids make in the human body is the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

In fact, researchers have discovered that the availability of the essential amino acids determines the rate of muscle protein synthesis. That means that the smaller the number of available EAAs, the slower the rate of muscle protein synthesis, and the larger the number, the faster the rate.

Every time you eat a food that contains all nine essential amino acids, or take an EAA supplement, you stimulate muscle protein synthesis. The degree of stimulation of muscle protein synthesis by EAAs depends on the dose. The more EAAs ingested, (with a maximum threshold of 15 grams), the greater potential for building muscle. Conversely, if EAAs in the blood drop below a certain level, then your muscle-building potential becomes compromised. You can learn more about this process in my book, A Guide to Amino Acid and Protein Nutrition: Essential Amino Acids for Everyone.

The most important takeaway about the relationship between amino acids and muscle protein synthesis is that all the essential amino acids are required to make new protein. This can best be understood by thinking about how proteins are made.

Each protein in the body is a long string of amino acids linked together in a specific order. Protein is produced by hooking together amino acids one by one in the order dictated by messenger RNA in the cell. If a point is reached where the next amino acid due to be incorporated into the chain is not there, production of the protein will stop.

Where Do the Amino Acids for Protein Synthesis Come From?

The proteins that make up your muscles constantly break themselves down and then build themselves back up. The muscle breakdown process releases amino acids, which your body then recycles and uses for the synthesis of new proteins. In the basal state, the resting metabolic state of the body in the morning after 12 hours of fasting, amino acids released by muscle breakdown serve as the main source of amino acids for protein synthesis. Regardless of your metabolic state, approximately 85% of the amino acids released by muscle protein breakdown are re-used in the protein synthesis process.

There are two ways to increase the rate of protein synthesis: either you find a way to more efficiently reutilize the amino acids from protein breakdown, or you make more essential amino acids available by increasing your consumption of EAAs.

The bottom line? The simplest and most effective way to ensure that all the EAAs will be available for muscle protein synthesis in the optimal ratios is to increase your intake of essential amino acids.

BCAA or EAA Supplements—Which Are Better for Muscle Growth and Muscle Repair?

Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and settle the question of EAAs vs. BCAAs. To do so, let’s review what we’ve discussed so far. All three branched-chain amino acids—leucine, valine, and isoleucine—are also essential amino acids. They’re also all components of muscle protein. Plus, leucine can increase the efficiency of protein synthesis by activating the initiation factors. So, does that mean increasing your intake of leucine with a BCAA supplement is the best way to achieve desirable health outcomes like the stimulation of the synthesis of new muscle protein?

Not quite. Remember, if only BCAAs are consumed, they are limited in their ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. That’s because all the EAAs are required for a complete protein to be produced, and in the basal state, the only source of EAAs is from protein breakdown. Since most of those EAAs are already reincorporated, the maximal increase in protein synthesis is limited by the availability of the other EAAs. For this reason, research has shown that taking BCAAs alone has either no effect or a minor effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in human subjects.

There is no question that BCAAs are important for many functions in the body, including protein synthesis. However, the full benefit of BCAAs cannot be achieved if they are taken by themselves, because you cannot make a complete protein out of just three amino acids. The maximal effectiveness of the BCAAs is only achieved when they are taken along with the other six EAAs. Only a mixture of all the EAAs can provide a sustained stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. The nonessential amino acids in protein can be made in the body and are therefore not required in a dietary supplement.

A non-scientific analogy might be helpful in understanding the difference between BCAAs and EAAs. Think of EAAs like different players on a football team. In this analogy, leucine is the quarterback that calls the signals and is the most important player on the team—what team wins without a good quarterback? However, a team of just quarterbacks wouldn’t be very successful, and neither is an amino acid supplement made up entirely of grams of leucine.

All the positions on the team have an essential role to play, and without enough players for each position, the team will fail. Similarly, all the EAAs are required for the effects of leucine to translate to increased production of muscle protein. Consumption of a dietary supplement containing a balanced mixture of all the EAAs that includes a generous proportion of leucine is necessary for maximal results.

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.

The Best Strength Training Workouts Share These 5 Core Principles

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick—and it is more useful for building muscles than cardio workouts are. Check out the best strength training workouts for your back, shoulders, arms, legs, knees, chest, and abdomen.

If you’re new to the concept of strength training, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of strength workouts out there. Some programs prioritize good form over everything else, while others emphasis a high-intensity approach. Program A suggests starting with dumbbell rows and Program B begins with the shoulder press. Program C insists the best results come from training 4 days a week, yet Program D claims you can see even more significant gains by training a mere 2 days weekly. It would be understandable if trying to sift through the vast amounts of sometimes contradictory information about so-called “best strength training workouts” drained the energy you intended to channel into your workout.

So, how can you actually determine which strength training workout will be best? The short answer: the best strength training program for you will depend on your goals, your experience level, and your personal preferences. For the long answer, read on.

Strength Training, Defined

The simplest, most fundamental definition of strength training is any muscle-building activity. To get a bit more precise, strength training describes physical exercise that uses resistance to induce muscular contraction, thereby increasing strength, anaerobic resistance, and the size of skeletal muscles.

