How Essential Amino Acids Can Prevent and Even Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs).

It’s Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss

There’s nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don’t fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there’s no reason your golden years can’t be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you’ll be.

As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60.

Understanding Anabolic Resistance

Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance.

When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors.

In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors is blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance.

The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia

This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don’t just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries.

Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences.

Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury.

The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older.

Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle.

Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss

As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don’t provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density.

Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Physical activity habits
  • Muscle mass to fat ratio

Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It’s entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you’ll develop age-related sarcopenia.

According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal “maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults.” The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis.

Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there’s one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you’re aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you’ll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine.

Why Leucine Matters So Much

Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle.

However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That’s because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein.

You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success.

How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute

When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased.

Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein.

So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss.

The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss

A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more.

The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment.

Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays.

Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the “debilitating effects” of age-related sarcopenia.

Muscle loss with aging is one of the inescapable characteristics of growing older. While age-related muscle loss is a normal part of the aging process, we can temper its effect with the nutritional support of essential amino acids (EAAs). It's Never Too Early to Combat Age-Related Muscle Loss There's nothing wrong with embracing the mentality that 40 is the new 20, but don't fool yourself into believing age is nothing more than a number. Growing older does come with certain physiological changes. Yet there's no reason your golden years can't be every bit as vibrant as your youth. And the sooner you acknowledge how the passage of time influences certain biological processes, the better off you'll be. As you grow older, age-related muscle loss, which scientists refer to as sarcopenia or age-related sarcopenia, begins to erode your lean muscle mass. This process likely begins earlier than you think. Once you reach the age of 30, you begin to lose between 3% and 8% of your overall muscle mass each decade. The rate of decline increases once you turn 60. Understanding Anabolic Resistance Muscle loss with aging occurs because as the years wear on, we lose the ability to make new muscle protein from dietary protein. The impaired ability to build new muscle protein is called anabolic resistance. When your body enters an anabolic resistant state, it has trouble getting the motor started. The starter for the motor, in this case, is a factor inside the muscle cells called mTOR. mTOR starts the whole process of protein synthesis. The activation of mTOR begins a cascade of responses that ultimately result in the initiation of protein synthesis. Together these responses are called initiation factors. In aging muscle, the reactivity of mTOR and the other initiation factors are blunted, and this is a basis of anabolic resistance. The Vicious Cycle of Age-Related Sarcopenia This ongoing loss of skeletal muscle mass leaves older adults with less control over their bodies. Age-related changes to your muscle tissue and muscle strength don't just influence your ability to excel during a strength-training workout, they also make you more prone to falls and other types of injuries. Age-related sarcopenia can kick off a vicious cycle: your muscle strength decreases, which limits your ability to carry out physical activity, which causes further muscle loss. Ultimately, this can result in what health care professionals refer to as frailty, a condition that leaves you extra-susceptible to external stressors more hearty individuals would be able to navigate with few to no lasting consequences. Researchers have identified age-related sarcopenia as the primary factor behind the frailty we associate with aging, such as an increased propensity to fall, compounded by a higher likelihood of suffering an injury such as a broken hip due to a fall and the decreased ability to heal in the aftermath of such an injury. The more frail you become, the greater the impact of each stressor. As the adverse effects of minor illnesses and injuries accumulate, individuals find it more and more challenging to live independently. Increased frailty also heightens the risk of early death. [infographic] How Muscle Loss Creates a Downward Spiral As your muscle strength decreases, it becomes more difficult to be physically active. This results in more lost muscle mass and strength, which can culminate in what health care professionals refer to as frailty. Frailty makes you more susceptible to stressors like illness and injury. The more frail you are, the greater the damage done by each subsequent stressor. Ultimately, it becomes more and more difficult for frail individuals to live on their own. Becoming increasingly frail also raises your risk of early death. [/infographic] While that all sounds grim, you have the ability to preserve—and even increase—your muscle mass as you grow older. Physical activity such as resistance exercise inarguably plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass as you age; however, nutrition will have just as strong—if not an even stronger—influence on your ability to preserve and build muscle. Optimizing Your Nutrient Intake to Combat Muscle Loss As you may be aware, when it comes to providing your muscle fibers with the optimized nutrition they need to maintain themselves and grow, protein is the macronutrient to prioritize. When you don't provide your body with enough protein, your body will lose the ability to keep up muscle mass and bone density. Determining your ideal protein intake can be