What Is the Amino Diet?

Find out what the amino acid diet entails, which amino acids are included, how they function to help you lose weight, and whether there’s a better amino acid option out there.

Wondering what is the amino diet?

The amino diet is a weight-loss diet plan that operates on the principle that amino acid supplementation along with a healthy diet and exercise routine will help you shed pounds even faster and more effectively than healthy eating and exercise alone. This highly structured program is designed for those looking to lose weight quickly, for those hoping to achieve weight loss while keeping a vegetarian diet, and for those wanting to know exactly what they should eat and when every day. If this is the sort of weight-loss program that sounds good to you, read on for the details.

How Does the Amino Diet Work?

The liquid amino diet comes with an eyedropper full of amino acids, a diet guidebook, and a three-stage plan to follow to prime you for losing weight and keeping it off. It’s not only possible to follow this diet without consuming any meat (simply skip the meals that suggest meat and replace them with a non-meat protein option), but it’s also focused on low glycemic index foods, ideal for diabetics hoping to take control of their weight.

What is the amino acid diet?

What Is the Amino Diet and Its Phases?

While the eating plan for the amino diet is quite restrictive, the founder Dr. Humble Finsand ensured that you’d never feel hungry by allowing for up to five meals per day. In addition to an improved dietary intake, the weight-loss supplement at play here isn’t a diet pill as much as it’s insurance you’re getting enough amino acids.

Amino acids are important for, among other things, balancing hormones, building muscle, and managing weight. Following this diet’s three phases will help you control your blood sugar levels and burn fat quickly and safely. The phases are:

  • Phase 1: The initial step is the main weight-loss phase, lasting between 30-90 days. You’ll take the recommended amount of amino drops each day, and transition into clean eating, which involves a daily allotment of about 1,000 calories of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and some carbs.
  • Phase 2Discontinue taking the amino drops and increase your calorie intake up to 1,500. This is to prevent your body from entering starvation mode, which is characterized by weight gain because your body thinks it needs fat stored to protect against famine. More carbs and food varieties will be allowed during this phase.
  • Phase 3: This final phase turns the reins back over to you as you gradually increase your food variety (perhaps welcoming back your favorite natural sugars and starches), and maintain the weight loss you achieved by leading a healthy lifestyle. Should the weight return, you can begin the cycle again.

Note: the diet drops are only meant to be taken in Phase 1, though other supplements like fish oil and protein powders are recommended throughout.

The Pros and Cons of the Amino Diet

There are upsides and downsides to this diet that you may want to consider before trying it.

Pros

  • Low-glycemic foods: The amino diet is a low-glycemic diet, perfect for those with blood sugar concerns or diabetes.
  • No guesswork: The diet program is laid out very clearly in a book that provides 30 days’ worth of meals and food choices.
  • Vegetarian options: You can avoid eating meat by choosing the protein options and meals that don’t contain meat or fish.
  • No hunger: You can eat up to five meals a day with this plan and still expect to lose weight.
  • Aminos acids: You are provided with an amino acid supplement that will help ensure your nutrient balance.

Cons

  • Fewer choices: Some foods are eliminated entirely for this diet, and the limited range of food may become discouraging.
  • Costly plans: A 30-day plan can run up to $90, a 60-day plan goes up to about $140, and a 90-day plan can cost $180. Longer plans are needed depending on how much weight loss you pursue. Each plan comes with a guidebook, a 30-day meal plan, and amino acid appetite suppressants.
  • Extreme calorie deficits: The initial phase of this plan calls for extremely low calorie intake, which may not be advisable for everyone and can put the body into starvation mode if continued for too long. Consult your doctor before dramatically reducing your calorie intake.
  • Possible medication interactions: It’s important to make sure the drops will not affect any medication you’re currently taking, so be sure to seek medical advice before adding any dietary supplements to your daily intake.
  • Amino limits: The liquid amino acid diet only utilizes amino acid supplementation for the first phase, when essential amino acids are needed all the time. More than that, it only includes a limited amount of amino acids instead of a full roster of the essential amino acids.

What Amino Acids Are in the Liquid Amino Diet?

Along with phytolacca berry and other ingredients intended to aid weight loss, the amino acids contained in Dr. Finsand’s amino acid supplement bottle are L-arginine, L-carnitine, and L-ornithine, none of which are essential amino acids. Essential aminos are the ones your body cannot synthesize itself, meaning they need to be consumed in the proper amount each day for new muscle growth to take place.

  • L-arginine: This amino acid is converted into nitric oxide in the body, which allows your blood vessels to relax and open wider for better blood flow. L-arginine also acts as a stimulant for the release of insulin, growth hormone, and other important bodily substances.
  • L-carnitine: Red meat, chicken, fish, milk, beans, and avocado all contain carnitine, and while vegans may have to worry they’re not getting enough, because L-carnitine is a nonessential amino acid, most of us are able to produce enough L-carnitine naturally.
  • L-ornithine: This amino is used to remove waste from the body, and there is some research suggesting L-ornithine may help improve your energy levels.

Speaking of low energy levels, when it comes to amino acids for adrenal fatigue, getting the proper amounts of the essential amino acids can help boost your energy, bolster your immune system, and manage your weight.

Rapid Weight Loss and Fat Burning—What’s the Secret?

There are many diets that are designed to help you drop weight, especially dangerous belly fat. People will eat a Paleo diet, the ketogenic diet, or another 30-day designed diet like the Whole30 diet to try and drop weight quickly. How does the amino diet measure up?

Amino diet reviews show that it’s quite common for people to lose between 5-7 pounds in the first week, but those reviews may have less to do with amino supplementation and more to do with changing their diets to high-protein, low-carb foods and meals and substantially reducing calorie intake.

Likewise, the amino diet weight-loss plan also calls for exercise and offers consultation with health coaches. Eating well and getting regular exercise will help you lose body weight without supplementation, so there’s no secret there. However, the right supplements can indeed make the process quicker and easier.

Amino Acids for Weight Loss

If you’re looking to supplement with amino acids to lose weight and boost your exercise performance and muscle growth, you may want to look into products that offer a full host of the essential amino acids, rather than supplementing with the ones your body already produces.

We here at Amino Co. have a scientifically formulated essential amino acid supplement specifically designed to help you build muscle, lose weight, and improve your overall health and well-being, and we would recommend supplementation that is more complete than the amino acid diet drops. Again, talk to a trusted medical professional before adding any dietary supplement to your regimen, but when it comes to amino acid supplements, make sure you’re getting all the essentials you need.

The Benefits of Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos are the gluten-free, no-MSG, low-sodium alternative to soy sauce—find out what other benefits they can provide, no matter what dietary restriction or allergies you have.

Find out what are coconut aminos, why some people use them to replace soy sauce, how to get them, and how to use them. We’re also dishing on the health benefits of coconut aminos, which are pretty impressive!

What Are Coconut Aminos?

Coconut aminos are sold as a liquid condiment, a dark sweet-and-salty product that is often used as an alternative to tamari or soy sauce. With low salt and low glycemic contents, coconut aminos are also vegan, gluten free, soy free, and full of amino acids as the name suggests.

A favorite among those eating a paleo diet or dealing with a gluten sensitivity or celiac’s disease, coconut aminos are actually a great product for anyone who wants to avoid the high salt content of soy sauce.

Coconut aminos, unlike coconut oil, are made by fermenting raw coconut-blossom nectar (sap) with mineral-rich sea salt. From those unopened flowers come a wide array of products, including alcohol, vinegar, syrup, sweeteners, and coconut aminos. Coconut sap needs no additives to ferment, as it naturally has all the right yeast, sugar, and bacteria. It ages from a milky white color to a dark brown, and then is mixed with sea salt for flavoring.

A natural whole food with B vitamins, vitamin C, and 17 amino acids (including all nine essential amino acids required for new muscle growth), coconut aminos have a lot to offer.

Are Coconut Aminos Healthier Than Soy Sauce?