That said, it’s a common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulky. In fact, strength training can lead to more significant weight loss results than cardio training. According to Michaela Devries-Aboud, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at McMaster University, when you lift weights, you overload your muscles, which then trains them to adapt to lift more weight. This increases lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Having more muscle increases your everyday basal metabolic rate, making it easier to create a calorie deficit, a central component of weight loss.

While it’s common to see the terms “weightlifting,” “resistance training,” and “strength training” used interchangeably, they are not synonymous with one another. Resistance training refers to any exercise that causes your muscles to contract against an external resistance, which can be your own body weight or any other object that activates muscle contraction. The term “strength training,” which is also associated with weight lifting, refers to resistance exercises designed to build strength. And weight lifting functions as a subcategory of strength training.

Curious about what strength training workout routines entail? While there’s plenty of variation, you can expect the following aspects to appear in any strength training approach you try.

  • Heavy lifts: The defining characteristic of strength training is that you increase the amount of weight you lift over time. This is the best way to build strength. As you progress, you will go through periods in which you increase the volume (meaning more sets and more repetitions), but the ultimate goal is to push, pull, and squat increasingly heavy loads.
  • Short sets: Strength training emphasizes sets of lower repetitions (often abbreviated to reps)—typically, between four and six—in order to allow you to lift as much weight as possible. For those who are new to the world of weight lifting, a set is a series of reps completed back-to-back and followed by a brief break before the next set.
  • Rest periods: Taking a rest period that allows for recovery prior to each set allows you to lift more weight, which again, is the number one priority. It also ensures you can maintain proper form throughout all your sets, which improves performance and reduces risk of injury.
  • Compound exercises: These exercises involve tasking multiple joints and muscle groups with moving through a full range of motion, and perfectly facilitate the goal of moving the heaviest weight possible. Some examples of compound exercises include: the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up/pull-up.

Why Choose Strength Training

According to the Mayo Clinic, strength training deserves a place in any fitness program. Even if you’re a serious runner or a yoga devotee, it’s important to make time for strength training exercises.

One reason for this is that as we age, our lean muscle mass naturally decreases. From age 30 to age 70, you can lose more than 25% of the strength muscle fibers in your body. Studies show that strength training can counteract negative aspects of the aging process by ensuring you maintain your muscle mass and motor function as you grow older.

Some other proven ways that strength training can benefit your overall health and well-being include:

  • Encourage weight loss: In addition to the calories you burn while working out, and as touched on previously, strength training increases your basal metabolic rate so your body burns more calories at rest.
  • Increase bone density: Strength training places stress on your bones in a safe, structured way, which increases their density and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Improve balance: Research shows that building muscle can lead to better balance. This reduces risk of falls, allowing older individuals to remain more independent. It can also elevate quality of life for individuals of all ages.
  • Alleviate symptoms of chronic conditions: Experts have found that strength training can reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms related to a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, depression, and more.
  • Enhance cognition: It appears that consistent strength training sessions can sharpen cognition and learning skills.

5 Core Principles the Best Strength  Training Workouts Share

There is no single best strength training workout. As we discussed in the introduction, several factors will influence which strength training workout is the best fit for you. Given that a universal goal for all strength training workouts is to build strength, however, there are certain core principles that the best and most effective workout plans share.

1. Practice Progressive Overload

The principle of progressive overload is central to classic strength training plans. Progressive overload describes the practice of overloading your muscles by attempting to lift as much weight as possible. The muscles respond by growing stronger, which allows you to lift heavier weights, which causes your muscles to grow stronger again.

Unless you are an advanced lifter, however, or working under the supervision of an experienced coach, you should not attempt to perform exercises at the absolute limit of your strength—what’s known as a one rep max. It’s possible to make significant strength gains using the principle of progressive overload to fatigue the muscle fibers by lifting sub-maximal weights for more than a single repetition.

To do so, many recommend training to failure, though different experts stake out sometimes contradictory views on the best way to put that into practice. Reaching momentary muscular failure means that the first repetition at a given weight fails due to inadequate muscular strength. Some coaches hold that you should train to failure on all sets, while others state that will result in overtraining and recommend only training to failure on the last set of a given exercise.

It’s possible, too, to build strength in less intense ways. Progressive overload does not require one rep max lifts or training to failure. Instead, you simply need to ensure that you steadily increase the amount of resistance you’re working against. If you’re lifting weights, for instance, that means the amount you load onto the bar should be heavier 3 months from now than it is today.

2. Pay Equal Attention to All the Major Muscle Groups

Most of us tend to have a natural affinity for certain lifts. Say, for example, that the deadlift comes easily to you. It could be tempting to make that a mainstay of your strength training sessions and neglect the overhead press, pull-ups, the bench press, and so on.

While this may initially feel gratifying, over time, it will result in muscle imbalances. The best strength training programs give equal attention to the upper and lower body. That doesn’t mean you need to do a full-body workout every time (although there’s nothing wrong with that approach). You’ll just want to ensure that all the major muscle groups get fatigued so that you build strength evenly throughout your body.