challenging. Studies have shown that many factors affect the quantity of protein your body requires on a daily basis, such as: Age Gender Physical activity habits Muscle mass to fat ratio Keep in mind, too, that your muscle mass to fat ratio differs from your body mass index (BMI). It's entirely possible to be quite thin and still have high levels of fat compared to lean muscle, which increases the likelihood that you'll develop age-related sarcopenia. According to findings published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, eating between 25 grams and 30 grams of protein with each meal "maximally stimulates muscle protein synthesis in both young and older adults." The authors noted, however, that when elderly subjects consumed protein and carbohydrates together or ate less than 20 grams of protein per meal, that blunted muscle protein synthesis. Choosing the right protein sources will ensure each gram does the most work. When it comes to selecting protein sources, there's one element you should pay the closest attention to: their amino acid content. If you're aging and seeking to combat muscle wasting, you'll benefit the most from increasing your intake of an amino acid called leucine. Why Leucine Matters So Much Leucine, an essential amino acid (EAA) called a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) because of its chemical structure, is one of the most important dietary regulators of mTOR activity. If the proportion of leucine in an essential amino acid mixture is increased to an amount that exceeds its normal contribution to the composition of dietary protein, that EAA supplement can then effectively activate mTOR in aging muscle. However, leucine alone is not enough. You may have noticed that I did not recommend taking a leucine supplement, but rather an amino acid supplement formulated to contain a higher concentration of leucine. That's because all nine essential amino acids need to be present in the proper proportion to produce new muscle protein. You can think of leucine as the quarterback of a football team—it may be the pivot point of how the team performs, but without the other players the team is not going to have much success. How the Other 8 Essential Amino Acids Contribute When you consume a large amount of the EAA leucine, you increase the rate at which leucine gets broken down since the body is designed to maintain steady levels of EAAs. And since the enzyme that breaks down leucine is also responsible for metabolizing the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine, they also get broken down at an increased rate. Consequently, the proportions of valine and isoleucine in an EAA formulation containing abundant leucine must also be increased. Lysine is another EAA with distinct characteristics—it is not transported into muscle as readily as other EAAs are. For this reason, the optimal profile of EAAs to maximally stimulate anabolic-resistant muscle includes proportionately more lysine than is reflected in the composition of muscle protein. So, even though it may seem logical to provide EAAs for a muscle-building supplement in a profile similar to the makeup of muscle, adjustments can be made to boost the signal and improve delivery of amino acids to overcome the anabolic resistance that results in muscle loss. The remaining five EAAs—phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and histidine—also need to be included in a mixture of EAAs to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In order to include disproportionately high amounts of BCAAs and lysine, however, the proportionate contribution of these additional EAAs must be reduced below what occurs in muscle protein. [infographic] Building an Optimal Essential Amino Acid Blend to Address Age-Related Muscle Loss First and foremost, you'll want high concentrations of leucine, an EAA and BCAA. Leucine activates mTOR in aging muscle, helping to stimulate maintenance and growth. You'll also need all the other EAAs—think of leucine like a quarterback. No matter how skillful that player is, he still needs the rest of his team to win. For the best results, you'll want to increase the proportions of the other two essential BCAAs, valine and isoleucine. You'll also want to up the lysine content. To make room for these adjustments, you'll need to scale back on the amount of phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and histidine you include. [/infographic] The Science Behind How Essential Amino Acids Prevent and Reverse Age-Related Muscle Loss A wealth of research has been conducted on the link between amino acids and age-related declines in protein metabolism, muscle function, muscle growth, and more. The scientists behind one study set out to examine how an amino acid mixture enriched with leucine affected muscle protein metabolism in both young and elderly subjects. They found that ingesting the enriched EAA mixture resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. The mixture of EAAs was 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older individuals on a gram-per-gram basis than was whey protein isolate, which is a very high-quality protein by traditional means of assessment. Another study showed that a specifically formulated EAA supplement decreased loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with bed rest and recovery from hip replacement. This is especially relevant when it comes to preventing muscle loss associated with aging, as older individuals are more likely to experience extended hospitalization and more likely to suffer adverse consequences from the inactivity imposed by hospital stays. Yet another study demonstrated that daily supplementation with EAAs improved muscle mass and function in healthy, active elderly women. The authors wanted to determine whether essential amino acid supplementation improves post-absorptive muscle protein fractional synthesis rate, lean body mass, muscle strength, and other physiological processes. The randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial found that ingesting the essential amino acid blend stimulated the muscle protein fractional synthesis rate as well as IGF-1 protein expression. Overall, the authors concluded that EAA supplementation improved lean body mass as well as muscle protein synthesis and that it could be a means of offsetting the "debilitating effects" of age-related sarcopenia. [infographic] 5 Science-Backed Ways EAAs Offset Age-Related Muscle Loss Researchers have shown that an amino acid blend enriched with leucine resolved anabolic resistance in elderly subjects. An essential amino acid blend proved 3 times more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis than whey protein isolate. An EAA supplement reduced losses of muscle mass and strength related to bed rest. Daily supplementation with EAAs can improve muscle mass and function. Studies show that EAAs can improve lean body mass and muscle protein synthesis, making them a possible means of treating age-related sarcopenia. [/infographic] Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life. Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body. Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body's ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age. The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you're interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start. And if you'd like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

