Amino Acids for Men

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age because the body’s ability to use protein sufficiently declines. Anabolic resistance can take effect. The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. There are ways to stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age.

Amino acids make up protein…and protein is needed to make muscle…and muscle plays many important roles in health and disease. But as we age the body’s ability to use protein sufficiently declines. Anabolic resistance can take effect. (Anabolic resistance lowers the body’s ability to break down and build up protein.)

The result? Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, which kicks in after age 30. You can lose 3-5% of your muscle mass every decade, for an average loss of 30% throughout your life. Can is the operative word. There are ways to stall sarcopenia. Amino acid supplementation is key.

Testosterone Decline and Muscle Loss

The predominant hormonal response to aging in men is reduced secretion of the hormone testosterone from the testes. Testosterone is the primary anabolic hormone in men. It promotes the gain of new muscle protein, and has other effects as well. Sexual function in older men is directly affected by a reduction in testosterone.

Replacement therapy with testosterone is popular; although therapy is limited by the fact that testosterone cannot be given as a pill. Patches are commonly used to increase testosterone levels, but the amount of the hormone that can be delivered via this route is restrained and insufficient to affect muscle. As a result, only some aspects of testosterone action can be restored with testosterone patches, such as sexual function, which includes both the level of interest in sex as well as the ability to do something about that interest. To increase the concentration of testosterone enough to have an anabolic effect on muscle, testosterone must be injected, usually once per week or once every other week.

The use of testosterone replacement therapy is controversial because there’s concern that any existent prostate cancer may be stimulated by testosterone therapy. This fear arises from the fact that the first line of action in the treatment of prostate cancer is often giving a drug that blocks the action of testosterone on the prostate.

Testosterone replacement therapy carries with it significant risk of adverse responses. If you choose to take these risks and receive hormonal therapy, you will need to bolster its effects with amino acid supplementation. Testosterone is similar to resistance exercise in that it primes the muscle to increase its rate of protein synthesis. An increased supply of building blocks (i.e., dietary essential amino acids) is a prerequisite to producing new protein at an increased rate.

Maintaining Muscle Mass and Function

While it is impossible to entirely stop the process of aging, it is definitely possible to slow the progression of muscle loss.

Eating high-quality protein food sources is key. Pack your diet full of eggs, milk, quinoa, red meat, chicken, turkey, and fish.

Be honest about your ability to consume enough protein to meet your needs as you age, especially if you are trying to build or maintain muscle. In America, 30% of people over the age of 65 fail to eat the minimal daily recommended intake of protein. Furthermore, the quality of dietary protein can also decrease, which is why it’s so important to increase your consumption of essential amino acids by incorporating amino acid supplements into your overall dietary pattern.

Getting enough amino acids for men is especially important as you age.

Essential Amino Acid Supplements

While essential amino acid supplements (EAAs) can benefit everyone, they are a particularly important component of dietary intake in older people. An EAA supplement can help overcome anabolic resistance, or the inability of the body to adequately build new muscle protein. Further, EAAs are less of a burden on the liver and kidneys than intact protein is.

An EAA supplement not only stimulates muscle protein synthesis, but also activates an increased recycling of nonessential amino acids (NEAAs) back into protein. In contrast, ingested dietary proteins add more NEAAs into circulation. Surplus NEAAs are metabolized by the liver and ultimately produce urea and ammonia, which are excreted in urine by the kidneys. Reutilizing NEAAs in circulation by providing only EAAs means less work for the liver and the kidneys. The kidneys benefit since they do not have to excrete extra urea and ammonia in the urine.

EAA supplements can also help with the problem of insulin resistance so common in older people. One of the characteristics of insulin resistance with aging is that fat accumulates in the liver and limits insulin action as a result. Older individuals have, on average, twice the fat in their livers as they did when they were younger than 30. EAA supplements reduce liver fat in the elderly to the same degree as the most effective medication, and with none of the adverse effects of that medicine. As a result, insulin sensitivity is improved.

Dosage of EAA Supplements

A dosage as small as 3.6 grams (the equivalent of 20 grams of high-quality protein) of EAAs can effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis in elderly people, and when taken over time, this dosage can induce functional improvements. Optimally, two doses per day should be taken. In some circumstances a high dose may be considered. Of course, always discuss with your healthcare provider before adding any supplements to your dietary plan. If your normal diet is relatively deficient in EAAs (e.g., a vegetarian or vegan diet), then larger doses of an EAA supplement are essential.

If you are exercising, the timing of the ingestion of the EAA supplement should be coordinated with the exercise. Take EAAs in the free form with minimal mixing with other nutrients. Powder mixed into a beverage is the most convenient, but capsules can be an effective way to consume part of your dose as well.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs. Let’s make sure you get the BCAA benefits you’re after. To reap the muscle-building benefits, supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of ALL the essential amino acids.

So, you’re interested in supplementing with BCAAs (if you don’t yet know the basics about branched-chain amino acids, commonly referred to as BCAAs, I recommend reading this article first). Scientists have found that increased concentrations of the three branched-chain amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—can result in remarkable benefits, particularly for muscle growth and muscle recovery. Consequently, BCAA supplements are becoming ever more popular. While I wholeheartedly support your decision to try BCAA supplementation, I want to make sure you get the benefits you’re after.

