How to Get the Best Amino Acids for Muscle Growth

Discover the important differences between BCAAs and EAAs for athletic performance, including the best amino acids for muscle growth, workout recovery, plus improved sleep, mood, energy, and fat metabolism.

Muscle protein turnover is a constant state of activity: repairing, replacing, and rebuilding every day. This is true for everyone, though for those who work out or do strenuous labor regularly, the rate is even faster. It’s also true that as we age, this process slows down, meaning the more we do and the older we get, the more support we need to maintain and grow our muscles. Those who hit the gym frequently have probably heard about amino acid supplements, but which are the best amino acids for muscle growth? Branched-chain aminos? The ones in creatine or whey protein? This article has the rundown on the amino acids responsible for muscle synthesis, and advice on how to get all the relevant amino acids for new muscle growth.

Branched-Chain vs. Essential Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acid supplements (or BCAAs) are incredibly popular workout supplements among athletes and bodybuilders for their purported muscle-building abilities, but BCAAs are only a third of the essential amino acids (EAAs) needed to create new muscle. Here are the important differences when it comes to amino acids for working out.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

BCAAs are taken as supplements to increase muscle gain, improve muscle recovery, and boost athletic performance. However, it’s a little more nuanced than that on the molecular level.

Branched-chain aminos are so-called because of their chemical structures, the branching chains of their chemical bonds. They are valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and they do indeed play vital and irreplaceable roles in muscle building.

BCAAs are metabolized in your muscles, not via the liver, which means they hit your bloodstream fast when you consume a BCAA supplement, and are especially useful for workout energy. Scientific studies show a link between BCAA consumption and improved glycogen energy storage, decreased workout fatigue, and greater muscle mass. So…what could possibly be the drawback?

The Issue with BCAA Supplements

BCAAs cannot work alone. This meta-analysis of the relevant research done over 30 years (between 1985-2017) found that there are no human studies that show BCAAs working independently to improve athletic performance or increase protein synthesis. While they definitely play a role in new muscle growth, they are not the magic bullet that many fitness enthusiasts are led to believe. How can that be so?

Well, the meta-analysis referenced above highlighted two distinct studies that both showed BCAA supplementation can actually decrease muscle protein synthesis when they are overabundant. As mentioned previously, it takes all nine of the essential amino acids to create new muscle, and without a sufficient amount of every EAA, the excessive amount of BCAAs in the body may accelerate the catabolic rate of muscles (catabolism being a destructive metabolism, the very thing most bodybuilders take supplements to guard against).

In two of the studies profiled, muscle tissue was being broken down much faster than it was being repaired due to the fact that the overwhelming amount of BCAAs in the subjects were seeking to complete their job: achieve protein synthesis. To do this they cannibalized muscle tissue to derive the other six essential amino acids that could not be found quickly enough anywhere else. It’s sort of like the way certain parasites kill their hosts, even though it’s an illogical action: molecules and basic organisms aren’t thinking about the bigger picture, they have one purpose and will clear a path of destruction to complete it if necessary.

Long story short, BCAAs cannot create new muscle alone, without all the ingredients necessary for new protein synthesis, they can actually work against your goals.

Other BCAA Concerns

BCAAs only work to improve muscle growth in those who just so happen to have a sufficient amount of the other essential amino acids in their bloodstreams. Too many BCAAs taken as a solo supplement can have some other negative side effects.

  • A too-high dose of BCAAs can interrupt serotonin production: Serotonin is one of your happy hormones, part of the group of chemicals like dopamine and your endorphins that keep you from feelings of depression and anxiety (among others). Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, which uses the same carrier as BCAAs to reach the brain. With extra BCAAs clogging the brain bus, tryptophan uptake decreases, and serotonin production declines.
  • Increased amounts of BCAAs lead to B vitamin depletion: The metabolic requirements of utilizing extra BCAAs includes using several B vitamins, which then leads to a B vitamin shortage. B vitamins are needed for a multitude of other bodily functions, and a deficiency in B vitamins can interrupt hormone production, nervous system functioning, and digestion.
  • Excessive BCAA concentrations can lead to blood sugar and insulin issues: Increased levels of BCAAs may be a predictor of type 2 diabetes onset, and are linked to a higher risk of insulin resistance.

The best amino acids for muscle growth.

Essential Amino Acids

The positive promises of branched-chain amino acid supplements can still be had, so long as you get them in proper balance with the rest of the essential aminos. The best supplements for muscle growth will include all of the amino acids you can’t make yourself, which includes those treasured BCAAs.