Key Takeaways to Help You Remain Healthy and Vital as You Age

Experts from across the globe agree that both the loss of muscle mass and the loss of muscle strength are highly prevalent and important risk factors for disability and potential mortality as individuals age. This makes identifying treatments for age-related muscle loss a key priority when it comes not only to improving average life expectancy for older people, but also reducing health care costs and enhancing overall quality of life.

Ensuring an optimal protein intake will form a foundational part of any successful strategy for maintaining muscle mass (and bone density!) as you age. The kind of protein you eat will be just as impactful as the amount. Leucine, an EAA and BCAA found in certain protein sources, makes uniquely significant contributions to the muscle maintenance and growth processes within the human body.

Consuming amino acid supplements designed to contain higher concentrations of leucine (as well as certain other helper amino acids) can dramatically influence your body’s ability to retain and increase lean muscle mass as you age.

The difference between the effectiveness of EAAs and intact protein cannot be made up just by consuming more of the intact protein, because the optimal profile of EAAs will never be achieved with intact protein. If you’re interested in learning more about the advantages of essential amino acid supplements compared to dietary protein sources, this article is an excellent place to start.

And if you’d like a quick takeaway in a nutshell, here it is: when it comes to amino acids for muscle loss with aging, it’s a matter of quality, not quantity.

Creatine: What It Is, What It Does and the Best Way to Benefit

Creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement. More than 500 papers have been published examining the response to supplemental creatine, generally on exercise performance. The large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

The amino acid creatine was first discovered in 1832, when the French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul extracted the compound from meat. However, over 150 years passed before the public paid any attention.

It wasn’t until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that creatine finally rose to notoriety, when the performance of several British athletes so exceeded expectations that it was later revealed they’d incorporated creatine supplementation into their nutrition regimen.

Since then, interest in this amino acid has only grown, with creatine now being reported as the most widely used performance-enhancing compound by both amateur and professional athletes.

In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans consume almost 9 million pounds of creatine each year.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a nitrogenous compound synthesized from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. While it’s considered technically an amino acid as well, creatine isn’t one of the 20 amino acids used to build the proteins in our bodies. Rather, it helps support energy metabolism in the muscles.