5 Top Benefits Linked to BCAA Supplements

A wealth of research has linked BCAAs to a variety of enticing effects. While many of the effects of BCAAs have to do with muscle building and exercise performance, athletes aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a supplemental dose of BCAAs. In my opinion, these are five of the most exciting as well as the most scientifically validated results of BCAA supplementation.

1. Limit Muscle Protein Breakdown

Many would rank this as the topmost and best BCAA benefit. Leucine, the power player of the BCAA trio, stimulates the rapamycin complex (mTOR) signaling pathway, which produces an increase to the rate of muscle protein synthesis, the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue.

Leucine has an impressive anabolic effect on skeletal muscle, which leads to impressive muscle-building results.

As a study published in the Journal of Nutrition explained, leucine promotes significant changes to skeletal muscle protein metabolism, namely, decreases to protein breakdown and increases to protein synthesis.

According to a placebo-controlled study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2017, the post-workout ingestion of BCAAs can cause an increase in muscle protein synthesis of approximately 22%.

2. Optimize Exercise Performance

Another reason BCAAs have become such a red-hot workout supplement is that compelling evidence demonstrates they can lead to impressive improvements to exercise performance.

Researchers from the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Metropolitan University in Leeds, UK, conducted a study to examine the effects of leucine on resistance training performance for novice trainees. At the study’s conclusion, participants who took leucine showed markedly higher strength gains than those who took a placebo—40.8% for the leucine group compared to 31.0% for the placebo group.

3. Minimize Muscle Damage and Soreness

As if athletes needed still more reasons to adore BCAAs, it appears they can also reduce post-workout  muscle soreness and damage.

The results of a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that taking BCAAs both before and after a workout can lead to significant decreases to creatine kinase efflux as well as muscle soreness. Participants who took BCAAs also recovered their maximal voluntary contraction ability more rapidly than those who took a placebo.

“The present study has shown that BCAA administered before and following damaging resistance exercise reduces indices of muscle damage and accelerates recovery,” the study’s authors concluded.

4. Enhance Weight-Loss Efforts

Recent inquiries into the benefits of BCAAs indicate that they can maximize the effects of healthy weight-loss efforts.

A randomized, double-blind study published in 2009 looked at how BCAAs, whey protein, and a carbohydrate-based sports drink influenced body composition. All study participants (who had a minimum of 2 years of experience with resistance training) completed an 8-week, whole-body training program while eating a standardized diet.

At the study’s conclusion, participants in the BCAA group had decreased their body fat percentage far more significantly than both the whey protein and carbohydrate sports drink groups. According to the authors, this reveals BCAAs can effectively encourage fat loss.

5. Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

We know that BCAAs make crucial contributions to the regulation of glucose levels. A steady supply of these essential amino acids is a prerequisite for ideal glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.

Researchers have not yet conclusively demonstrated that BCAA supplementation produces beneficial changes to blood sugar levels, but findings so far have been quite promising. A 2012 study examined the effects of BCAAs on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity for patients with chronic hepatitis C, a serious form of liver disease.

At the study’s conclusion, the authors found that BCAAs produced a clear, beneficial effect on patients’ HbA1c values, a blood marker that measures the glycosylation of hemoglobin and can be used to give an average of blood sugar levels over the last 3 months.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Whether you’re a bodybuilder looking to mitigate muscle breakdown during exercise so you can build more lean muscle mass, an endurance athlete looking to optimize performance, or just an everyday person seeking to improve blood sugar metabolism and reach or maintain a healthy weight, the draw of BCAA supplements is self-evident.

However, in order to reap the BCAA benefits you desire, you must supplement with an amino acid formula that contains the appropriate concentration of all nine essential amino acids, not just the three BCAAs. Let me explain why that is.

The BCAAs Work Best as Part of a Team

Taking supplements that contain only some of the essential amino acids, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) supplements, has minimal effect on protein synthesis (the process of building proteins, like those that make up muscle), because the synthesis of complete proteins requires adequate availability of all the essential amino acids. I just can’t stress this enough. Further, the many other functions of amino acids in the blood, including the production of neurotransmitters, regulation of blood flow, safeguarding of immune function, and improvement of plasma lipid profiles, are contingent on a balanced composition of blood amino acids.

In theory, the use of a single amino acid supplement may elicit a desired response, but oftentimes, this is not the case. Also, while the targeted response may be positively affected, other responses may not be desirable.

Take a moment to think about the human body at work, all day and night and every day and night. There are a multitude of physiological events taking place at the same time. And amino acids play a role, either directly or indirectly, in nearly every physiological function. Underlying these major functions are countless chemical reactions and the continuous breakdown and synthesis of compounds, all needed to sustain vital organs and life. And every single one of these functions requires a balanced supply of amino acids.

Each amino acid serves multiple purposes and often works in concert with other amino acids. The simultaneous action of amino acids in a wide variety of reactions and functions helps to explain the nutritional value of a balanced mixture of all the essential amino acids. The most important thing to remember is that, although you may be taking an amino acid supplement for a specific purpose, the other functions of amino acids are always in action.

Leucine Alone Won’t Produce the Hoped-For Effects

Let’s demonstrate this with a concrete example. In addition to its role as a building block of protein, leucine activates the molecular processes that start protein synthesis. For this reason, leucine is often referred to as a nutraceutical, because it functions as a metabolic regulator and serves as a precursor for protein synthesis.