3. Give Your Muscles Time to Recover

As touched on previously, practicing progressive overload helps to build muscle. As you may know, or may be able to intuit, this type of training is quite demanding. That means you should give as much time and attention to recovery as you do to the active part of your training regimen. The stronger you get, the more important recovery becomes.

The best strength programs drill progressive overload for each major muscle group and—crucially—include adequate time for those muscles to rest and repair before they’re trained again.

Just as there’s no single answer to the question of which strength training workout is best, the amount of time required between workouts varies. For those new to strength training, some guidelines you may find helpful are to aim for training each muscle group at least 2 times weekly while including at least a full rest day between training sessions for each muscle group. That means if you tax your arms and chest with the bench press on Monday, you would let those muscle groups rest until Wednesday at the earliest.

4. Include Rest Periods Between Sets

It’s vital not only to include rest periods, but also not to shortchange them. While it can be tempting to stick to short rest periods, which allow you to push through a workout faster and feel more of a burn as you do, cutting your rest periods short undermines the paramount principle of progressive overload.

Short rest periods will steer you toward lighter weights, or fewer sets, both of which will impede your progress. According to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, individuals who take longer rest periods between sets build more muscle and gain more strength than those who take shorter rests.

So, just how long of a rest period should you use? A review paper published by Menno Henselmans, a peer-reviewed researcher and member of the Legion Athletics Scientific Advisory Board, set out to answer that question.

After closely analyzing all existing research on how different lengths of rest periods impact muscle and strength gains, Henselmans found that the best metrics come from your intuition. The most effective rest period will be as much time as you need in order to feel wholly prepared for your next set.

If you have the kind of temperament that thrives on precise measurements, you can stash these away. Typically, the time it will take you to recover works out to 2 minutes for light to average sets and 3 for your heaviest sets. Depending on the day, you may feel you need to take longer—and you should listen to that feeling.

5. Make Exertion Enjoyable

Don’t discount this principle. Michelle Segar, psychologist and author of “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness,” explains in her book that the human brain is geared to make decisions that lead to immediate gratification. That means if you want to stick to a strength training program, it’s important to choose one that results in immediate, satisfying results.

No one can change their physique in a single training session, but the approach you choose should consistently yield perceivable changes that make you excited for each session.

Keep in mind, too, that if a particular strength training program isn’t delivering in the way you’d hoped, you can try a different one. That said, hopping from one to the next can impede progress. Unless it makes you entirely miserable, commit to a program for at least 3 months, enough time to accurately gauge what it has to offer.

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick

How to Start Strength Training

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), adults should train each major muscle group 2 or 3 days weekly.

Older adults or those who have been previously sedentary should begin with light intensity exercises. One reason for this is that muscles get weaker after age 50 at a rate of approximately 15% per decade. To avoid over-taxing muscles, older adults as well as those unaccustomed to strength training should begin with lighter weights and shorter sessions. The ACSM recommends exercising 2 days per week and doing one set of 10-15 repetitions for each muscle group. Weight can be increased at regular intervals, bringing benefits such as increased bone density and decreased insulin resistance. Older adults should be sure to include core exercises in their training program to improve balance and stability.

According to Shawn Arent, director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University and a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine, a 2-day weekly strength training program can yield impressive results for novices. For those who are already fit, strength training (whether done on its own or in addition to another training modality) optimizes your well-being, though you will typically need to devote at least 3 days a week in order to make progress.

Weights and repetitions depend on your age, previous experience, and baseline strength. When in doubt, remember that one set of 12 to 15 repetitions typically suffices for full-body exercises as well as those targeting individual muscle groups.

The ACSM guidelines address recovery time as well, suggesting that you allow each muscle group 48 hours to recover before targeting it again. Muscle soreness is likely to happen as you’re building up your strength, so allowing time for rest and recovery is crucial.

Before starting a strength training workout, begin by running through a quick warm-up. Typically, that looks like 5 to 10 minutes of cardio exercises and/or dynamic stretches.

If you’re new to strength training, your priority should be learning proper technique. Dial down the intensity as low as you need until you’re fully confident in your starting position and progression for an exercise. It can be incredibly valuable to work with a coach who can observe you and communicate where your form may be slipping.

When you design your strength training plan, you should tackle full-body exercises as well as those that work large muscle groups in the upper body or lower body—such as the glutes, quadriceps, back, chest, and hamstrings—before smaller muscle groups like the shoulders, triceps, biceps, and calves. If you fatigue a smaller muscle group first, the larger group will not work at its maximum potential.

Here’s an example of what this looks like in action: for a workout that includes bent-over rows and bicep curls, complete the bent-over rows first. You work your biceps in both exercises, but you also target the larger and stronger back muscles in the rows. If you’ve already fatigued your biceps, then your back muscles will not get an optimal workout.

Choose isolation exercises, which work only one muscle group at a time, to increase the intensity for that muscle group. All bicep and tricep exercises are isolation exercises.