If coconut aminos still contain salt, how is coconut amino liquid healthier than soy sauce? Though coconut aminos do come with sugar and salt, as a soy sauce alternative they have less sodium per gram. A 5-gram serving of coconut aminos yields 5 calories, 1 gram of carbs, zero fat, and about 73% less sodium than soy sauce does. That’s roughly 113 milligrams of sodium per serving, just 5% of the recommended daily value.

Coconut aminos also have a low glycemic index number, which ranks foods based on how they impact blood sugar levels. At a 35 on the glycemic index, coconut aminos are a much healthier choice for those with diabetes, and for maintaining healthier blood sugar levels over all. Coconut amino seasoning sauce in Asian food recipes like fried rice is better than soy sauce in a few more ways.

  • Soy sauce can come fermented or unfermented. Fermented soy sauce offers the benefits of probiotics, but unfermented does not, and often contains wheat (a problem for those with food sensitivities to gluten).
  • A lot of soy sauces are genetically modified (GMO) products, the health effects of which are not fully known, and may cause allergies in children.
  • Soy sauce contains monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can cause weakness, muscle pain, and headaches in those who are vulnerable to its affects.
  • A high-sodium diet can have a dangerous impact on anyone’s blood pressure, and with 73% more sodium in soy sauce than coconut aminos, it’s safer to go with the low sodium option.

For those reasons, many people are saying goodbye to commercial soy sauces and hello to the gluten free, sustainable, and organic coconut amino alternative instead.

Coconut aminos: health benefits and dietary uses.The Benefits of Coconut Aminos

While coconut aminos have not been extensively studied, coconut sap has, in both its fresh and fermented form. That research provides the following beneficial credits.

Amino Acid Content

Amino acids not only make up all the protein in your body, but are also responsible for hormone synthesis and regulating your immune function and response. With 17 essential (all the essentials in fact!) and nonessential aminos, coconut aminos provide you with the building blocks of protein and more.

Probiotic Digestion Aid

Fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, and coconut aminos improve your gut’s bacterial content by adding more good bacteria into the mix, and coconut aminos provide an organic probiotic boost to the health of your gut flora. Scientifically shown to benefit digestion and help decrease the symptoms of allergies, probiotics are a healthy choice.

One of the commonest fungal infections in modern times is candidiasis, resulting from a bacteria that tends to overgrow in our digestive tracts and is responsible for symptoms like bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. The lactobacillus contained in coconut aminos helps to inhibit fungal candida albicans, reducing the likelihood that it will overgrow and cause harm to its host (us humans).

An MSG- and Gluten-Free Alternative

Those with a sensitivity to MSG, which is often added to soy sauce, can use coconut aminos instead. MSG has been shown to exacerbate migraine headaches, increase blood pressure, and negatively harm the human body. Moreover, as coconut aminos are gluten free, it’s a safer and healthier alternative for many, especially those who suffer from celiac disease and cannot ingest gluten whatsoever without severe consequences.

How to Use Coconut Aminos

What might you use soy sauce for? That is where coconut aminos can sub in perfectly. From a sushi dipping sauce to a marinade to salad dressing, coconut aminos have the same consistency and a similar taste to soy sauce and pair well with any Asian culinary dish. A vegetable stir fry with 73% less sodium? That’s an extremely healthy and easy way to use a soy sauce substitute.

Coconut Aminos: Dietary Restrictions and Allergies

Even better, because coconut aminos are so allergen-free, they fit into any healthy diet, from the Whole30 diet, to the keto diet, to paleo and AIP diets, vegan and vegetarian diets, gluten-free diets, and the Candida diet (designed to prevent bacterial overgrowth). Whatever your restrictions or dietary choices, you can rely on coconut aminos.

The same cannot be said about tamari though, so for those still deciding between tamari vs. coconut aminos in the great soy sauce replacement debate, tamari products are not always 100% gluten-free. Though it’s made without the roasted grains of soy sauce, you’ll have to check tamari’s label every time to make sure there is no wheat in use at any stage in the process. Also for those with soy allergies, it’s a no-go: tamari is still the end result of fermented soybeans.

So in the end, if you’re looking for a soy-free seasoning sauce that won’t disrupt your carefully kept diet, you’re probably looking for coconut aminos. That goes the same for coconut aminos vs. liquid aminos: liquid aminos are made by treating soybeans with an acid that breaks down its proteins into amino acids, and while it (like coconut aminos) is a gluten-free product, it still has soy, and a lot more sodium per serving size to boot. A teaspoon of coconut aminos comes with 90 milligrams of sodium, while liquid aminos have 320 milligrams per teaspoon—that’s even higher than many traditional soy sauces.

Side Effects

Good news: there are no reported adverse side effects to consuming coconut aminos. Short of being allergic to coconuts, coconut aminos are safe to welcome into your diet and have no noted interactions with any medications whatsoever.

Go Loco for Coco Aminos

For an alternative to soy sauce that’s sustainable, organic, soy free, gluten free, vegan, kosher, and free of MSG, coconut aminos are your ideal answer. Not only will you lose the unhealthy impact of soy sauce, but you’ll also gain the probiotic benefits of a fermented food product. While it may be hard to find on store shelves outside of the largest health food chains, you can easily browse the Internet and research the many brands of coconut aminos to find one that fits perfectly to your liking. Look for organic products only, and in a glass bottle that you store in the refrigerator once opened and then enjoy for months to come.

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

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

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

Why Do You Need Amino Acids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amino Acid Pills or Powder: Which Works Best?

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

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

Amino acid pills vs. powders.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Pills

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

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

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

The Pros and Cons of Pre-Workout Amino Acid Powder

Pros

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

Cons

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

Take A Powder…Literally

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

L-Phenylalanine: Weight-Loss Solution?

Discover the uses of L-phenylalanine for skin and mood disorders, as well as what it can do to help you achieve weight loss. We’re also covering the possible side effects of supplementation, and where to find phenylalanine from dietary sources.

If you’re looking for proven ways to support weight loss, you may have come across L-phenylalanine, an essential amino acid in your body that is important for muscle development and skin health. L-phenylalanine weight-loss studies are newer to the field, and people are naturally curious: how can L-phenylalanine help you lose weight? Read on to find out, along with its potential side effects and the natural food sources of L-phenylalanine.

What Is L-Phenylalanine?

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, and one of the building blocks of protein and the muscles in your body. Phenylalanine is considered “essential” because you need it to function, but your body cannot synthesize enough of it independently, so it must be consumed either from food or via phenylalanine supplementation.

There are two forms of phenylalanine, L-phenylalanine and D-phenylalanine. They are very nearly identical, but with slightly different structures. It’s the L-form molecule that is gained from foods and used to make new proteins in the body, while the D-form of phenylalanine may be used in various medical applications. L-phenylalanine can be found in both animal and plant sources of food.

Above the role phenylalanine plays in protein synthesis, it’s also important for producing other molecules in the body, several of which are important for signal transmission. Phenylalanine has also been the subject of clinical research on skin disorders (vitiligo), pain, and depression.

A note of caution: Phenylalanine is considered dangerous for those with phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder which causes phenylalanine levels to build up. For more information on possible side effects, skip to the end of this article.

Phenylalanine for Normal Functioning

Phenylalanine is principally needed for protein creation, and proteins are not just located in your muscles. Many proteins are at work in your blood, brain, and internal organs—basically all throughout your body. Even more valuable, phenylalanine is needed to make other important molecules, including:

  • Epinephrine and norepinephrine: These are the molecules that give you the “fight-or-flight” response to danger and stress.
  • TyrosineThis fellow amino acid directly results from phenylalanine, and is used to make protein or converted (if in excess) to the other molecules in this list.
  • DopamineThis molecule allows us to feel pleasure and happiness, and also plays a vital role in the development of our memory and learning skills. Basically every happy memory you have, you can thank dopamine for. 

Without proper functioning of these molecules, your health will be at risk, and phenylalanine is needed to make them. Not only that, medical application of phenylalanine can help treat specific medical conditions.

Phenylalanine for Certain Medical Conditions

Scientific studies have been performed to explore phenylalanine as a treatment for certain medical conditions. For instance, phenylalanine may help treat vitiligo, a skin condition that causes pigmentation loss and the appearance of blotchy patches on the body. Phenylalanine supplements have been studied in conjunction with ultraviolet (UV) light exposure to treat this pigmentation disorder.