Consequently, leucine is a popular dietary supplement, either alone or contained in BCAA supplements. But, here’s what happens when you consume leucine without all the other essential amino acids in the proper composition. Regulatory mechanisms kick in to maintain a balance of essential aminos. So, when leucine is consumed in large amounts as a dietary supplement, the degradation of leucine is activated as the body tries to maintain the normal balance of all essential amino acids.

Even more concerning is that the metabolic pathway responsible for the degradation of leucine also degrades the other BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) at an increased rate. If only leucine is consumed, all three BCAAs deteriorate at an accelerated rate. The concentrations of both isoleucine and valine will fall below their normal levels. The decrease in the concentrations of valine and isoleucine will limit any beneficial effect the increased dose of leucine might have had because there won’t be enough valine and isoleucine available for the production of new protein.

For this reason, BCAA supplements are more commonly taken than leucine supplements alone, even though leucine seems to be the primary nutraceutical of the three. However, even all three BCAAs taken together do not resolve the problem created by an imbalance in availability of essential amino acids, since there are six other essential aminos not being given. As a result, neither leucine supplements, nor BCAA supplements that contain all three, have a demonstrable beneficial impact on protein synthesis.

BCAA Supplements: The Bottom Line

When you consume a large amount of the essential amino acid leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down, since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. Coincidentally, the breakdown of all the BCAAs (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) is increased because the same enzyme works on each.

If you hope to access the remarkable benefits associated with BCAAs—such as an improved ability to build muscle, decreased muscle soreness after high-intensity workouts, and a higher rate of fat loss, to name a few—you should not take BCAA supplements. Instead, look for a supplement with an amino acid formula that contains all the essential amino acids and has a greater proportion of valine and isoleucine to avoid decreases in their availability.

BCAA Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Resistance Exercise: Muscle Strength, Muscle Mass, Muscle Definition

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

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

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

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

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

How Resistance Training Benefits Your Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional benefits associated with resistance exercise include:

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

5 Different Types of Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

Some popular resistance-training approaches include:

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

Which Type of Resistance Exercise Is Best for You?

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

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

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

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

1. Do You Want to Build Muscle Mass?

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

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

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

Calorie Intake Is Key

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

How Carbs Impact Muscle Mass and Definition

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

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

Muscle Definition with EAA Supplementation

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

2. Do You Want to Lose Weight?

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

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

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

A Manageable Time Commitment

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

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

The Progressive Overload Principle

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

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

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

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

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

How to Measure Your Progress

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

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

3. Do You Get Bored Easily?

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

No? Here’s How to Build a Reliable Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes? Try These Variety-Filled Workouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

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

Resistance Training, Defined

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Role of Amino Acids

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

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

Key Facts About EAA Supplements and Resistance Exercise

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

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

Amino Acids Flip the Switch for Muscle Growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

How EAA Supplements Amplify the Benefits of Resistance Exercise

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

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

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

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

Together They Are Stronger

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

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

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

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

When Do I Take My EAA Supplements?

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

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

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

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

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

The Low-Down on Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

Conditionally essential amino acids can be made by your body under normal conditions, but cannot be produced in sufficient quantities in times of severe stress, illness, or injury. They may enter essential territory and your body might require a boost of these aminos from diet or supplementation.

Conditionally essential amino acids are amino acids that can be made by your body under normal conditions, but in times of severe stress, illness, or injury, they may enter essential territory and your body might require a boost of these aminos from diet or supplementation.

Conditionally essential amino acids include:

  1. Arginine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Glutamine
  4. Glycine
  5. Proline
  6. Serine
  7. Tyrosine

Conditionally essential amino acids

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids Benefits

Arginine: Certain catabolic conditions may necessitate dietary support of arginine. Preterm infants, for example, cannot make arginine internally. Because arginine can help increase nitric oxide production and blood flow and reduce blood pressure, arginine supplements are sometimes recommended for those with hypertension and diabetes as a way to keep arginine levels stable. Arginine plays a key role in heart health and can be useful in treating angina and circulatory diseases, as well as erectile dysfunction in men. Arginine also helps remove ammonia from the body and enhance immune function.

Cysteine: In the presence of adequate methionine, cysteine levels should remain stable in the body, but in infants, the elderly, and people dealing with metabolic or malabsorption syndromes, cysteine supplementation may be needed. Cysteine is important for protein synthesis, detoxification, collagen formation, and other diverse functions. It is abundant in beta-keratin, the main protein in nails, skin, and hair. Cysteine produces the antioxidants taurine and glutathione, which neutralize free radicals and diminish oxidative stress. Glutathione is particularly important in detoxification processes in the liver and is thought to help mitigate hangover symptoms and liver damage from alcohol consumption.

Glutamine: During injury and illness, your body may not be producing enough glutamine to help synthesize proteins and lipids and carry ammonia out of the body. Athletes swear by glutamine supplements, believing they can help speed recovery after intense workouts and keep the immune system strong. Glutamine is normally the most abundant free amino acid in the muscle, and depletion of muscle glutamine is an indicator of “overtraining syndrome.” Muscle glutamine depletion is also the hallmark of muscle wasting in critical illness. Unfortunately, consuming more glutamine may not readily reverse glutamine depletion in the muscle, since the depletion arises from a metabolic response that tends to keep glutamine out of the muscle even when supplied in your diet.