One way to use isolation exercises is to start with a heavy weight that you can do for 10 repetitions, complete the 10 repetitions, rest, and then do another set of repetitions using a lighter weight. Do as many repetitions as you can at that weight, then continue to scale down as you reach your fatigue threshold. Add one set that requires you work to the point of momentary muscular failure for each workout, choosing a different exercise and a different body part each time. Keep a record of how many repetitions you can perform, then challenge yourself on a weekly basis by trying to improve your total.

Building an Effective Strength Training Workout Plan

As touched on previously, a good, effective strength training workout plan will work all the major muscle groups in the body: the back, abdomen, chest, arms, and legs. Each of those muscle groups is comprised of other, smaller muscles and muscle groups, such as the quads and abdominals.

Here’s an outline of which exercises target specific muscle groups. Many of the exercises below are compound exercises, meaning they engage multiple muscle groups. In those instances, they’re listed beneath the largest muscle group they target.

Back and Core

Working the muscles of both your upper and lower back is incredibly important, particularly if you spend your day working in front of a computer.

Some fundamental back exercises include dumbbell rows, deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts.

Abdomen

Keep in mind that your core muscles wrap around your back. If you suffer from lower back pain, strengthening your core muscles can help address that.

To practice engaging your core muscles, place your hands just above your hips and tighten the muscles beneath your palms—this is called bracing.

Many experts feel that compound, full-body exercises work the muscles of the abdomen more effectively than isolation exercises like crunches.

Planks and side planks are two effective body-weight core exercises that can help you build strength.

Chest

A number of exercises can help you develop a muscular chest. You’re likely familiar with the bench press and push-ups, two challenging choices that certainly produce results.

The chest press, of course, also targets this muscle group. Other exercises include dips and flys.

Arms

Many people hope to develop strong, toned shoulders and arms—often, the focus here is more on the desired appearance than functional goals.

Some of the best exercises to work your shoulders include side lateral raises, overhead press, reverse fly, bicep curls, and tricep extensions and kickbacks.

Legs

You can strengthen your legs and knees using body-weight exercises or weighted exercises. Building strong quads—the four large muscles that run along the front of the thigh—helps to support and fortify your knees.

Squats, of course, are a classic and highly effective leg exercise. Many regard them as the most challenging leg exercise, especially when heavily weighted. Olympic lifts like the snatch and power clean also work the muscle groups in your legs. The Bulgarian split squat improves balance while building strength, and walking dumbbell lunges can double as cardio exercise.

Cardio training is an excellent way to stay healthy and lose weight, but strength-training can give your weight-loss goals an extra kick

A Beginner’s Guide to Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. It has many beneficial properties, including lowering fat mass and increasing muscle mass and strength. Results in humans, however, are inconsistent. A greater understanding of amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to advancing growth hormone therapy.

Public interest in growth hormone seems to be constantly increasing. And based on recent studies, it seems that an improved understanding of the relationship between amino acids and growth hormone may be the key to unlocking the benefits of increased growth hormone production.

In technical terms, growth hormone (GH), also called human growth hormone (hGH) in reference to human use, can be categorized as a peptide hormone that sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. As you may already know, or be able to guess from that definition, studies link growth hormone to a plethora of desirable effects, especially when it comes to athletic performance and aging.

It appears that growth hormone could be the key to remaining strong and healthy as we grow older. But how exactly does growth hormone work? And why has supplemental growth hormone been banned for all off-label use? And last but not least, what role could amino acids play in safely and naturally increasing your growth hormone levels?

Read on to find out.

How Growth Hormone Works

Growth hormone is, as the name tells you, a hormone. The pituitary gland controls growth hormone production (as well as most hormone production) and also regulates growth hormone release. GH release occurs in short bursts every 3 to 5 hours, then dissipates rapidly. Testing indicates that serum growth hormone levels peak about an hour after you fall asleep.

Growth hormone regulates your growth and development during your early years. When you enter puberty, your GH levels hit their highest point and stimulate increases in muscle mass and bone density. Over the course of your lifetime, growth hormone influences your body temperature, sugar and fat metabolism, and heart function.

Researchers have found that growth hormone increases the amount of protein allocated to your muscles, which spurs muscle growth. It also pulls fat from your body’s stores and transports it into your bloodstream where it can be burned for energy. Recent studies have also linked higher levels of serum growth hormone to better sleep quality, more resilient bones, and increased libido. And there’s evidence indicating that increased hGH levels (in conjunction with a good supply of collagen) help keep your skin taut and glowing.

Top Uses for Growth Hormone Replacement Therapy

As we’ve discussed, human growth hormone is a naturally occurring substance. However, scientists have found ways to produce synthetic hGH.

Doctors use synthetic hGH primarily to treat delayed or stunted growth in both children and adults. Some medical causes of growth issues include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Turner syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Impaired hGH production
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Muscle wasting disease

Other legitimate medical uses for synthetic hGH include the treatment of short bowel syndrome and muscle wasting caused by HIV or AIDS.

Receiving hGH injections can elevate growth hormone levels, resulting in benefits such as:

  • Increased capacity for physical exertion
  • Better bone density
  • Greater muscle mass
  • Decreased body fat

Understandably, those benefits appeal to many people with normal production of hGH too.