Because of this, creatine is probably the most researched dietary supplement in the world, with more than 500 papers already published examining the effects of supplemental creatine, especially on exercise performance. And, indeed, the large majority of these studies have shown beneficial effects of creatine on athletic performance.

Where Does Creatine Come From?

As stated earlier, creatine is produced in the body, but we can also obtain the amino acid from the foods we eat, especially meat and fish. People who have low levels of creatine in their diet, particularly vegetarians, seem to benefit the most from creatine supplementation.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

How Does Creatine Help Exercise Performance?

Creatine supplementation actually performs two important functions for the muscles of the body.

  1. It provides the extra energy needed for high-intensity, short-duration exercise.
  2. It delivers that energy where it’s needed most.

Energy for High-Intensity Exercise

Creatine is converted to phosphocreatine, or creatine phosphate (CP), in the muscles. CP serves as a source of energy for explosive exertion, such as that found in sprinting and weight training.

In addition, the muscles of the body are powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the major form of chemical energy needed for muscle contractions. However, muscles run through their supply of ATP very quickly, and something extra is necessary to help regenerate it.

This is where CP plays a role. CP is broken down by the muscles to provide the extra energy you need when you’re using more ATP than you’re regenerating in your mitochondria—the energy factories of the cell.

It’s this extra supply of energy (although quickly used up) provided as CP that’s credited with producing greater gains in muscle mass and strength from resistance training and improving performance in the high-intensity activities of athletes such as weight lifters and sprinters.

Energy Where It’s Needed Most

While it’s long been recognized that supplementing with creatine can increase the amount of CP in muscle—thereby improving athletic performance in areas that require more rapid use of energy than can be supplied by ATP production alone—the “energy carrier” role of the creatine-phosphocreatine system is less well appreciated.

Without the creatine-CP system, ATP would be unavailable to the contracting muscles because it’s this pathway that provides the cellular energy transport through which ATP moves from the mitochondria to the muscle cell site that needs it.

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Athletes

As mentioned earlier, creatine supplements are widely used by athletes, and the use of creatine has been shown to benefit those engaged in high-intensity, short-duration exercise.

Benefits of creatine for athletes may include:

  • Increased skeletal muscle mass
  • Increased muscle contraction speed
  • Increased strength
  • Improved muscle recovery
  • Enhanced fatigue resistance

However, the extent of the beneficial effect offered by creatine supplementation depends on how much is consumed in the normal diet and the athlete’s chosen sport.

For example, studies have shown that the benefits of creatine begin to wane after approximately 90 to 150 seconds. Therefore, athletes involved in endurance exercises such as long distance running wouldn’t achieve the same benefit with creatine supplements.

However, a recent study did show that creatine has the ability to raise the lactate threshold (the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than it can be removed), which would result in endurance athletes being able to exercise longer without fatiguing.

In athletes, the beneficial long-term effects of creatine, such as improvements to body composition based on increased lean body mass, are generally attributed to enhanced training capacity. For instance, creatine supplementation may enable you to lift heavier weights, which in turn would help your muscles grow larger.

But what about older adults? Would creatine supplements help them too?

Benefits of Creatine Supplementation in Older Adults

The process of aging is associated with decreased muscle mass, strength, and function. And as we grow older, our ability to perform resistance exercise or high-intensity training often decreases.

However, a review of the literature indicates that creatine supplementation—even without resistance training—seems to enhance muscle creatine stores, muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults. Creatine has been found to increase bone mineral density in this population as well.

Other studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of creatine on neurological function in both younger and older adults.

Because of positive results in animal studies, there was initially great interest in the possible benefits of creatine supplementation in Parkinson’s disease. However, a recent meta-analysis did not find evidence to support its use, though more studies were recommended.

Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation

According to the Mayo Clinic, supplemental oral creatine is generally considered safe for a period of up to 5 years. However, there is some evidence that the use of creatine in high doses may cause heart, liver, or kidney damage.

Other potential side effects include:

  • Water retention
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps

How to Supplement with Creatine

If you’ve decided you’re ready to add supplemental creatine to your diet, you need to know what forms are out there and when and how much you should take.