Glycine: This amino acid acts as a neurotransmitter that helps calm the central nervous system and participates in the processing of motor and sensory information that permits movement, vision, and hearing. Glycine is a glucogenic amino acid, meaning it is a precursor for the production of glucose by the liver. We need to have a constant level of glucose in the blood, as this is the energy source of the brain and even a transient dip can result in a drop in brain function. Glycine is the second most common amino acid in human proteins. In addition to its role as a major component of most proteins, glycine helps break down ingested fats by regulating the secretion of bile acids from the gall bladder into the small intestine.

Proline: Normally synthesized from the essential amino acid glutamate, proline produces proteins like cartilage and collagen. In fact, almost one-third of the amino acids in collagen are proline. In healthy bodies, proline production increases during times of soft-tissue trauma, injury, and wound healing, such as muscle or tendon recovery, severe burns, and after surgery. Proline may also help prevent arteriosclerosis and regulate blood pressure.

Serine: Glycine or threonine convert into serine, which helps produce immunoglobulins and antibodies for a strong immune system, and also aids in the absorption of creatine. Creatine is a substance made from amino acids that helps build and maintain all the muscles in the body, including the heart. Serine is needed for the metabolism of fats and fatty acids and is also an important structural component of trypsin and chymotrypsin, two major digestive enzymes needed to break down protein from foods that we eat. Cell membranes rely on serine since it forms the phospholipids needed to encase cells throughout the body. Serine is essential to both physical and mental functioning, but it is especially important for proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system. Serine is often promoted as a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Tyrosine: Since tyrosine is made from the essential amino acid phenylalanine, if dietary phenylalanine requirements are not met, tyrosine availability is limited and may be required from food sources. Tyrosine plays a role in protein synthesis and is involved in the production of thyroid hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine that help manage stress and depression. Tyrosine is used as a safe therapy for a variety of clinical conditions including hypertension, depression, and chronic pain.

 

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EAA Supplements and Aerobic Exercise

Are there any advantages to consuming EAA supplements or BCAA supplements before aerobic exercise? EAAs are beneficial before aerobic exercise, but providing the optimal concentration of all the EAAs for muscle protein synthesis is key. The effect is limited during exercise because some EAAs are oxidized for energy.

Jogging. Swimming. Cycling. Dancing. What do all these activities have in common? They’re aerobic, which means the heart is pumping oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles. Your heart is beating faster, blood is flowing from your muscles to your lungs, and you’re producing endorphins, those feel-good hormones that naturally put you in a better mood.

But are there any advantages to consuming essential amino acid (EAA) supplements or BCAA supplements before aerobic exercise? Let’s find out!

BCAA Supplements Explained

Leucine is one of three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and it’s the most abundant essential amino acid in muscle. It promotes muscle recovery after vigorous workouts, boosts stamina and endurance, and activates the process of protein synthesis. But, unlike other essential amino acids, leucine (and its BCAA comrades isoleucine and valine) undergo oxidative degradation during aerobic exercise.

Since leucine can be used for energy during cardiovascular exercise, it may seem reasonable to supply extra leucine or BCAAs as a supplement to prevent the oxidation of BCAAs that come from muscle breakdown. Here’s where things get muddled.

When you introduce more leucine or BCAAs into the bloodstream, a greater percentage is oxidized. That’s because the body is designed to keep a balanced composition of amino acids available in the blood, so mechanisms kick in to reduce the leucine you’ve ingested.

The efficiency of the supplement is therefore considerably reduced when given before or during aerobic exercise when the metabolic pathways of BCAA oxidation are already revved up. Consequently, the supplemental leucine or BCAAs will not be available to promote muscle protein turnover.

Nonetheless, ingesting leucine or BCAAs before or during exercise will offset to some  extent the accelerated oxidation of these amino acids, as long as all the EAAs are provided. Perhaps more importantly, increasing BCAAs and phenylalanine during exercise encourages the synthesis of the excitatory neurotransmitter dopamine relative to the depressant neurotransmitter serotonin. This can improve mental focus and delay the perception of fatigue.

The verdict? EAAs are beneficial before aerobic exercise, but providing the optimal concentration of all the EAAs for muscle protein synthesis is key. Keep in mind, the effect will be limited during exercise because some of the EAAs consumed will be oxidized for energy.

What About After Exercise?

Now, taking an EAA supplement (one that contains all the EAAs, not just a BCAA supplement) can provide great benefit if taken the first hour after aerobic exercise.

EAAs are the key precursors for increased protein turnover. An increase in muscle protein turnover is the metabolic basis for improved muscle fiber functioning. In addition, EAAs increase the production and functioning of the mitochondria, which is the site in the cell where energy is produced. These responses can only be achieved with a formulation containing all of the EAAs, since all EAAs are present in newly synthesized protein.

While BCAAs alone are not effective, the optimal EAA formulation for post-aerobic-exercise supplementation should have a higher proportion of BCAAs in the total mixture than is represented in the composition of muscle protein in order to restore the BCAAS that were metabolized during exercise.

 

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Everything You Need to Know About Amino Acid Nutrition

To understand optimal amino acid nutrition, we must first understand the relationship between proteins and amino acids. Proteins are constructed from chains of amino acids. If just one amino acid is missing or defective or misplaced, the protein either cannot be made, or cannot function as intended.