In fact, growth hormone is one of the most popular performance-enhancing drugs. Athletes dope with hGH, sometimes in combination with anabolic steroids, in order to rapidly and dramatically build muscle mass and boost their endurance and performance.

The simple fact that the use of growth hormone as a performance enhancer is banned by all anti-doping governing bodies indicates it can induce some beneficial gains. Scientific studies have shown this to be particularly true when it comes to amplifying the effects of weight training.

Growth hormone replacement therapy is also a sought-after anti-aging treatment. Research tells us that growth hormone secretion declines as you age. And as you age, your overall muscle mass decreases and body fat percentage increases. Although there is no proof that decreased growth hormone concentrations cause these changes in body composition, proponents believe that growth hormone replacement therapy can reverse these age-related changes.

The Search for the Best Growth Hormone Booster Is On

Even if you aren’t in a position to have to worry about the rules set in place by governing bodies, it’s a good idea to steer clear of off-label use of synthetic hGH. Even when prescribed and injected by a doctor who’s also monitoring your overall health, growth hormone replacement therapy can have side effects like:

  • Nerve, muscle, and joint pain
  • Fluid retention
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Liver damage
  • Increased risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Growth of cancerous tumors
  • Acromegaly (unusual growth of hands, feet, and facial features)
  • Dependency and withdrawal

Taking illicit hGH is especially risky, since there’s no way to be absolutely sure of the composition of those products. And beware of any growth hormone supplements designed to be taken orally, since your body cannot utilize an oral dose of growth hormone.

Since it can be expensive and risky to utilize growth hormone replacement therapy for performance boosting and anti-aging purposes, much effort has been made to identify a nutritional approach to stimulating growth hormone release. Nutritional stimulation of growth hormone secretion would achieve the benefits of growth hormone replacement therapy within the regulations of drug enforcement agencies and without any concerning side effects.

What Science Tells Us About Amino Acids and Growth Hormone

Amino acids have been the primary focus of efforts to identify nutritional approaches to stimulating growth hormone release.

Based on a wealth of anecdotal evidence, many athletes and other individuals interested in remaining vibrant as they age have already used amino acid supplementation to boost their hGH levels. There’s also mounting data from scientific studies indicating that amino acid supplements function as growth hormone secretagogues, meaning they induce GH release.

It’s quite clear that the intravenous administration of certain amino acids results in significant growth hormone release. For example, doctors routinely use an intravenous arginine infusion test to check the pituitary gland’s GH response. In healthy individuals, the injection of arginine (L-arginine) leads to a 52% increase in concentrations of arginine in the bloodstream, which in turn results in significantly increased GH concentrations.

Intravenous injections of ornithine (L-ornithine) also spur growth hormone release. Studies show it can result in a 5-fold increase in serum growth hormone concentrations within just 45 minutes.

However, the intravenous arginine infusion test results in much higher arginine concentrations in the blood than can be achieved with oral consumption. This is because orally ingested arginine is rapidly cleared by the liver, which blunts the increase in arginine concentration in the blood.

Coupled with the fact that oral consumption of a large amount of arginine causes diarrhea and other symptoms of GI distress, the doses of oral arginine that have been tested as potential growth hormone boosters don’t measure up to intravenous infusions of arginine.

Oral consumption results in much lower concentrations of arginine in the blood than those achieved during the intravenous arginine test. Consequently, an oral dose of arginine only stimulates growth hormone production in certain circumstances.

Oral supplementation with arginine has been tested both alone and in combination with other amino acids. Trials looking at the use of amino acids to stimulate the release of growth hormone have been run with combinations of arginine and ornithine, and arginine and lysine. Lysine has been tested alone as well. In addition, glutamine and glycine have each been tested as growth hormone stimulants.

The results of recent studies have been inconsistent. It appears that regardless of the amino acid combination, some studies report positive results while others fail to find a significant effect.

Some findings appear to indicate that the time of day when a person takes the amino acids may determine whether, and to what extent, they impact GH concentrations.

For example, some scientists have hypothesized that arginine may only act as a growth hormone secretagogue at night. During one study, researchers gave participants 250 mg/kg/day of oral arginine aspartate for a week. Then they measured growth hormone and prolactin secretion over 24 hours by using methods such as radioimmunoassay analysis of blood samples taken every 30 minutes. Those results were compared to data obtained from the same subjects under identical conditions after a week of placebo supplementation. All subjects had growth hormone levels during slow wave sleep that were about 60% higher after a week of arginine supplementation than after a week of taking the placebo.

Using a combination of arginine and ornithine in conjunction with resistance training seems to deliver fairly consistent results as well. It’s not yet entirely clear, however, if those benefits have do do with growth hormone release.

For a double-blind study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, participants completed a 5-week progressive strength-training program. Half the participants took an amino acid supplement that combined 2 grams of L-arginine and 1 gram of L-ornithine, while the others took a placebo.

The subjects who took the amino acid blend scored far higher for total strength as well as lean body mass than those who took the placebo. The authors concluded that both arginine and ornithine can, in conjunction with a high-intensity strength-training program, substantially increase strength, muscle growth, and fat loss in a short period of time. It also seems that the amino acids supported muscle recovery and prevented inflammation related to tissue breakdown.