Phenylalanine’s ability to produce dopamine has been applied to instances of depression, which is a mood disorder often associated with dopamine dysfunction. Both L- and D-forms of phenylalanine have been studied for treating depression. According to a study published in the Journal of Neural Transmission, of 12 participants with depression, two-thirds showed improvement after receiving a mixture of L- and D-phenylalanine.

Alongside vitiligo treatment and anti-depressant application, phenylalanine has also been studied for use in the following conditions.

  • Parkinson’s diseaseThere is evidence that phenylalanine could be beneficial in treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, though more research is required.
  • Alcohol withdrawalPhenylalanine, along with some fellow amino acids, has shown indications that it could be useful in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Chronic painD-phenylalanine may help with pain relief in certain instances (like low back pain), though so far research results are still spotty and not all of the studies produced results with statistical significance.

L-phenylalanine supplements for weight loss. Do they work?

L-Phenylalanine: Weight-Loss Applications

As a dietary supplement, L-phenylalanine may help with weight loss in a couple of ways. First the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), which is stimulated by L-phenylalanine, may act as an appetite suppressant and thus lead to lower calorie consumption throughout the day. It’s been difficult so far for scientists to pin down whether the consumption of more L-phenylalanine will directly impact CCK production, but it is a weight-loss link that is being explored.

L-phenylalanine’s direct impact on dopamine via L-tyrosine’s weight-loss influence has more evidence to back it up. Because dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure (the kind you may get from eating your favorite dessert, for instance), regulating dopamine levels can be beneficial in the treatment of obesity. If L-phenylalanine can be used to keep your tyrosine and thus dopamine levels high while you go on a diet (and cut your usual dopamine supply), it may help reduce food cravings and lead to more sustainable weight loss.

Phenylalanine is also considered a ketogenic amino acid along with tryptophan, tyrosine, isoleucine, threonine, and lysine and leucine (which are exclusively ketogenic, as opposed to the glucogenic amino acids). Phenylalanine is a switch-hitter, and can operate both as a glucogenic (for synthesizing glucose, or sugar) or ketogenic (for synthesizing ketone bodies, or fat burners). Those looking to start a ketogenic diet to lose weight may find amino acid supplementation all the more useful in achieving fast and healthy weight loss.

Possible Side Effects of Phenylalanine Supplementation

It’s “generally recognized as safe” to take L-phenylalanine according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And various studies suggest no adverse side effects reported for supplementation within 23–45 milligrams per pound of body weight. Still there are still some people who should not take L-phenylalanine.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid it, as are those with the disorder PKU who are genetically unable to properly process phenylalanine and usually are directed to eat a low-protein diet throughout their lives.

For otherwise healthy individuals, phenylalanine is still essential, and can easily be gained from eating foods high in phenylalanine. For those interested in taking it as a nutritional supplement, consult a health care professional for medical advice before adding it to your routine.

Foods High in Phenylalanine

For food sources of phenylalanine, you can choose from both animal and plant products.

  • Animal sources of phenylalanine: Eggs, certain meats like seafood (cod), and Parmesan cheese.
  • Plant sources of phenylalanine: Soy products, seaweed, nuts, and seeds (particularly squash and pumpkin seeds).

Eating a nutritious variety of protein-rich foods should effortlessly provide you with plenty of phenylalanine, as well as the other essential amino acids.

Phenomenal Phenylalanine

L-phenylalanine is the essential amino acid that can help regulate depression, pain, skin disorders, and weight loss if applied properly as a supplement. Otherwise gaining phenylalanine from a normal diet is essential for your overall health and well-being.

Amino Acid Powder: The Top 10 Benefits

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

Amino acid powders are supplements taken much the same way as protein powders like creatine and whey protein. They are important to muscle building for a very simple reason: they are the bricks and mortar of your muscles, and without them your body cannot synthesize new muscle for repair or growth.

Many people are familiar with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), used by bodybuilders and the fitness-minded alike, but BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids (EAAs) required for muscle creation. For more on the difference between BCAA and EAA supplements, plus the benefits you can expect from supplementing with amino acids, read on.

Top 10 benefits of amino acid powders.

BCAAs vs. EAAs

The three BCAAs are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and they make up about 35% of our muscle protein. They are isolated for supplementation because they reduce the amount of protein breakdown that occurs due to vigorous workouts, and they help preserve the muscle’s stores of glycogen, which is the muscles’ quickest energy source. Leucine is the big player among the three, and it’s also one of the main components of whey protein.

However, the reason people sometimes consume BCAAs instead of whey protein is because when these amino acids aren’t bound up with other components, they can digest and absorb faster, giving them a bigger impact as a workout supplement. The reason some people take complete EAA supplements over BCAAs is similar: you can’t increase your muscle mass without all nine of them, meaning that a full court of EAAs has an even greater positive impact on your fitness goals.

The essential amino acids include:

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

If you ever need a mnemonic device to remember them (taking a biology quiz maybe?), notice that in this order, the first letter of each essential amino acid spells out Pvt. T.M. Hill: good old private T.M. Hill can help you remember your EAAs, just as Roy G. Biv can help you remember the order of the colors in the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).

Essential amino acids are so called because they’re needed in your body, but your body can’t create them itself, so it’s essential that you gain them by ingesting them.

Essential amino acids are indispensable, and there are six more amino acids that are considered conditionally essential—arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine. Their creation in the body isn’t always possible (like when we are infants). The rest of the amino acids are made in-house by your body.

The Top 10 Benefits of Amino Acid Powder

When your goal is to build lean muscle with your workouts, protein is key, and you can’t have protein without amino acids. Here are the best benefits you can expect from taking amino acid powder as a workout supplement.

1. Balanced Dosages

The great thing about getting your amino acids in powdered supplement form is the same perk you get when using meal replacement shakes for weight loss: it comes pre-measured, guaranteeing that you receive the proper ratio of amino acids every time. Even high-quality protein supplements don’t always take into account the ideal ratio of amino acids that are scientifically required for building new muscles, so when shopping for the right workout aid, be sure to purchase a comprehensive and balanced amino acid powder, one that has exactly what you need in precisely the right amounts.

2. Improved Muscle Growth

Leucine especially shines here, as it has been clinically shown to boost muscle protein synthesis after physical exercise. That window of post-workout recovery is when your muscles are wide open for material to rebuild the cells that were damaged during exercise, and create even more muscle in preparation for the next workout. For more on the best time to take amino acid powder, read (or skip!) to the end of this article.

3. Increased Endurance

Amino acid supplements alter the way your body uses fuel, namely by changing the way you burn carbs and fat. Athletes like sprinters who require short bursts of strong energy have to deal often with glycogen depletion from their muscles. There’s only so much glycogen your muscles can hold, and if you use it up too quickly, you’ll run into fatigue or exhaustion and will have to cut your workout short. With amino acid supplementation, however, glycogen stores are better protected, as was seen in this 2011 study involving 7 men who were put through a workout designed to sap their glycogen supply. Those given amino acids instead of a placebo had a 17.2% increase in how long it took them to hit the wall of exhaustion.

4. Better Fat Burning

Amino acids protect glycogen stores by burning fat instead of glycogen for fuel. Amino acids help to retrain your body’s metabolic processes. For instance, the amino acid L-carnitine has been shown to increase fat loss without any other changes being made to your diet or exercise routine. If you’re on a low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet, even better: your body will learn to access your fat stores for energy as much as possible, because it can’t get the quick energy from carbohydrate intake.

5. Reduced Fatigue

Piggybacking off the above-mentioned benefits, amino acids have the ability to prevent the mental fatigue that can accompany really long workouts. When your amino acids are low, such as during a grueling workout, your body works to produce more, specifically tryptophan. And when the amino acid tryptophan gets too low, its production leads to feelings of mental fatigue and tiredness (it’s why turkey is considered sleep-inducing—the tryptophan in the meat!). If you’re supplementing with the proper amount of amino acids, this process never has to begin, and thus there is no extra tryptophan running around making you feel depleted and tired.