To understand optimal amino acid nutrition, we must first understand the relationship between proteins and amino acids.

Proteins are constructed from chains of amino acids. The specific arrangement of aminos determines the type of protein and its function. If just one amino acid is missing or defective or misplaced, the protein either cannot be made, or cannot function as intended.

Fun fact: Next to water, protein makes up the largest proportion of the human body!

Some proteins your body makes, and others your body needs from food sources. Essential amino acids are the components of dietary protein (like chicken, seafood, and poultry) that make protein building possible. For this reason, essential amino acids are the only macronutrient required for survival. So, you don’t want to skimp on protein in your diet!

How Much Protein Do I Need to Eat?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. If you are breastfeeding, then the RDA is 20 grams more to facilitate milk production, and, if you are older, then the RDA is 1 to 1.5 grams of protein.

Use this handy online calculator from the USDA to calculate your minimal protein requirements.

What’s the Best Protein to Eat?

Dietary protein, particularly in the form of organic and grass-fed meat, is the best protein to eat. Industrially-raised meat is loaded with antibiotics and hormones linked to health risks. And processed meat is packed with sugar. Stick with high-quality sources of fish, shellfish, lean meats such as chicken and turkey, beans, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and dairy (raw milk is preferable).

amino acid nutrition

Amino Acid Supplements

Can you meet your MINIMUM amino acid requirements by eating a well-balanced diet? Yes, you can.

If that’s the case, are amino acid supplements necessary in amino acid nutrition? ABSOLUTELY!

That’s because an amino supplement can provide benefits that even the highest quality dietary proteins cannot. Clinical trials have shown that essential amino acid supplements can enhance muscle strength and mass, control plasma lipid levels, reduce liver fat, and speed recovery from serious injury or surgery.

Rather than subsisting on protein powders, many of which are loaded with carbs and added sugars, I recommend supplementing with an amino acid complex that’s low calorie and specifically formulated to address your amino acid requirements. On a gram-for-gram basis, essential amino acids are at least 3 times as effective as whey protein when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Essential amino acids from a supplement are absorbed quicker and more completely, and thus reach higher peak concentrations, than when intact protein is consumed.

Amino acid supplements can be formulated to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis according to specific circumstances, and without unnecessary caloric intake. You can get the beneficial effects in a 4-gram dose…that’s just 16 calories!

Compare this to the calorie consequence of dietary protein—100 calories (5 times more calories than an amino supplement!). Plus, 50% or more of the calories from dietary protein come from carbs and fat and nonessential amino acids that don’t really contribute to protein synthesis.

An appropriately formulated amino acid supplement also helps maintain the optimal balance of available amino acids in the blood. Blood amino acids are critical for producing neurotransmitters, boosting immune function, and improving plasma lipid profiles.

The Best Amino Acid Supplements

Many amino acid supplements on the market are missing the crucial element: all essential amino acids need to be present in their optimal amounts. If an amino acid supplement only contains a few aminos, such as popular BCAA supplements touted for muscle building, then they will have little effect on protein synthesis. In order to synthesize complete protein, all the essential amino acids need to be accounted for.

I’m a big fan of Amyno amino acids. Amyno’s premium amino acid blends are uniquely designed to increase muscle mass and/or strength by stimulating muscle protein synthesis and increasing muscle energy. When foraging for the best amino acid supplement for your needs, check labels carefully to make sure you are benefiting from pure amino acids. Your body will thank you.

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The Essentials of Nonessential Amino Acids

The human body can make nonessential amino acids, so they aren’t essential to our diets, but they are essential to our health. The 11 nonessential amino acids can be resynthesized to build new proteins as needed by the body. They also help produce glucose for use as energy and fatty acids for storing excess calories.

Amino acids are organic compounds that are the building blocks of our body proteins and help regulate many critical roles in the body, from nitrogen balance to the urea cycle. Amino acids can be grouped into three primary categories: essential amino acids (you need to ingest them via food or supplements to satisfy your body’s needs), nonessential amino acids (made in-house by the body), and conditional amino acids (increased intake required during times of stress).

The human body can make nonessential amino acids, so they aren’t essential to our diets, but they are essential to our health. Like essential amino acids, nonessential amino acids can be resynthesized to build new proteins in your body as your cells dictate. They help produce glucose for use as energy and fatty acids for storing excess calories.

There are 11 standard nonessential amino acids:

  1. Alanine
  2. Arginine
  3. Asparagine
  4. Aspartic Acid
  5. Cysteine
  6. Glutamic Acid
  7. Glutamine
  8. Glycine
  9. Proline
  10. Serine
  11. Tyrosine

The 9 essential amino acids are:

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

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing on the functions and benefits of the nonessential amino acids.

How Your Body Makes Nonessential Amino Acids

Nonessential amino acids are produced via various metabolic processes. For instance, the chemical process of burning ingested carbohydrates for fuel produces molecules that are used to create nonessential amino acids.

Nonessential amino acids can also be made from other amino acids. For example, the essential amino acid phenylalanine is a precursor of the nonessential amino acid, tyrosine.

Due to the unique ability of the body to generate nonessential acids, you don’t have to worry about getting enough in your diet. Simply consume adequate protein and carbohydrates and you’ll have an ample supply of nonessential amino acids for red blood cell formation, hormone production, tissue growth and repair, and dependable immune function.