However, that study did not specifically measure growth hormone production, so there’s no way to know for sure whether that was, indeed, the driving force behind the reported benefits. Plus, other studies have been unable to duplicate those results for individuals with lower activity levels as well as for older individuals.

To date, no combination of amino acids has proved to be universally beneficial in terms of increasing growth hormone concentrations. In all the scientific studies, there have been people who responded and people who didn’t. Furthermore, there is very limited data indicating that stimulation of growth hormone release by one or two individual amino acids translates to an increased rate of protein synthesis in muscle.

A Different Angle on the Benefits of Growth Hormone

The reason stimulation of growth hormone release with one or two individual amino acids doesn’t lead to significant muscle growth is that all the essential amino acids are required to produce a complete muscle protein.

Furthermore, it is not growth hormone, per se, that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Although growth hormone may have some direct metabolic effects, its main action is to encourage the expression of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is a potent stimulator of muscle protein synthesis if expressed inside the muscle cell. It is not clear whether individual amino acids increase the expression of IGF-1 in muscle, but studies indicate that essential amino acids can work synergistically to increase IGF-1 function inside muscle cells.

An important study in which older individuals were given either a balanced formulation of all the essential amino acids or a placebo for 3 months showed clearly that both muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis increased for the amino acid group compared to the placebo group. Participants supplementing with a complete essential amino acid formula expressed more IGF-1 inside their muscle cells, which resulted in favorable changes to their lean body mass. Muscle protein synthesis not only increased when essential amino acid levels in the blood shot up after consumption, but also in the basal state between meals. This means that IGF-1 is released continuously into the muscle, where it increases the capacity to make new muscle protein, both day and night.

Activating Growth Hormone with Essential Amino Acids

What we’ve seen thus far is that for some people, growth hormone release can be stimulated by consumption of a variety of amino acids—arginine, lysine, ornithine, glutamine, glycine—either alone or in combination. But it’s clear that many factors influence the effect amino acids have on hGH production. Responses in sedentary individuals, including older individuals, are much less consistent.

The inability of individual amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in every circumstance and in every human is likely due to the fact that all essential amino acids are required to make new muscle protein. Dietary supplementation with a balanced mixture of essential amino acids has the advantage over individual amino acids because muscle protein synthesis is directly stimulated by essential aminos, and the increase in IGF-1 in muscle stimulates the synthesis of new muscle protein 24 hours a day.

Growth hormone sparks growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals.

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.

Resistance Exercise: Muscle Strength, Muscle Mass, Muscle Definition

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass, and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help! Just as your training will differ depending on your performance goals, so, too, will your optimal nutrition program, including the formulation of your EAA supplements, which will help you build muscle fast.

Resistance exercise, often referred to as strength training or weight training (though you can make major strength gains using only your own body weight), is a broad term that encompasses any physical activity involving the use of resistance to muscular contractions in order to increase muscular strength, decrease body weight, and improve your overall quality of life.

Resistance training exercises work the major muscle groups in the body by asking them to overcome resistance force. Push-ups are a classic example of a bodyweight resistance exercise. When you commit to a resistance exercise training program—and execute the movements with good form—you can see impressive improvements when it comes to building muscle.

While there are many benefits of resistance training, including better joint function, increased bone density, and enhanced muscle, tendon, and ligament strength, a well-rounded training program should also incorporate aerobic exercise that targets the health of your heart and lungs as well as flexibility and balance exercises to expand both your range of motion and your control in positions at the extremes of that range.

Before helping you compare resistance-training approaches to determine which is the best fit for you, let’s take a moment to go over the benefits of resistance training.

How Resistance Training Benefits Your Health

Studies show that resistance exercise can improve your health in a number of significant ways.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

According to a review published in Preventative Medicine: “Research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain, and other disabilities.”

The authors of the review also note that resistance training has been found to positively influence risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, such as:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Resting metabolic rate
  • Glucose metabolism
  • Blood pressure
  • Body fat
  • Gastrointestinal transit time

And they found that all these benefits of resistance training can likely be achieved through two 15- to 20-minute training sessions each week—quite a minimal time investment for such a considerable health payoff!

Additional benefits associated with resistance exercise include:

  • Decreased risk of injury to joints
  • Increased skeletal muscle strength
  • Improved muscle to fat ratio
  • Reduced risk of cognitive decline
  • Greater stamina
  • Lower levels of chronic pain
  • Better mobility and balance
  • Higher bone density, which decreases your risk of osteoporosis
  • Fewer instances of insomnia
  • Corrected posture
  • Enhanced sense of well-being, both physical and mental

5 Different Types of Resistance Exercise

When it comes to resistance-exercise programs, there are numerous options out there sure to appeal to individuals with a wide range of fitness levels and physical activity preferences.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

If you’re new to resistance training, you may find it beneficial to work with a personal trainer. There are also many online resources that can help you find appropriate warm-up exercises, build muscular strength, work toward healthy weight-loss goals, and effectively target different body parts.