6. Increased Focus

Without extra tryptophan making you soporific, your mental focus is able to sharpen. Amino acid supplements have been shown to boost your short-term memory and mental processing abilities, and so are particularly valuable in competitive sports or contests, when fast strategizing can help you win.

7. Muscle Sparing

When you workout, you’re causing little micro-tears in your muscles. It’s necessary damage, sort of like how you need to be exposed to viruses to develop an immunity to them (it’s the reasoning behind vaccines, which contain deactivated viral cells).

Usually the muscle damage is minimal, just enough to stimulate your body into sending resources to repair and then rebuild bigger, better, and stronger muscles than ever before. Sometimes, however, muscles are broken down out of desperation for energy. This is catabolism, a destructive form of metabolism, and those who work out hard, especially bodybuilders, know to guard against it.

During the day you can feed your body energy, but what is your body eating while you sleep? In some instances it resorts to cannibalizing itself in a sense, breaking down the muscle you’ve worked so hard to build. Amino acids can help prevent catabolism by protecting your muscle fibers from taking too much damage in the first place; plus you can supplement right before going to bed (but more on when to take amino acid powders below).

8. Improved Post-Workout Recovery

Free amino acids in an amino acid powder are quickly absorbed, which helps increase your muscle protein synthesis rate and shorten your post-workout recovery time. The muscle soreness that used to linger can be dispatched much quicker with proper amino acid supplementation. Quicker recoveries mean you can work out again sooner, putting you in a virtuous cycle (the opposite of a vicious cycle), where workout and recovery revolve around one another in beneficial harmony.

9. Reduced Muscle Soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can be a real hinderance to your fitness goals, but because amino acids help protect your muscles better and rebuild them quicker, they’ve been scientifically shown to reduce muscle soreness.

10. Improved Athletic Performance

When you count up all the ways amino acid supplements aid you and your muscles, the finally tally shows that they improve your overall athletic performance in more ways than one. Smarter, better, faster, stronger: amino acid powders can help you be all of these things with just a few scoops a day.

When to Take Amino Acid Powder

The fourth edition of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning states that our muscles are particularly receptive to amino acid supplements within the first 48 hours after a workout. Likewise a study published in Frontiers in Physiology asserts that 5.6 grams of just BCAAs ingested after strength training exercise leads to a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis. Similarly the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reminds us that you need a healthy supply of all the essential amino acids to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is why we recommend a comprehensive EAA blend when seeking to build muscle tissue.

A number of studies have shown that all nine EAAs play important roles in muscle growth and repair, and when it comes to the timing of when you should consume your essential amino acid powder supplement, you almost can’t go wrong: pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout, plus another helping before bed if you’re concerned about catabolism. While some forms of workout will require more or less supplementation regarding dosage amounts, pairing amino acid supplementation with a high-protein diet will have you covered.

The Amino Advantage

In your quest to build lean muscle mass through working out and eating right, consider adding a high-quality, gluten free, non-GMO amino acid powder like the one we offer here at Amino Co. Amino acid powders give you an extra advantage in all your workout and sporting goals.

When Is the Best Time to Take Protein?

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

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

The Different Types of Protein Supplements

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

Plant-based proteins include:

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

Dairy-based proteins include:

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

Animal-based proteins include:

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

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

The Varied Uses of Protein Supplementation

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

Exercise Performance and Recovery

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

Muscle Building

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

Muscle Loss Prevention

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

Fat Loss Facilitation

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

The Enduring Power of Protein

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

The Best Time to Take Protein Depending on Your Workout

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

The best time to take protein supplements.

Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise

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

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

BCAAs are Insufficient Pre-Workout

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

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

EAAs are Effective Pre- and Post-Workout

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

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

Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

Bodybuilding

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

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

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

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

Is There Any Downside to Taking Protein Supplements?

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

Timing Is Everything

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

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

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

What is an amino acid functional group? This article will answer that question with information on amino acid classification and how proteins (and possibly all life on Earth) are formed.

What are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

So you’ve heard of amino acid functional groups and you want to understand them better. This article will help to clarify the structure of amino acids, their functional groups, and what it all has to do with the creation of protein.

Some Basic Reference Definitions

Below are the names of the 20 common amino acids in the body, nine of which are essential amino acids, meaning humans must eat or otherwise consume them to get what we need to function. The essential aminos are designated with an asterisk (*). There are their names, their three-letter codes, their one-letter codes (as used in drawing models of molecular bonds), plus their bond type and properties. Polar vs. nonpolar bond types refers to their covalent bonds. We will start with those definitions for the bond type category—get ready for some high school clique metaphors to help you visualize all this organic chemistry.

Covalent Bonds

Covalent bonds form the base of the chemical reactions between atoms of different elements. The bonds form in only one way: when an electron becomes shared by two elements. That creates the connection that then results in a new substance. Covalent bonds can exist as polar or nonpolar compounds, and all bonds that are polar or nonpolar in nature are by definition covalent.

To visualize: think of these bonds like the bonds of friendship. Two students (atoms) come close to one another and share their lunch (electrons). This sharing means there is a bond of friendship (the covalent bond). Whereas before they had been two separate elements, strangers, now a new substance has formed: a friendship.

Polar Bonds

Polar bonds are bonds where the electrons are not shared equally between two atoms. These types of bonds are what designates polar molecules from nonpolar ones. This occurs when the two atoms bonding are from two different elements; atoms from the same element do not form polar bonds.

Just as bigger planets can hold bigger moons in their orbits, so it is with atoms: they pull electrons to the best of their ability, but when they come into the orbit of a better puller (a bigger planet), that atom will pull more electrons into its orbit (and steal the lesser planet’s moons).

When two atoms of the same element meet, neither is stronger than the other, and thus neither one is more attractive than the other regarding electrons, and so neither side exhibits the polar pull, and the bond is considered nonpolar. The negative charge end of the bond is the more attractive atom, because it can draw more negative (-) electrons.

To put this back into the context of our high school friends, let’s say the two atoms meeting and bonding are a vivacious theater student and a more reserved math student. In sharing lunch, somehow the theater student always gets more to eat because the math student is so transfixed and feels the need to be overly generous. This is true whenever the theater student meets someone with less personal magnetism, which means the theater student gets an overabundance of food (electrons), which is negative because the increased calories may cause the theater student to gain weight, or get a bad complexion from eating too much processed lunch food. Eventually the theater student will fill up to the brim with extra food, and won’t be able to accept any more.

Nonpolar Bonds

A nonpolar bond is formed when two atoms from the same element meet and share electrons equally and evenly with one another. Neither atom is a better electron puller than the other, and so there is no one side more polar than the other.

In our friendship metaphor, this is a bond between two theater students, or two math students, who pool all of their lunch food together in the middle of the table, and pull from the pile equally and in unison.

Hydrophobic vs. Hydrophilic

For the properties category, hydrophobic and hydrophilic refer to molecules and their reactions to water. Molecules that repel water, or are phobic of hydration, are hydrophobic. The molecules that can form an ionic or hydrogen bond with a water molecule are hydrophilic, they have a philia for water, they like the feel of it.

If atoms are students once again, the hydrophilic ones are either on the swim team itself, or part of a group that likes to swim and heads out to the beach or the lake every weekend. The hydrophobic ones either can’t swim or simply do not like it. Hydrophobic students will tell you that their friends and the community pool go together like oil and water: they don’t mix.