What Forms of Creatine Are Available?

Creatine is available in an almost bewildering array of forms. These include:

  • Creatine monohydrate
  • Creatine citrate
  • Creatine malate
  • Creatine ethyl ester
  • Creatine magnesium chelate
  • Creatine pyruvate

However, the best known and most studied form is by far creatine monohydrate. It’s also inexpensive and generally well tolerated by most individuals.

When Should You Take Creatine?

While creatine itself is not used for energy during exercise—unlike glycogen, your muscles’ primary source of fuel—as noted earlier, it does serve to transport energy in the mitochondria to contracting muscles.

Therefore, in theory, it shouldn’t matter whether you take it before your workout or after, especially when you consider its potential beneficial effect even without exercise.

A recent paper supports the notion that it’s preferable to take creatine—in the form of creatine monohydrate—after a workout. However, further inspection of the data the researchers used reveals that taking creatine after a workout really doesn’t make that much difference.

Other researchers have argued that the beneficial effect of creatine supplementation is more pronounced with pre-workout consumption, and still others maintain it doesn’t really make any difference.

The bottom line is that if there’s still a lot of debate on the best time to take creatine, the fact that you actually take it probably matters more than when you take it.

How Much Creatine Should You Take?

Taking as many as 20 grams of creatine powder or liquid a day for 5 days and as many as 5 grams a day thereafter is often recommended for optimal support of athletic performance.

However, doses at high levels such as these can cause undesirable side effects, including muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain, and dehydration.

It’s also likely that much smaller doses can help promote muscle growth and improved muscle function over time.

Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan, the typical daily dietary intake of creatine is about 1 gram, which is the same amount that’s produced in the body each day.

Therefore, a 1-gram dose of creatine would be approximately double the amount of creatine you get on a daily basis from your diet. This increase should be adequate to promote enhanced muscle protein synthesis—if supplemental essential amino acids (EAAs) are provided at the same time.

 Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

Why You Need Additional Amino Acids with Creatine

Whether you’re an athlete looking to maximize performance and muscle gain or simply moving into your golden years and seeking to increase or maintain muscle strength as you age, your success rests on muscle protein synthesis.

This is because the muscle-building process is dependent on the activation of muscle protein synthesis to increase muscle mass and strength—even in the absence of exercise. And muscle protein synthesis requires energy in the form of ATP as well as amino acids to help build muscle proteins.

While creatine alone can provide extra energy for muscle protein synthesis, without increased availability of all EAAs, only a limited amount of new muscle can be produced.

This is why results from creatine supplementation can be variable. If adequate amounts of EAAs aren’t available, there can be only minimal stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

What do we mean by this?

As stated earlier, there are 20 different amino acids that make up the proteins responsible for the construction of muscle fibers. And nine of these—the essential amino acids—are not produced in the body. For new muscle protein to be created, all the EAAs are needed in proportions specific to the composition of each particular protein.

An EAA supplement is a powerful stimulus of muscle protein synthesis, but the amount of protein produced will ultimately be limited by how much energy (in the form of ATP) is ready to go at the site of muscle protein production. And this is where creatine comes in.

Creatine provides the necessary energy to support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. And, consequently, there’s an interactive effect between EAA availability and the amount of creatine in muscles.

In other words, while creatine supplementation alone can’t produce new muscle protein, the presence of extra creatine can enhance the stimulatory effect of supplemental EAAs by providing the additional energy needed for the production of new protein.

For those interested in all the benefits creatine has to offer, this is indeed a winning combination.

Creatine has beneficial effects on athletic performance

How Many Grams of Amino Acids Do You Need a Day?

The ideal daily dose of amino acids varies based on factors such as your physical size, body weight, lean body mass, activity level, and so on. Before exploring how those factors affect how many grams of amino acids you need in a day, let’s review why you need amino acids to begin with.

When it comes to how many grams of amino acids you need in a day the dose is generally referred to in gram amounts. How the body responds to essential amino acids depends on how many grams it gets. A dose of as few as 3 grams can stimulate muscle protein synthesis significantly.