Some popular resistance-training approaches include:

  1. Free weights: This is the category for classic strength-training tools like the dumbbells and barbells you need to execute a bench press. Kettlebells, medicine balls, and sandbags belong here too, as do any other weights you lift without guidance from a machine.
  2. Weight machines: These can be more approachable if you’re new to lifting weights, though some experts feel they’re less effective for building overall muscle strength than free weights are since they work one muscle group at a time. Examples of common weight machines include the seated leg press, pull-downs, and lever triceps dips.
  3. Resistance bands: These deceptively simple tools (they’re just giant rubber bands) are portable, adaptable to practically any workout, and can be immensely challenging. When stretched, they offer continuous (and adjustable) resistance throughout a workout.
  4. Suspension equipment: This category includes simple hanging bars that allow you to do pull-ups and chin-ups, as well as machines that use counter-balanced weights to make those movements easier.
  5. Your own body weight: Hands-down the most accessible form of exercise, since all you need is your own body. You can use bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and chin-ups to train both your upper body and your lower body.

Which Type of Resistance Exercise Is Best for You?

Increasing muscle strength is a primary goal of resistance exercise. But what if your goal is to increase muscle strength without increasing mass? For example, extra body weight is a liability to a distance runner, but increased muscle strength is an asset. A football player on the other hand not only wants to get stronger, but also wants to get bigger. A bodybuilder wants to increase muscle protein mass while minimizing body fat and muscle glycogen in order to get the “ripped” look.

Just as your training will differ depending on your performance goals, so, too, will your optimal nutrition program, including the formulation of your essential amino acid (EAA) supplements, which will help you build muscle fast.

Here are three questions to consider when deciding which resistance-training program, as well as dietary and supplement supports, will be the best match for you and your goals.

Want to increase muscle strength, muscle mass and muscle definition? EAA supplementation can help!

1. Do You Want to Build Muscle Mass?

It’s a common misconception that lifting weights will make you bulkier. The response of the muscles to resistance exercise and EAA supplementation depends on both the type of workout and the amount of calories you consume. Performing a few heavy lifts, for instance, primes the muscle to respond to essential amino acids with both an increase in strength and muscle mass.

When you do multiple lifts with a relatively small weight, muscle protein turnover will also be stimulated to a greater extent when EAAs are taken in conjunction with the workout, but there will be a closer balance between synthesis and breakdown, and strength will increase without much change in muscle mass.

It’s easy to see how the type of workout can affect the desired outcome: strength, or strength plus mass.

Calorie Intake Is Key

Consuming extra calories while supplementing with EAAs will also affect your body’s response to resistance exercise. An EAA supplement has a very small caloric value, and when taken in conjunction with resistance exercise imparts a greater effect on strength than on muscle mass. But if you increase the amount of calories you ingest while also taking EAAs, the size of your muscles will increase alongside strength. Of course, lifting heavy for a few reps will have much more of a mass effect than lifting light for multiple reps.

How Carbs Impact Muscle Mass and Definition

The non-protein component of an EAA supplement also affects the ultimate impact of exercise on strength and mass. If EAAs are taken with carbohydrate, the insulin response to carbohydrate will enhance the EAA effect on muscle protein synthesis, suppress protein breakdown, and contribute to a greater net gain of muscle protein mass. In addition, some of the carbohydrate will be stored in the muscle as glycogen, and water will attach to the glycogen in its storage form in muscle. As a result, muscle size will increase even more than from the gain in net protein. However, water and glycogen storage will lessen muscle definition.

If you are trying to increase muscle mass and strength and are not particularly concerned about muscle definition, then you should take carbohydrate along with EAAs before and after a workout. If you are a bodybuilder and want to get bigger but also want muscle definition, then it is best to limit carbohydrate intake. This is true not only with regard to EAA supplements, but also with your basic diet. If mass and strength with definition is your target, then take only EAAs before and during the workout, and eat a diet made up of largely protein and fat. This will minimize the storage of glycogen and water in the muscle, both of which impair muscle definition.

Muscle Definition with EAA Supplementation

If muscle strength and definition without much increase in mass is your specific goal, I recommend taking EAAs by themselves before and after your workout. By performing a large number of repetitions with a relatively low weight, the muscle gain will be less than the muscle gain stimulated by fewer lifts with heavy weights. It may be inevitable that you gain some muscle mass along with your strength gains, but if you take EAAs without carbohydrates before and after workouts, the major impact will be on strength.

2. Do You Want to Lose Weight?

Many people believe that cardio is the most effective kind of exercise for weight loss, but studies clearly show that strength training can be at least as effective, if not more effective, when it comes to helping you lean out.

New research from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers clear insight into how resistance exercise can help you lose weight faster than moderate cardio can. One reason for this, the study authors note, is that building muscle boosts your metabolism, which can speed up your weight-loss efforts.

People also find it easier to make time for a quick resistance-training session than for an hour-long treadmill workout. This makes it more likely that individuals will adhere to a consistent physical activity program, which is key for weight-loss results.