Essential vs. Nonessential Amino Acids

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein in the body, and have everything to do with muscle gain and protein synthesis. They also have a firm hand in our hormone production, our enzyme creation, our cognitive functioning, and our metabolism.

There are 20 main amino acids in the human body, and while 11 of them can be synthesized in-house and are deemed nonessential, 9 of them are essential to consume from outside the body (like plant and animal protein sources: fish, eggs, beans, etc.). Those nine essential aminos are:

  1. Valine (BCAA): Aids in energy production and stimulates muscle regeneration.
  2. Isoleucine (BCAA): Prevents muscle breakdown and is important in energy regulation and immune system activity.
  3. Leucine (BCAA): Vital in blood sugar regulation, growth hormone synthesis, and protein synthesis.
  4. Lysine: One of the amino acids for joint pain due to its role in collagen, elastin, and our connective tissues.
  5. Methionine: Supports liver function, heart health, and the processing and elimination of body fat.
  6. PhenylalanineHelps synthesize dopamine and norepinephrine, providing antidepressant and pain-killing effects.
  7. ThreonineAnother player in connective tissue (like lysine) and fat metabolism (like methionine).
  8. Tryptophan: The precursor for serotonin, important for appetite, mood, and healthy sleep.
  9. HistidinePrecursor to carnosine, which reduces lactic acid buildup and helps relieve muscle soreness.

Each of the essential amino acids plays a role in either muscle building, fat burning, energy creation, or joint health, or all of the above. Don’t stop at BCAAs when supplementing. Get the full deck of essential amino acids to truly improve your workout and increase your muscle growth.

Get the Essentials for Muscle Growth

To reiterate: BCAAs aren’t bad, they just aren’t the full package that amino acid supplements have to offer. They can’t build muscle all on their own, and too many BCAAs without the rest of their EAA cohort can have counterproductive or even destructive effects on your health.

A full roster of essential amino acids can aid muscle repair, improve exercise recovery, help suppress your appetite (due to the EAAs which work in the brain to regulate satiety and hunger hormones), improve cognitive function, aid weight loss, enhance metabolic processes, and lead to better sleep.

With EAAs, your post-workout recovery improves alongside your body weight, blood flow, lean muscle mass, and muscle strength. Add a complete, well-balanced EAA supplement to your sports nutrition regimen to get the very best of everything.

Amino Acids for Arthritis: Nature’s Answer for Better Pain Relief?

Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis ranking as the most common culprits. Studies have shown that certain amino acids for arthritis can help support cartilage and joint health, thereby helping to mitigate painful symptoms.

If you have arthritis, you know how the joint pain and inflammation can negatively affect your day-to-day life. Whether it’s your ability to walk or simply open a jar, arthritis can make your life miserable. In fact, arthritis is the number one cause of disability in adults in the United States. However, it is possible to reduce the impacts of arthritis on your life. And in this article, we’re going to take a look at amino acids for arthritis and discuss the role these building blocks of protein may play in both pain relief and the prevention of joint damage.

What Causes Arthritis?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 million Americans have some form of the more than 100 different types of arthritis (and associated conditions). But the most common types of arthritis are by far osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the form of arthritis we’re all probably most familiar with. This type is caused by wear and tear on joint cartilage—the firm, flexible connective tissue that provides a protective cushion at the ends of long bones, where they meet at the joint.

If the wear and tear on cartilage progresses far enough, the ends of the bones can eventually begin to grind against one another. This damage can be the result of a number of causes, including:

  • Overuse
  • Injury
  • Anatomic abnormalities
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Weak supporting muscles

Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but it’s particularly common in the knees, hips, lower back, neck, fingers, thumbs, and great toes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the synovial membrane—the lining of the joint capsule. If the disease process is allowed to continue, the constant inflammation can eventually degrade both the cartilage and the bone itself to the point that the joint becomes immobile and deformed.

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. These include:

  • Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Age: Middle-aged adults are more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Family history: People with family members with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop the disease themselves.
  • Tobacco: People who smoke have a greater risk of rheumatoid arthritis, especially if the disease runs in the family.

Amino Acids for Arthritis

The good news for arthritis sufferers is that studies have shown that certain nutritional supplements, including amino acids, can support cartilage and joint health, provide pain relief, and make physical activity more comfortable.