However, of the 11 nonessential amino acids, 7 can become conditional essential acids during times of stress and illness, when your body is unable to produce a sufficient supply. When battling an illness or under increased stress, you’ll want to increase consumption of one or more of the following amino acids according to your health care provider’s guidance:

  1. Arginine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Glutamine
  4. Glycine
  5. Proline
  6. Serine
  7. Tyrosine

The Essentials of Nonessential Amino Acids

Nonessential Amino Acid Benefits

Let’s get to know our nonessential amino acids and their functions a bit better, shall we?

Alanine

This nonessential amino is the smallest amino acid in humans and is readily synthesized in the body. When muscle protein breaks down, as it’s apt to do during intense exercise, it releases toxic substances. Alanine helps clear these toxins so that the liver is able to metabolize and eliminate them.

Alanine also helps keep blood glucose levels under control and may help regulate cholesterol levels. An important source of energy for muscles and for the central nervous system, alanine is second only to glutamine in the amount circulating in the blood.

In addition, alanine helps to produce lymphocytes, which are cells in lymph fluid and the bloodstream that are involved in immune function.

Arginine

Best known for its role as a precursor for nitric oxide, arginine can help lower blood pressure and boost erectile dysfunction in men. In addition to relaxing blood vessels, arginine can help accelerate wound healing, detoxify the kidneys, maintain hormone balance, and keep the immune system strong.

Asparagine

One of the most important amino acids for neuron (brain cell) development, asparagine maintains balance in the central nervous system.

Asparagine is a component of many proteins, including glycoproteins. Glycoproteins are specialized structures that not only provide structural support to cells, but also help build connective tissues and expedite digestion by generating secretions and mucous in the gastrointestinal tract.

Aspartic Acid

This excitatory neurotransmitter plays an important role in the synthesis of other amino acids (including 4 essentials: methionine, threonine, isoleucine, and lysine) and in metabolic reactions involved in energy production (the citric acid cycle) and the production of urea. Aspartic acid (the ionic form is known as aspartate) is a part of the chemical structure of the active part of many enzymes. Enzymes are specialized proteins that play a role in enabling chemical reactions to occur in the body.

Cysteine

This sulfur-containing nonessential amino is abundant in beta-keratin, the main protein in nails, skin, and hair, and helps stimulate collagen production. Collagen protein is a major component of the skin and connective tissue and helps to maintain elasticity and texture.

Cysteine is also required in the production of taurine, a sulfur-containing antioxidant that influences cardiovascular and skeletal muscle function.

One of the most important roles of cysteine is that it is a component of the antioxidant glutathione, which is used throughout the body to neutralize free radicals and diminish oxidative stress. Glutathione is particularly important in detoxification processes in the liver.

Glutamic Acid

Otherwise known as glutamate, glutamic acid is the most common excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It serves as an energy source for brain cells and plays a critical role in brain metabolism. In the brain, glutamate can regulate ammonia levels by taking up nitrogen in its conversion to glutamine, another amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter. Glutamate serves the same function in the periphery, taking up ammonia and then carrying it via the blood back to the liver for ultimate conversion to urea, which is then excreted.

Glutamic acid is also important in the synthesis of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that has the opposite effect of glutamic acid and helps to decrease activity within the central nervous system.

Glutamine

Like cysteine, glutamine is a precursor for the antioxidant glutathione, which fights off free radical damage that causes premature aging and disease. Glutamine is the most plentiful amino acid in the blood, and helps promote proper digestion, brain function, and immune health. It is the principal carrier of nitrogen in the body and is an important energy source for many cells. Like arginine, dietary glutamine may become a conditional essential amino acid during certain stressful states.

Glycine

A principal component of collagen production (it makes up one-third of collagen), glycine helps promote wound healing. It also supplies glucose for the body to use as energy, and plays vital roles in proper cell growth and function, as well as digestive health. Glycine helps break down ingested fats by regulating the secretion of bile acids from the gallbladder into the small intestine.

Glycine also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps process motor and sensory information that permits movement, vision, and hearing.

Proline

Almost one-third of the amino acids in collagen are proline, making this nonessential amino acid incredibly essential to tissue repair and skin regeneration. Your body revs up its production of proline whenever there is damage to soft-tissue, an injury, or subsequent wound healing.

Proline also helps prevent arteriosclerosis and regulate blood pressure by encouraging the walls of the arteries to release fat buildup into the blood, thereby reducing the risk of blockage. By decreasing the pressure built up by these blockages, proline helps lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

Serine

A precursor for the amino acid tryptophan, which, in turn, produces the mood hormone serotonin, serine is imperative to both physical and mental functioning, particularly cognitive processing and central nervous system equilibrium. If your body cannot produce enough serotonin, you may be prone to anxiety, depression, confusion, and insomnia.

Serine is also crucial to muscle formation, immune health, and fat metabolism.

Tyrosine

Made from the essential amino acid phenylalanine, tyrosine depends upon dietary phenylalanine requirements being met.

Tyrosine is a key player in protein synthesis, as well as the production of thyroid hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters play a vital role in the nervous system and in the management of stress and depression.

Tyrosine is used as a safe therapy for a variety of clinical conditions including hypertension, depression, and chronic pain.