A Manageable Time Commitment

The ACSM study indicates comparable results for two strength-training sessions weekly versus three strength-training sessions weekly. Shooting for just two workouts per week is a manageable way to introduce a physical activity training program into your schedule.

To maximize your results, you’ll want to choose workouts that target all of your major muscle groups: upper body, lower body, and core.

The Progressive Overload Principle

When beginning a strength-training program, many people have questions about how much weight they should lift. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends selecting a weight (or level of resistance) that requires between 60% and 70% of your maximal effort.

A helpful trick for gauging that is to settle on a weight at which you can complete 10 repetitions with proper form—your posture doesn’t begin to slip, you’re not using momentum to make it easier, and so on. The goal is to choose an appropriate weight or resistant force that requires strenuous effort but doesn’t strain you to the extent that you compromise your form.

To continue to reap the benefits of strength training, including weight loss, you need to consistently reach the point at which it would be difficult for you to complete another repetition. This is the principle of progressive overload: regularly adjusting training variables such as the number of sets and repetitions you complete, or the weight you use, in order to continue to grow stronger and fitter.

When the 10-rep set you began with starts to feel too easy, you’ll increase your set to 15 reps at the same weight. And once that no longer presents a challenge, increase your weight by 5%. So, if you initially used 10-pound dumbbells, you’d bump the weight up to 15 pounds.

The ACSM study authors suggest beginning with two to four sets of each exercise you choose with a rest period of 30 seconds between sets. They also note that previous research has shown even a single round of each exercise can lead to results.

How to Measure Your Progress

While resistance exercise inarguably helps you lose body fat, that doesn’t necessarily translate to overall weight loss. Studies cited by the ACSM authors show that on average, individuals lose 1 pound of fat each month after adopting a resistance-training program while increasing their lean body weight by 1 pound. If you’re following along with the calculations, you’ll have realized that comes out to zero pounds of overall weight loss.

This means the scale will not be the most reliable way to track your progress. Where you will see changes, however, are the fit of your clothes. If you’re interested in having a precise way to measure the effects, you can take measurements of your waist, hips, and other body parts to record how resistance training reshapes your body.

3. Do You Get Bored Easily?

When picking the right training program for you, it’s important not to neglect the mental component of working out. If you thrive on routine and find it stressful to try to master new skills, you’ll do best with an approach like muscular-isolation training or powerlifting. But if you enjoy variety and find yourself quickly tiring of workouts once they become familiar, you’ll want to seek out something like explosive dynamic training or circuit training that builds in plenty of novelty.

No? Here’s How to Build a Reliable Routine

If you’re looking for a weight-training program that can remain consistent from week to week, either muscular-isolation training or powerlifting may be a wonderful fit for you.

Muscular-isolation training is a time-tested approach centered on working only one or two muscle groups each day. Unlike whole-body programs, the purpose of this approach is to isolate and thoroughly exhaust the muscles in question.

Both beginning and advanced lifters can benefit from this type of training. It’s especially helpful if your goal is to increase muscle definition in a particular area, for example, your chest.

Powerlifting used to be reserved for dedicated gym rats only, but in recent years, interest in this highly effective type of training has grown exponentially. This type of strength training relies on large movements that involve multiple major muscle groups. For some movements, you’ll be lifting a heavy weight off the floor and raising it all the way over your head. Powerlifting training exercises include weighted squats, deadlifts, snatches, and power cleans.

Powerlifting engages your entire body and brings about massive strength gains. While beginners can benefit from power lifting with guidance from an expert coach, these are innately high-risk exercises.

As the amount of weight you can lift becomes heavier, so do the repercussions when it comes to injuries. That said, exerting your muscles to this extent can be incredibly beneficial. Research indicates that powerlifting can lower your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and even cognitive decline.

Yes? Try These Variety-Filled Workouts

Athletes love explosive dynamic training because this approach incorporates a significant amount of aerobic exercise. A typical workout might involve some combination of box jumps, rope climbs, and powerlifting moves like squats, snatches, and cleans (albeit, performed with lighter weights so that it’s possible to rapidly complete a high number of repetitions).

As with powerlifting, any beginners interested in explosive dynamic training should seek out a well-trained professional to teach them how to perform each movement with correct form and to coach them through the workouts.

Explosive dynamic training, which encompasses the CrossFit take on strength training, can be an invaluable tool to support efforts to lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. The mix of resistance exercise and aerobic exercise ensures that your heart rate remains elevated while consistently breaking down muscle tissue to instigate muscle growth. This helps you both to burn more calories in the moment and to build lean mass so that you burn more calories at rest.

If explosive dynamic training sounds like a more intense commitment than you’re currently looking for, total-body circuit training might be a good fit for you.

You may be familiar with popular versions of total-body circuit training programs like P90x and Insanity. These boot-camp-style workouts use lighter weights to increase the difficulty of a variety of movements. This is a great way for those new to weight training to explore the benefits of this type of physical activity, especially because there are a plethora of guided programs out there.

Total-body training doesn’t tend to deliver weight-loss results as quickly as explosive dynamic training does, but it can be a wonderful way to support long-term weight-loss goals.

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.