Your Amino Acids: Names and Designations

Amino-acid name: Alanine Amino-acid name: Arginine
Three-letter code: Ala

One-letter code: A

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Arg

One-letter code: R

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Asparagine Amino-acid name: Aspartate
Three-letter code: Asn

One-letter code: N

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Asp

One-letter code: D

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Cysteine Amino-acid name: Glutamate
Three-letter code: Cys

One-letter code: C

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Glu

One-letter code: E

Bond type: Polar, negatively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Glutamine Amino-acid name: Glycine
Three-letter code: Gln

One-letter code: Q

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Gly

One-letter code: G

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Histidine* Amino-acid name: Isoleucine*
Three-letter code: His

One-letter code: H

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Ile

One-letter code: I

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Leucine* Amino-acid name: Lysine*
Three-letter code: Leu

One-letter code: L

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Lys

One-letter code: K

Bond type: Polar, positively charged

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Methionine* Amino-acid name: Phenylalanine
Three-letter code: Met

One-letter code: M

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Phe

One-letter code: F

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Proline Amino-acid name: Serine
Three-letter code: Pro

One-letter code: P

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

Three-letter code: Ser

One-letter code: S

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Amino-acid name: Threonine* Amino-acid name: Tryptophan*
Three-letter code: Thr

One-letter code: T

Bond type: Polar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Trp

One-letter code: W

Bond type: Nonpolar, no charge

Properties: Hydrophobic

Amino-acid name: Tyrosine Amino-acid name: Valine*
Three-letter code: Tyr

One-letter code: Y

Bond type: Polar, no charge
Properties: Hydrophilic

Three-letter code: Val

One-letter code: V

Bond type: Nonpolar

Properties: Hydrophobic

It’s a lot of information, to be sure, but it’s provided as a reference point to help facilitate the following explanations.

What Are Amino Acid Functional Groups?

Amino acids are all made up of groups of atoms, and the functional groups are the important ones in each amino, it’s what makes them different and unique, deciding whether the amino overall is polar or nonpolar, acidic or basic.

Each of the above standard 20 aminos have one hydrogen atom, and two groups attached to its alpha carbon atom: an amino or amine group (~NH3+) and a carboxyl group (~COOH). They are each then distinguished from other types of amino acids by their third attached functional group: side chains referred to as R groups. When you ask what are amino acid functional groups, here they are, with the R group being the one with the most diversity. When you think of R groups, think R for radical, as it’s the variable part that makes each amino acid different from the rest.

What is the amino acid functional group?

About R Groups

Of the 20 standard amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein:

  • 6 of them have hydrocarbon R groups
  • 7 of them have neutral R groups
  • 6 of them have acid or base R groups

The simplest of the amino acids is glycine, which has just one hydrogen atom in the position of the side chain group (no R group at all, just an attached loner).

Some Quite Interesting Relevant Facts

  • In chemistry, organic compounds are generally thought of as any chemical compound that contains carbon, which includes amino acids.
  • All amino acids are soluble in an aqueous solution (water), even the hydrophobic ones (counterintuitive but true).
  • All naturally occurring amino acids are in the L-form; L for levorotatory, referring to the way you’d turn the amino acid to read the order of its attached groups (the opposite of is dextrorotatory or D-form).
  • As you can see in the above list, 50% of the amino acids have nonpolar side chains. The other half is designated polar, five of which have side chains that are not only polar, but charged.
  • Because the carboxyl group is an acid, it can form peptide bonds with the base amino groups of other amino acids, causing chemical reactions that create polypeptide chains and amino acid residues.
  • When two amino acids react and form a peptide bond, and that process goes on to be repeated, many amino acids may string together, which forms a protein structure.
  • This protein synthesis (though a little more complicated than just linking acid to base over and over again like links of a chain) is among the most fundamental of biological processes, an invaluable component of every cell. Proteins make our nails and hair, protein builds and repairs our tissues, protein is needed to make our hormones, our enzymes, and many other chemicals in the human body.
  • In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a simulation, to test a hypothesis about how life originally formed on Earth. They built a closed system that contained a heated pool of water under a mixture of gases that were thought to be present in the early atmosphere of Earth. They delivered an electric current to simulate lightning, and after a week analyzed the contents of the liquid pool. In there they discovered that several organic amino acids had spontaneously formed from inorganic raw materials. This leant support to the theory that the first life on Earth arose out of the primordial ooze through naturally occurring chemical reactions like a little flash of lightning.

Conclusion

The functional or R groups of amino acids are the groups that define the chemistry of proteins. They are the basis on which amino acids are classified, and according to the Miller-Urey experiment, possibly the start of all organic life on Earth. Not only is “What are amino acid functional groups?” a stimulating question to ask, but the answer to that question comes awfully close to revealing the true answers behind life, the universe, and…well…everything.

Most Popular Supplements for Muscle Growth

Learn the chemistry behind the traditional top supplements for muscle growth, and find out about the newest and most comprehensive supplement that’s about to revolutionize muscle building.

If you’re looking for supplements for muscle growth, you’ve probably already noticed that it’s a pretty crowded field. Different proteins and combinations and timing strategies get discussed, and before you know it you feel like you need about half a degree in chemistry just to build muscle at the gym! We’re streamlining the relevant information on muscle-building supplements, their pros and cons, so you can decide on the best supplements for your own fitness goals. If you’re in a rush, skip to the end, because there’s a new supplemental option that combines the best muscle growth nutrients you’ve ever known, all in one complete, balanced formula that will best all the rest. Read through to learn about the ideal muscle-building combo, a powerful protein trinity.

The First Steps Towards Muscle Building

Getting the most out of your workout involves taking a few first steps before you can start targeting muscle gain specifically. The first steps after taking up regular exercise are:

While supplements are not mandatory to reach these goals, they can be excellent aids to quicken your progress and maximize your protein intake without bringing unpredictable calories to your diet. Next up we’ll discuss the top supplements for muscle growth that you can choose from when attempting to gain muscle mass, and reveal a cutting-edge, scientifically-backed newcomer to the muscle-building supplement world.

Traditional Top Supplements for Muscle Growth

Over and above eating well and lifting weights, here are some protein and muscle-building supplements you can use to augment your workout goals, some of them more effective than others.

Top supplements for muscle growth and bodybuilding.

Carnitine

Carnitine is the general term for a group of amino acid compounds that include L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine. Carnitine is a transporter that moves long-chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they’re oxidized or burned for energy.

A popular supplement for fat-loss, carnitine can also aid muscle growth by increasing blood flow to muscles, lessening muscle soreness, and increasing nitric oxide production, all of which improve your post-workout recovery. The combination of these benefits makes carnitine a strong asset for energy-boosting while you’re building muscles through exercise, especially when utilized in pre-workout and post-workout shakes. Though it doesn’t directly contribute to muscle building, it does provide valuable energy assistance, and improves performance during endurance athletics.

Pros

  • Aids athletic endurance by providing energy transport.
  • Helps ease muscle soreness and improve post-workout recovery.

Cons

  • Does not directly increase muscle, but instead aids in workout energy.
  • Carnitine is only a peripheral aid to individuals working to build muscle via exercise.
  • Carnitine would need to be taken alongside direct protein or amino acid supplements to be most effective.

Whey Protein Powder

A milk protein derived from whey, which is the watery part of milk that separates from the curd, whey protein is an excellent supplement affecting protein synthesis. With a high level of branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, and including some amount of all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), this protein supplement digests relatively quickly and can help with rapid muscle building.

Whey protein can help increase blood flow due to its content of peptides, and is regularly consumed by bodybuilders immediately after their training sessions (within the hour). When choosing a whey protein, it’s recommended that you find a powder containing whey protein hydrolysates, which are proteins broken down for faster digestion.

Pros

  • Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
  • Whey protein is high in the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Cons

  • While whey protein is a fast-absorbing whole protein, free-form amino acids can be absorbed much more quickly.
  • Whey protein’s amino acid content is not optimally balanced, and a properly formulated essential amino acid supplement can have 3 times the effectiveness rate as a whey protein powder supplement alone.

Glutamine

Glutamine is an amino acid that not only helps build muscles by increasing the levels of the essential amino acid leucine in muscle fibers, but it also helps fight against muscle breakdown, and has been shown to play a significant role in protein synthesis.

Incidentally, glutamine can also be recommended for those with digestion issues (diarrhea or constipation), anxiety, cravings for sugar and/or alcohol, and those with poor wound healing.

Pros

  • Valuable as a precursor to the essential amino acid leucine.

Cons

  • Glutamine aids only one of the nine essential amino acids needed for muscle building, and so is far from being the most effective muscle-building supplement.
  • Glutamine is unnecessary if you’re taking a complete blend of essential amino acids.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein is the other milk protein that is derived from the curd of the milk and not the whey. Casein has a slower digestion rate than whey protein does, which makes it an excellent protein to take before bed, as it digests while you sleep and helps to prevent catabolism (which is to say destructive metabolism, a kind of self-cannibalism the body sometimes resorts to for energy).