Give Your Body a Helping Hand

While your dietary focus should center on eating foods rich in the essential amino acids, you don’t want to disregard foods concentrated with nonessential amino acids either. Thankfully the source of one category of amino acids is the source of all three—a variety of animal and plant-based proteins!

The Role of Muscle in Health and Disease

The role of muscle in health includes regulating blood amino acid and glucose levels, supporting bone health, and increasing survival. Muscle also plays a central role in amino acid and protein metabolism in the body. In fact, muscle can be considered a reservoir of amino acids!

I speak from personal experience when I say that most people think of muscle only in regards to physical activity, regardless of age or health. I remember telling my 95-year-old mother several years ago about an article I was writing titled “The Underappreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease” in which I reviewed the central role that skeletal muscle plays in the regulation of metabolism in the body, the support of bone health, greater survival in the case of heart failure and cancer, and even psychological benefit. I explained my work with essential amino acids and how they can help in her daily life by strengthening muscle and improving its functions. She listened very politely, but ultimately said, “What do I need muscle for? I’m just playing bridge all day. I don’t need to be strong for that.”

My experience with many, many more people since then is that most only think of physical performance when thinking about the importance of muscle. How about we take some time to recognize muscle for more than just brute strength?

The Many Roles of Muscle

Muscle plays a central role in amino acid and protein metabolism in the body. Crucial tissues and organs (e.g., heart, brain, skin) need a constant supply of amino acids to produce enough new protein to maintain organ and tissue functionality. However, there are normally many hours throughout the day when we are not eating protein/amino acids. During those times between meals, muscle serves as the reservoir of amino acids for the rest of the body to maintain normal concentrations of blood amino acids.

Here’s how it works: the breakdown of muscle protein between meals releases amino acids into the blood that can be taken up by other tissues and organs. Muscle protein is then built back up when dietary protein and/or amino acids are consumed and absorbed into the body in a process called muscle protein synthesis. This balance between protein synthesis and protein degradation is called muscle protein turnover, and whole-body protein metabolism is a measure of this in aggregate throughout the entire body.

The role of muscle as a principal reservoir to maintain normal blood amino acid levels in the absence of dietary intake is necessary for survival. Muscle tissue plays a variety of other metabolic functions in addition to maintaining normal amino acid levels, including regulating blood glucose concentration, supporting bone health, increasing lifespan, and improving outcomes from chronic diseases.

The Role of Muscle in Health and Disease

Muscle Helps Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

Type 2 diabetes occurs when muscle function is not optimal.

Under normal conditions, muscle plays a key role in regulating the blood concentration of glucose, as well as that of amino acids. Glucose is commonly called blood sugar. When all is functioning properly, the brain relies entirely on glucose from the blood for energy. A drop in blood glucose concentration can cause loss of consciousness and even death. In contrast, an increase in glucose concentration in the blood is responsible for many of the adverse effects of diabetes.

To understand how healthy muscle can help keep us diabetes free, we must first examine how glucose is processed in the body. All dietary carbohydrates are ultimately converted to glucose in order to be metabolized in the body. After you eat carbohydrates, your blood glucose level increases. The magnitude of this increase is moderated by the release of the hormone insulin. Insulin sets in motion the uptake of glucose by various tissues, most prominently muscle. Once in the muscle cell, glucose may either be converted to a chemical form of energy or stored as glycogen for later use during exercise when energy requirements are elevated in order to fuel the contraction of muscle.

Now, that’s all assuming your body is responding to insulin properly. If your body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, then your pancreas pumps out more insulin to try to compensate. Eventually the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to satisfy the body’s needs, and blood sugar increases. This condition is termed insulin resistance, and it can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease if not managed. When you have diabetes, insulin no longer stimulates the clearance of glucose from the blood.

Muscle metabolism not only helps blunt the magnitude of increases in blood glucose after meals, but also helps prevent decreases in blood glucose levels between meals that could impair brain function. You see, some of the amino acids released from muscle in the post-absorptive state (between meals) become precursors for the production of glucose in the absence of dietary carbohydrate. Thus, healthy muscle helps regulate the concentration of glucose in the blood. This is imperative for the prevention of diabetes, as well as health problems caused by hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels).

Muscle Supports Bone Health

Then there is muscle’s influence on bone to consider. Any muscle contraction, such as squeezing your muscles on a bicep curl, exerts mechanical force on bone, which is essential for bone strength and mass. It is difficult to distinguish the potential role of muscle on bone from other factors, since the amount of dietary protein, insulin growth factor, and testosterone that affect bone also directly affect muscle. We do know that weight-bearing exercises serve to increase not only muscle strength but also bone strength, and even obesity or a high body weight strengthens bone by providing a direct mechanical force via increased fat mass. Prevention of bone loss due to aging (osteoporosis) is highly dependent on the maintenance of adequate muscle mass and function.

Muscle Increases Your Likelihood of Survival

Muscle mass is also associated with improved health outcomes and increased lifespan in a number of serious conditions.