Seven amino acids, in particular, play an important role in maintaining joint health. These are:

  1. Methionine
  2. Cysteine
  3. Taurine
  4. Arginine
  5. Citrulline
  6. Histidine
  7. Glycine

1. Methionine

Joint cartilage can’t form without sulfur. And for arthritis patients, a lack of sulfur can have devastating consequences. In fact, studies have shown that the cartilage of healthy people contains approximately three times more sulfur than the cartilage of individuals with arthritis.

Methionine is a sulfur-containing essential amino acid that encourages cartilage cells to create more cartilage tissue and helps strengthen joints by forming sulfurous chains that link together.

Methionine has also been shown in studies to help ease symptoms of arthritis by acting as both an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic.

A 2002 study in The Journal of Family Practice investigating the efficacy of the nutritional supplement S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)—which is composed of methionine bound to a molecule of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—found that SAMe worked as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at decreasing pain and functional limitations, but without the adverse effects seen with NSAIDs.

In addition, a 2004 clinical trial found that SAMe supplementation was as effective at reducing the pain caused by knee osteoarthritis as the prescription NSAID celecoxib. And like the earlier study, this study also found that SAMe was able to improve joint pain without the side effects seen with celecoxib.

Good food sources of methionine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Onions

Some studies have suggested that ingesting methionine at levels 5 times the normal dietary intake can lead to an increase in plasma levels of homocysteine, which may have adverse health effects. However, it’s thought that the possibility of this happening through normal dietary intake is quite low.

2. Cysteine

Like methionine, cysteine is an amino acid that helps produce sulfur in the body. It’s also considered a nonessential amino acid because it’s created in the body from methionine.

Cysteine—which is available in supplement form as N-acetylcysteine (NAC)—has potent antioxidant properties that protect cells from oxidative stress. It also supports the immune system and helps stimulate the production of collagen—a structural protein required for the building of joint cartilage.

In addition, cysteine supplementation may help improve joint flexibility in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Dietary sources of cysteine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Onions
  • Lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Sunflower seeds

3. Taurine

Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body and functions as both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s also essential for cardiovascular and skeletal muscle function. Like methionine, taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid and requires cysteine for its production.

Studies have suggested that taurine may also have a role to play in the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases. For example, a 2018 study found that taurine diminishes the severity of inflammatory diseases, including arthritis.

Similarly, another study from the same year demonstrated that injections of taurine relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis in rats, including pain and swelling, and inhibit cartilage degeneration.

The best food sources of taurine are animal-based, so vegetarians and vegans are at greater risk of deficiency. Taurine food sources include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Shellfish
  • Dairy products

4. Arginine

Arginine is an anti-inflammatory amino acid that helps calm the pain associated with joint inflammation by strengthening the immune system and supporting the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO acts as a vasodilator, relaxing blood vessels and improving circulation and nutrient delivery to the joints.

For extra arginine in your diet, look to:

  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Soybeans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin seeds

5. Citrulline

Citrulline is an amino acid that has the same anti-inflammatory benefits as arginine because it converts to arginine in the kidneys. However, while arginine is quickly metabolized when taken as a nutritional supplement, it takes longer for the body to break down citrulline.

Interestingly, citrulline also causes blood levels of arginine to rise higher than those seen when taking arginine. Therefore, citrulline may be even more effective for increasing amino acid concentrations of arginine in the blood.

Food sources of citrulline include:

  • Meat
  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Watermelon
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts

6. Histidine

Histidine is another amino acid with anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies have found that people with rheumatoid arthritis have lower baseline serum levels of histidine. Though research is limited, these studies also suggest that histidine supplementation may be helpful for arthritis symptoms in some individuals.

Good food sources of histidine include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

7. Glycine

The major amino acid constituents of collagen are glycine, lysine, and proline. And of these, the nonessential amino acid glycine is the most abundant, accounting for one third of the amino acids present.

A 2018 study found that while the effects of proline and lysine on collagen production appear to reach their maximum at normal physiologic levels of these amino acids, increasing dietary consumption of glycine by 10 grams could result in an increase in collagen synthesis of approximately 200%.

Moreover, glycine helps the body make glutathione—the so-called master antioxidant—and acts as an immunomodulator, which can be especially helpful in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Food sources of glycine include:

Whatever amino acid or combination of amino acids you decide is right for you, it’s important to remember that every amino acid works best when used as part of a formula that contains all nine essential amino acids. Not only does this prevent an imbalance in amino acid levels, but it also helps ensure the body has all the building blocks it needs to create the proteins required to maintain overall health and well-being.

Amino Acids for Arthritis