Because increased calorie intake is also needed to build muscle, casein can help by being less filling than whey, allowing you to consume more alongside it. However, it’s also suggested that taking a combination of whey (or better yet free-form essential amino acids…read on!) and casein after a workout can help with muscle protein synthesis better than taking either one of them alone. Be advised that a casein protein product with micellar casein is the slowest-digesting form of casein readily available, and is your best bet when buying it as a supplement.

Pros

  • Casein protein has a slower digestion rate than whey, which can help prevent catabolism during sleep.

Cons

  • Works best when combined with stronger protein supplements like whey protein or free-form essential amino acids.

Beta-Alanine and Carnosine

Beta-alanine, an amino acid and key component of the dipeptide carnosine, aids in increasing carnosine levels and thus heightening muscle strength and muscle endurance. Higher levels of carnosine also increase the force of muscle contractions, and combining it with creatine (next on the list) has the greatest effect on losing body fat and gaining lean tissue, as was seen when the two were studied during a 10-week resistance training program conducted with collegiate football players.

Pros

  • Carnosine contributes to muscle endurance, leading to more powerful workouts, which can then translate to increased muscle.

Cons

  • Carnosine does not directly build muscle, but instead helps aid in workout endurance.
  • Carnosine is most effective in combination with proteins like creatine or free-form amino acids, and so is best as peripheral support for muscle building.

Creatine

Popularized as a workout supplement in the 1970s, creatine is made up of three amino acids—glycine, arginine, and methionine—and is vital for supplying the energy for muscular contraction. Creatine can be found in the forms reatine alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG), creatine monohydrate, and creatine malate. Creatine has been shown to increase the levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in resistance-exercise training, which is essential for stimulating muscle growth.

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine (CP) in the body, which then provides energy for explosive exertions like heavy weight lifting or sprinting. The creatine-phosphocreatine system provides an increase in energy supplied to muscle cells when your body is using more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than is being regenerated in the cells’ mitochondria. This increases your athletic endurance.

Pros

  • Provides energy for increased exercise performance, especially when you’re using more ATP than the mitochondria of your muscle cells can regenerate.
  • Creatine helps stimulate muscle growth.

Cons

  • Creatine is not most effective when taken alone, but is instead at its best when paired with an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, where it will help provide the energy needed for increased muscle protein synthesis.

Nitric Oxide Boosters (Arginine)

Nitric oxide (NO) in the body serves to dilate blood vessels, thus allowing better blood flow to muscles, providing them with energy, nutrients, water, anabolic hormones, and oxygen—everything your muscles need to function, grow, and thrive. Nitric oxide boosters do not contain nitric oxide, but instead provide it via the amino acid arginine, which the body converts into nitric oxide.

Arginine supplements are often marketed based on their association with muscle growth, increased muscle strength, and loss of bodyweight. However, we recommend supplementing with citrulline to increase arginine, as arginine supplements don’t produce significant increases in blood arginine concentrations due to the liver‘s effectiveness at clearing absorbed arginine. Citrulline, on the other hand, is converted into arginine by the kidneys, and the arginine is then released into the bloodstream; this more effectively increases your arginine levels. Additionally, there are no adverse effects associated with citrulline supplementation, while arginine consumption can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.

Pros

  • Arginine in the bloodstream leads to more readily available amounts of nitric oxide, essential for muscle functioning.

Cons

  • Counterintuitively, arginine supplements are often ineffective at supplying useable arginine to the bloodstream.
  • Instead citrulline is recommended to supplement for an effective increase in arginine, and can be taken alongside or included in EAA and protein supplements for optimal muscle performance.

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium Aspartate, Vitamin B6)

Supplementing the minerals zinc and magnesium aspartate along with vitamin B6 is sometimes important to bodybuilders because they become depleted during intense training and need to be specifically replaced. These nutrients are necessary for maintaining proper sleep and hormone levels, as testosterone particularly can be compromised by intensive training.

Athletes who take ZMA have been shown to have increased levels of IGF-1 and testosterone, both of which have an influence on muscle gains. ZMA is recommended to be taken before bed on an empty stomach, to allow for better uptake and to help improve sleep quality and the muscle recovery that sleep provides.

Pros

  • Can help correct vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by intensive weight training.

Cons

  • ZMA supplementation does not lead to direct muscle growth, but can be taken as needed alongside free-form amino acids or traditional protein contributions like whey or creatine, depending on your workout style and your body’s needs.
  • Not everyone will need the extra supplementation of ZMA.

HMB (Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate)

Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate or HMB is a molecule derived from the processing of the essential amino acid leucine, and helps protect against muscle protein breakdown. HMB is often recommended only for those who are beginning weight-training exercises, as the scientific results seen in those who are more experienced with muscle training are less significant. This is due to the fact that HMB is heavily reliant on a steady and abundant supply of EAAs to be effective. When the EAA supply dips down, so does the effectiveness of HMB; it cannot work alone.

Pros

  • HMB supplementation can be good for resisting extreme catabolic states, such as in individuals with critical wasting illnesses.

Cons

  • HMB without an excess supply of EAAs is only marginally effective.
  • EAA supplementation is also needed to derive maximum benefits from HMB supplementation.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The branched-chain amino acids are a subcategory of essential amino acids, and are designated by the molecular structure of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs make up 14% of the amino acids that reside in your muscles, and it’s been shown that taking a supplement of BCAAs during resistance-training exercise increases muscle strength, fat loss, and lean mass.

However, while research shows that leucine in particular stimulates muscle protein synthesis, and that together these three amino acids diminish cortisol (a catabolic hormone), increase energy, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, BCAAs when consumed alone are not fully effective. All nine essential amino acids are needed to make new muscle, and in fact, the the rate of muscle protein synthesis is directly affected by the availability of all your essential amino acids—the more you have, the faster your rate of muscle synthesis, and the fewer you have, the slower the rate. Because of this, research actually shows that BCAAs when taken alone have little to no effect on the rate of muscle protein synthesis in humans.

Pros

  • BCAAs are valuable amino acids that can be taken to help some aspects of muscle building.

Cons

  • BCAAs are only three of the nine essential amino acids, and all essentials are needed to create new muscle.
  • BCAAs have little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis when taken alone.

An Essential Amino Acid (EAA) Blend: The New Top Muscle Growth Supplement

If BCAAs ever sounded good, you’ll probably be more interested in a complete EAA supplement. Our unique EAA supplement is an ideally proportioned blend that combines the strengths of whey protein, creatine, and the eight essential amino acids that contribute directly to muscle growth. With our EAA blend, you’ll not only get the BCAAs mentioned above, but also a full cocktail essential amino acid supplement. It contains the key factors that make whey protein and creatine effective too, giving you the best of every top effective traditional supplement on the market.

EAAs and Muscle Protein Synthesis

The human body is made up of about 20% protein, and amino acids are used to form our muscles, tissues, and organs (not to mention the hormones needed for cognitive and physiological function). The key to our muscle-building product that helps make it more effective than other supplements, and even some dietary sources of essential amino acids, is its absorption rate and digestibility.

The EAAs derived from dietary proteins have to be digested first and then absorbed, while free-form amino acids are absorbed more quickly and completely. With eight of the nine essential amino acids (minus tryptophan which is not necessary to supplement for muscle protein synthesis), the amounts of EAAs are maximized more than any naturally occurring protein can deliver.

EAAs with Whey Protein’s Support

While free-form EAAs provide faster absorption, an intact protein like whey provides for a longer absorption period, sustaining the supply of EAAs after the rapid absorption of the free-form EAAs. Designed to work in concert with one another, our muscle-growth supplement combines its EAA profile with a balanced inclusion of whey protein for steady, ongoing support of muscle protein synthesis.