Cancer is the most well-documented clinical state in which survival is directly linked to the maintenance of muscle mass. Cancer is associated with a rapid loss of muscle mass and strength at a rate faster than would normally occur because of decreased protein intake, called cancer cachexia. This is a classic example of the catabolic state. Survival from a variety of cancers is directly related to how well muscle mass is maintained. How muscle exerts this effect will be looked at in future studies, but one aspect seems to be muscle’s ability to withstand the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The all-cause morbidity and mortality due to adverse cardiovascular events (heart attacks, stroke) are also worse in individuals with depleted muscle mass. Interestingly, the loss of muscle strength is even more strongly related to mortality than the amount of muscle mass. Survival from other serious diseases, such as chronic obstructive lung disease and heart failure, is also better in individuals with greater muscle mass.

Maintaining Your Muscle

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012, 5% of American adults 60 years or older had weak muscle strength, 13% had intermediate muscle strength, and 82% had normal muscle strength. The percentage of Americans with weak and intermediate muscle strength rose with age, while the percentage of those with normal muscle strength decreased with age. The only way to stop this trend is to implement optimal lifestyle behaviors to help maintain muscle as you age.

Making sure you eat right, and that includes upping your protein intake, and sticking with a consistent exercise program can vastly improve muscle health as you age. Exercise helps keep your muscles strong and even restores muscle function and muscle mass. And optimal nutrition—a diet abundant in vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, eggs, and dairy (if you’re tolerant)—provides the foundation for maximal muscle health. An essential amino acid supplement can help shore up any protein deficiencies and make sure your muscles are getting the building blocks they need to keep you shielded from muscle loss and disease.

The 9 Essential Amino Acids and Why We Need Them

Your body can make many amino acids on its own, but there are 9 essential amino acids you need to eat! Your body uses these amino acids to build the proteins that make up your tissues and organs and regulate the vast majority of physiological functions. Let’s cover them one by one.

Your body uses amino acids to build the proteins that make up your tissues and organs and regulate the vast majority of physiological functions. Many of these amino acids the body produces on its own, but there are 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot make. Your body depends on YOU to feed it these critical nutrients via diet and supplementation.

How Many Essential Amino Acids Are There?

The 9 essential amino acids are:

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

Don’t be confused if you’ve heard there were just 8 essential amino acids. Experts used to think infants were the only humans that couldn’t make histidine in the body. Modern research shows that adults also rely upon dietary sources of this amino acid, making it 9th on the list. Some sources cite 10 essential amino acids, listing arginine as the final player. I like to classify arginine as a conditionally essential amino acid, which means it’s necessary to get this amino acid from your diet under certain conditions, such as times of illness. Premature infants likewise need arginine because they cannot yet make their own. Let’s briefly summarize what each of the 9 essential amino acids do in your body.

What Do Essential Amino Acids Do?

  1. Histidine: Children require dietary sources of histidine, while adults can produce some histidine but not enough to meet requirements. Histidine is involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin, tissue repair, and the strengthening of the immune system. In the central nervous system, it helps maintain myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells. Histidine is also metabolized to the neurotransmitter histamine, which influences immunity, gastric function, and sexual function. You don’t want to take an anti-histamine before a romantic interlude!
  2. Isoleucine: The second of three branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine is a vital component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen. We need isoleucine for proper blood clotting, muscle repair, and blood sugar regulation, so we can recover faster from strenuous exercise.
  3. Leucine: One of three branched-chain amino acids, leucine is the most abundant essential amino acid in muscle. It promotes muscle recovery after vigorous workouts and enhances stamina and endurance. Leucine also acts as a signal to activate various cellular functions, including initiating the process of protein synthesis.
  4. Lysine: Like all the other essential amino acids, lysine is needed to make new body proteins, but it is also a critical agent in the intestinal absorption of calcium. Lysine is a standout nutrient for the immune system because it helps produce antibodies and has important antiviral properties. As a nutritional supplement, lysine seems to be active against herpes simplex viruses (HSV). While lysine is abundant in many animal proteins (red meats, fish, and dairy products), it is typically the limiting amino acid in plant proteins. Vegetarians and especially vegans must be diligent in choosing proteins or opt for supplements to ensure adequate lysine intake.
  5. Methionine: This sulfur-containing amino acid is a safe dietary approach to ensure adequate sulfur intake. Methionine occupies a unique position among the essential amino acids, because without it, the synthesis of protein never gets started. Methionine also promotes the formation of collagen and cartilage tissue, and has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic properties. Methionine is essential for the absorption and bio-availability of selenium and zinc, aids in detoxification and excretion of chemicals such as lead and mercury, and helps the liver metabolize fats.
  6. Phenylalanine: Important in the structure and function of many proteins and enzymes, phenylalanine is also a precursor of another amino acid, tyrosine. Tyrosine is converted into a number of brain chemicals that affect mood, focus, and other facets of cognitive function, so different forms of phenylalanine have been proposed to treat mood disorders, stress, anxiety, and pain.
  7. Threonine: This blood-sugar-regulating amino acid helps keep connective tissues and muscles throughout the body strong and elastic. Threonine also builds robust bones and tooth enamel, and may speed wound healing or recovery from injury. Threonine plays an important role in fat metabolism and prevents fat accumulation in the liver.
  8. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is necessary for normal growth in infants and for maintaining a balance between protein synthesis and breakdown in adults. Tryptophan is widely recognized as a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin; hence, its use as an antidepressant and sleep aid.
  9. Valine: The third branched-chain amino acid, valine assists in tissue repair, muscle metabolism, and blood sugar control. It also helps regulate nitrogen balance and determine the three-dimensional structure of proteins.

 

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