EAAs and Creatine’s Energy

Because creatine-phosphate provides the energy for sudden bursts of physical activity like lifting heavy weights or sprinting, it’s included in the Amino Co.’s technology to provide the energy needed to convert EAAs into muscle via muscle protein synthesis. Instead of waiting for the mitochondria of muscle cells to metabolize ATP for energy, creatine covers the time gap when needed, completing the full circle required for ideal muscle building: the rapid essential ingredients, the long-haul supply, and the energy to put them to use.

The Amino Company Advantage

Our product is a unique, patent-pending blend of essential amino acids, whey protein, and creatine that outperforms all other supplements in increasing muscle mass. Good for increasing strength in the elderly and easy to include in drinks or smoothies, Amino Co. supplements are scientifically proven to be effective in muscle protein synthesis over any other supplement, food, or protein choice currently available.

The ABCs of Muscle Growth

On a first glance at muscle growth supplements, it looks like an alphabet soup of vitamins and molecules and chemistry notes, but the more knowledgeable you become about your own body’s strengths and needs, the closer you’ll approach a PhD’s level of understanding when it comes to which supplements best support your goals. Effectiveness is key, bolstered by practical results that can be not only felt, but also scientifically proven. In the end, you can see which supplement brings you the greatest value.

The strongest performers from the traditional list of muscle growth supplements have been brought forward to the new frontier: an EAA blend that brings the best of everything essential to building and maintaining new muscle. The Amino Company provides the full circle of quick, long-lasting, and energized EAAs for muscle building. When you take our unique blend, you’re guaranteed to have an optimally balanced formula designed specifically for human muscle growth (and not lab animals). With the Amino Co. on your team, you can reach higher heights of strength faster and more effectively than ever before!

Best Amino Acids for the Ketogenic Diet: Which Ketogenic Amino Acids Should You Be Eating?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. The core question: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The value of a ketogenic diet? To burn fat rather than just lose weight on the scale. Beginners at dieting often attempt to lose weight with short-term crash diets, which put the body in starvation mode and cause it to stockpile more fat as soon as possible (an evolutionary protection against times of famine). Conversely, the ketogenic diet puts the body into more of a sustainability mode, a stable way to reduce and optimize calorie intake, while focusing on foods that provide the essential amino acids for the ketogenic conversion of fat into energy.

So which ketogenic amino acids should you be eating, and where can you find them?

Amino Acids: the Fat Burning, the Sugar Forming, and the Switch Hitters

The building blocks of protein, amino acids can be categorized as exclusively ketogenic, exclusively glucogenic, or like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: radically both. This is based on the end products produced during amino acid metabolism.

Essential amino acids for the ketogenic diet.

As you can see, the predominant category is the glucogenic group, with 13 amino acids. The carbon skeletons that result from the breakdown of glucogenic amino acids can be used via gluconeogenesis to synthesize glucose, simple sugar and an important energy source found in many carbohydrates. These are not the amino acids that will derive energy from your body’s pre-existing fat stores.

The second largest category contains five amino acids, the switch hitters that when catabolized can yield both glucogenic and ketogenic products.

Exclusively ketogenic amino acids are just that: exclusive. Lysine and leucine are the only two amino acids that produce Acetyl CoA or Acetoacetyl CoA without any glucogenic byproducts.

Acetyl CoA (the precursor of ketone bodies) and Acetoacetyl CoA are the first steps of the Krebs Cycle of energy production, which combines glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation with the citric acid cycle (which itself includes α-ketoglutarate, succinyl CoA, fumarate, and oxaloacetate—all byproducts of glucogenic amino acids). To access citrate synthase, the catalyst of this cycle, without glucose or carbohydrates is the value of ketogenic amino acids: it’s like buying the product you need without bringing home any unnecessary or harmful packaging around it.

Acid Eater: the Amino Acids Essential to a Ketogenic Diet

Classes of amino acids can be further categorized as essential vs. nonessential, essential being the ones you must eat to obtain, and nonessential being those that naturally occur in the body, and are not reliant on the food you eat.

Nonessential amino acids:

  • Asparagine
  • Alanine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Aspartic acid

Essential amino acids:

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

You may have noticed those last two are the exclusively ketogenic amino acids, meaning they only come from sources outside the body. Likewise, four out of five of the switch hitter or versatile amino acids are on this essential list as well, excluding only tyrosine, a conditional essential, as it’s derived from phenylalanine (which is itself essential). Regardless of that particular debate, the core question remains: in what foods can the six essential ketogenic amino acids be found?

The Key Ingredients to Ketogenesis

Intro 101 of the keto diet is to go deeper when dieting, to the cellular level of biological sciences. This is more advanced than the grocery aisle surface choices people often make between low-carb and no-sugar-added options. It’s important to remember that the colorful labeling on the front of food packages can often be subjective. It’s better to know how to read the nutrition label with a keen (keto) eye.

Better yet, know what basic foods have the ketogenic keys to turn fatty acids into ketone bodies. These ketone bodies will then provide energy from your fat stores, without adding carbohydrates, and without impacting insulin or blood sugar levels. Here are where the six essential ketogenic amino acids reside.

1. Isoleucine

Along with leucine and valine (glucogenic), isoleucine is an isomer (isolated form) of leucine that is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), all of which help to promote post-exercise muscle recovery. Involved in hemoglobin production, isoleucine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, fish, and eggs
  • Dairy, particularly cottage cheese
  • Seeds, grains, nuts, and beans including almonds, brown rice, cashews, lentils, and chia seeds

2. Phenylalanine

The source of tyrosine and one of the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine is used in the biosynthesis of norepinephrine, dopamine, and thyroid hormones (huge players when it comes to mental health). Possibly effective in treating mood disorders, phenylalanine is contained in:

  • Olives, figs, raisins, avocados, pumpkins, and most berries
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and eggs
  • Rice, beans, quinoa, and seeds
  • Spirulina, seaweed, and leafy greens

3. Threonine

An essential nutrient in the diet of vertebrates, threonine supports the central nervous system, along with the heart, liver, and immune system. A key component in the production of collagen, elastin, and muscle tissue, threonine can be gained from:

  • Beans, nuts, lentils, and quinoa
  • Lean beef, lamb, pork, and chicken/turkey
  • Seafood including shellfish, particularly salmon, whelks, cuttlefish, octopus
  • Seeds, including chia and hemp seeds
  • Raisins, figs, avocados, and pumpkin
  • Spirulina, watercress

4. Tryptophan

Needed for nitrogen balance, tryptophan is also used to produce melatonin (for regulating sleep and wakefulness), niacin, and serotonin, the neurotransmitter known as the “happy” chemical. Tryptophan can be found in:

  • Turkey (rather famously), as well as red meat, rabbit and goat meat, eggs, and fish
  • Milk and cheese, particularly reduced fat mozzarella
  • Pumpkin and squash seeds, along with chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds
  • Almonds, peanuts, bananas, and chocolate (ideal ingredients for a sundae)
  • Spirulina

5. Leucine

Another of the BCAAs, and one of the two exclusively ketogenic amino acids, leucine builds muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. It can be sourced from:

  • Nuts, peas, beans, seeds, and pumpkins
  • Chicken, beef, and pork
  • Seafood including tuna
  • Soybeans, whey protein, and plant proteins
  • Cheese, particularly Parmesan

6. Lysine

Necessary in the formation of collagen, connective tissue, and muscle growth and repair in the body, lysine can be found in:

  • Protein sources like meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Beans, peas, almonds, cashews, and chia seeds
  • Spirulina, parsley
  • Cheese and yogurt
  • Whey protein

The Ketogenic Conclusion

You may have noticed some foods dominating the field; when it comes to essential amino acids for a ketogenic diet, where you find a good source of protein, you often find the ketogenic advantage. Donald K. Layman, Ph.D. along with Nancy R. Rodriguez, Ph.D. penned a paper for Nutrition Today titled “Egg Protein as a Source of Power, Strength, and Energy,” but in it pointed out that egg is not the only food that packs that much value. With so many high-yield proteins, any dietary practice—be it vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or allergy-restrictive—can still gain you the essential amino acids for perfecting your ketogenic journey if you’re diligent about ensuring your protein macros.

Your body is not so much a temple as a laboratory, a series of chemical reactions. Providing your body with the right ketogenic amino acids (instead of an overabundance of glucose precursors) sets you up for the ideal fat-burning catabolic pathways. This leads to healthy protein turnover for muscle growth, weight loss, and the energy to propel you forward.

Taking an essential amino acid supplement (which includes the ketogenic amino acids lysine and leucine) can help protect against any protein insufficiencies you may encounter while following dietary restrictions, such as the high-fat, moderate-protein requirements of the keto diet.

Unlock Lasting Weight-Loss Results by Understanding Hunger Control

Weight loss and maintenance depend on a number of factors, one of which is controlling the desire to eat. Dietary proteins and amino acids play key roles in hunger control. Learn how to maximize their effect.

Weight loss and successful long-term weight maintenance depend on a number of factors, one of which is controlling the desire to eat. While there are numerous approaches to weight management, reducing your caloric intake will almost certainly play an important role in helping you achieve your desired body weight. No matter how dedicated you are, if you’re dealing with persistent feelings of hunger, it’s highly likely that you will deviate from your mindful eating intentions. Fortunately, there are scientifically validated ways to keep your hunger levels in check. Researchers have found that dietary proteins, as well as amino acids, play key roles in hunger control.

Studies Show Eating More Protein Can Curb Hunger

Increasing satiety by choosing the right foods to eat is essential to achieving successful weight loss and weight maintenance.

Scientists have known for more than 50 years that when you eat a high-protein meal you end up consuming fewer calories. In 1956, a research team composed of Sherman Mellinkoff, Marjorie Frankland, David Boyle, and Margaret Greipel found a clear link between amino acid concentration in the blood and hunger levels. The more amino acids were circulating in a subject’s blood, the lower their reported level of hunger…and the fewer amino acids, the higher their level of hunger. The researchers noted that the same relationship appeared to exist between blood sugar levels and hunger—when blood sugar levels dropped, participants’ appetites soared. Since that pioneering study, it has been repeatedly shown that dietary protein elevates amino acid concentrations in the blood and that high-protein meals function as appetite suppressants.

Several studies conducted on healthy subjects have shown, too, that long-term adherence to a high-protein diet can increase feelings of fullness in an enduring way. Some of these studies carefully controlled energy balance by having the subjects live in a chamber for several days so that their total energy expenditure could be accurately measured. The level of energy expenditure was matched with the same amount of caloric intake. This approach ensured that the only variable was the level of protein intake, so there was no doubt that the effect on appetite control stemmed from the higher intake of dietary protein.

Why Eating High-Protein Meals Makes You Feel More Satiated

There are a few theories as to why a high-protein meal makes you feel fuller.

One potential pathway has to do with hunger hormones such as peptide YY (PYY), sometimes referred to as the fullness hormone. Research shows that peptide YY helps control hunger and food intake. Scientists have found that when you eat protein, your gut releases these hunger hormones.

According to a study published in Cell Metabolism, eating a high-protein diet increases your body’s production of hunger-fighting PYY.

“We’ve now found that increasing the protein content of the diet augments the body’s own PYY, helping to reduce hunger and aid weight loss,” said Rachel Batterham of University College London, a Medical Research Council clinician scientist and the study’s lead author.

Batterham and her fellow researchers found that eating high-protein meals stimulated the body to release more PYY than either high-fat or high-carbohydrate meals. Consequently, both normal-weight and obese participants who ate the high-protein meals reported fewer food cravings and less overall hunger.

The research team conducted follow-up studies with mice in order to eliminate other factors that could influence the results. They discovered that mice on high-protein diets had higher PYY levels and ate fewer calories than those who ate the usual amount of protein. They also had lower body fat levels.

So, what is it about high-protein foods specifically that produces this effect on fullness signals?

One hypothesis, which I introduced above, has to do with amino acids. Proteins are made up of amino acids, so when we eat a high-protein meal the plasma concentrations of their component amino acids spike. Some researchers, including the team behind that groundbreaking 1956 study, believe that this elevation of plasma amino acid levels can promote feelings of fullness.

Dietary proteins and amino acids play key roles in hunger control.

Amino Acids: The Key to Quelling Many Types of Hunger

A review of studies conducted to date provides indisputable evidence that amino acids on their own, separate from other compounds found in protein, can lower hunger levels.

The satiating effect of increased plasma amino acids was proven in an experiment in which amino acids were infused intravenously. This study demonstrated that intravenous amino acid infusion increased the satiety rating and feeling of fullness, even though nothing was ingested into the gastrointestinal tract. The suppression of appetite was due to elevated plasma amino acid concentrations. When the infusion stopped and plasma amino acid concentrations returned to the basal level, the effect on satiety was eliminated.

As with the question of exactly what biological mechanisms underlie the clear connection between protein intake and increased satiety, there is no single, succinct answer to the question of why their component amino acids have such a pronounced effect on hunger control.

One possibility is that a greater availability of amino acids, particularly the essential amino acids that cannot be produced in the body, stimulates protein synthesis. The stimulation of protein synthesis increases energy expenditure. Recent research proposed that the extra use of oxygen associated with stimulated protein synthesis results in increased satiety.

Another possibility is that the actions of amino acids in the brain stimulate satiety. When amino acids were infused into the intestines of cats, either as a mixture or independently, researchers recorded increased signaling from the part of the brain responsible for satiety. Early amino acid studies that identified the brain receptor that influences satiety are supported by the more recent identification of a chemosensor for dietary essential amino acids in the brains of rats. This area of the brain projects signals to other brain areas that are associated with the control of food intake.

Do All Amino Acids Help Control Hunger?

The short answer is, no. While all amino acids have health benefits and can be valuable components of dietary supplements, scientists have found that only some amino acids increase satiety. Other amino acids have been shown to have either no discernible effect on appetite or, in some cases, to stimulate the appetite.

The results of one study showed that while tryptophan and lysine increased satiety, proline and threonine had no effect and arginine decreased satiety.

The results of another study in which essential amino acids were directly injected into the cerebroventricular area of the brain found that injections of all three of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or leucine individually led to a suppressed food intake. Ultimately, the study’s authors determined that the effect of the BCAA injection was entirely due to leucine, as individual injections of the other BCAAs, isoleucine and valine, had no effect.

Not only does an augmented supply of certain dietary essential amino acids including leucine, lysine, and tryptophan induce satiety, but the reverse is also true. When your body lacks amino acids, that spurs your appetite.

Research consistently indicates that a low-protein diet drives increased food intake—in fact, there is a brain receptor that identifies a diet deficient in essential amino acids! A low-protein diet causes an increase in food intake in order to correct the amino acid deficiency, which can easily result in weight gain. This phenomenon was demonstrated by a study published in Physiology and Behavior. Increased food intake occurs when intake of all the essential amino acids drops, not just leucine or other amino acids directly linked to fullness signals.

How You Can Use Scientific Findings to Achieve Real-World Weight-Loss Results

So, you may be asking yourself, what does this all mean for my personal weight-loss journey?

As I have mentioned, understanding the precise biological mechanisms that affect hunger control can be challenging. Satiety is difficult to quantify objectively in humans. A number of factors come into play, and we do not have access to the complete workings of the brain. Consequently, we must rely extensively on data obtained from rats, which differ from humans in obvious ways. That being said, there are important findings obtained from studies on rats that are relevant to human nutrition.

With regard to amino acids, a rat’s brain can sense when essential amino acids are available and modify dietary intake accordingly. Elevated levels of certain essential amino acids—namely leucine, lysine, and tryptophan—can increase satiety, while a deficiency of essential amino acids increases the amount of food eaten. Following this science, a low-protein diet increases food intake and causes weight gain, and a high-protein diet reduces food intake.

In addition to ensuring an adequate intake of dietary protein, you may find it beneficial to consume a balanced mixture of free essential amino acids. Essential amino acids produce the same effect as high-protein foods but contain far fewer calories.

Taking a complete essential amino acid supplement with all the essential aminos has been shown to be the most low-calorie way to improve hunger control. While not all amino acids directly affect your hunger levels, it appears that supplementing with individual amino acids does not have the same effectiveness as optimizing your intake of all the essential amino acids.