That said, the ideal daily dose of amino acids varies based on factors such as your physical size, body weight, lean body mass, activity level, and so on. Before exploring how those factors affect how many grams of amino acids you need in a day, let’s review why you need amino acids to begin with.

Why You Need Amino Acids

It’s common to see amino acids referred to as the building blocks of protein. And in fact, all dietary protein sources (both animal and plant proteins) contain the same 20 amino acids. However, the proportion of amino acids varies from protein to protein.

Over the course of the day, your body utilizes and recycles substantially more protein than most people consume in a day. Amino acids can be reutilized to some extent, but it’s still crucial to ensure your body gets a good, steady supply of these vital compounds. Regardless of your age, according to the United States National Research Council Subcommittee on Recommended Dietary Allowances, “A continuous supply of dietary amino acids is required to replace these losses, even after growth has ceased.”

Humans can’t synthesize 9 of the 20 amino acids. What this means is that the only ones available to carry out the many vital tasks for which amino acids are responsible are the ones you absorb from your dietary protein intake. For this reason, those nine—histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine—are called the essential amino acids.

Three of the essential amino acids, isoleucine, leucine, and valine, belong to a subgroup called the branched-chain amino acids. They’re often singled out from other amino acids and are particularly popular among athletes because they’ve been shown to enhance exercise performance, reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery, revamp body composition, and activate muscle protein synthesis.

The 11 remaining amino acids are considered nonessential, not because the body does not need them just as much as the essential amino acids for muscle growth and other vital functions but because the body can synthesize them.

A further seven of these can become indispensable under certain circumstances, for instance, if a person has liver damage. Those are known as conditionally essential amino acids.

While different amino acids have their own unique traits and responsibilities, for optimal health and wellness, you’ll have to provide all 20 amino acids your body needs—and provide them in the appropriate concentrations.

How Many Grams of Amino Acids Do You Need in a Day?

When determining how much of a nutrient you need a day, it is customary to consider macronutrients in the diet (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) as a percent of total caloric intake. But when it comes to how many grams of amino acids you need in a day the dose is generally referred to in gram amounts. The number of calories in a pure essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, for instance, is insignificant in the context of total caloric intake, and for this reason supplements are generally sold in gram (g) units.

The Standard: A 3-Gram Dose of Amino Acids

How the body responds to EAAs depends on how many grams it gets. A dose of as few as 3 grams can stimulate muscle protein synthesis significantly. Consuming a 3-gram EAA supplement can generate almost 6 grams of muscle protein—the perfect balance of EAAs enables the muscle to incorporate every single one of the EAAs into protein. The body also reuses readily available nonessential amino acids to contribute to the total amount of protein produced.

While a 3-gram dose can be effective over time, the amount of muscle protein made from that small dose is limited to the amount of EAAs consumed relative to the size of the muscle mass. While the production of 6 grams of muscle protein from 3 grams of EAAs is impressive, it is not a large amount of new muscle protein when compared with total muscle mass.

Muscle mass can range from 25-80 pounds depending on your gender, size, and body type. Certain EAA benefits, such as the anti-inflammatory effects, are immediately activated with a dosage of 3 grams, but it will take some patience before you see the benefits in terms of muscle size and strength—at least a month of regular consumption, preferably twice per day, to achieve noticeable gains in muscle mass and function.

The Maximum: A 15-Gram Dose of Amino Acids

The amount of muscle protein produced in response to EAA intake increases linearly up to a dose of 15 grams. Quite simply, a bigger dose will give you a bigger response, but more than 15 grams is unnecessary. Also, as long as you wait at least 1 hour after one dose before taking another dose, you will get the same response to each of the multiple doses in one day.

So, there is a big range of possible doses of EAAs. The appropriate dose depends on your desired results and how fast you want to achieve them.

If you are on the smaller side and are seeking to support muscle health, a basic dose of 3 grams is reasonable. For example, a petite woman of around 105 pounds with about 30 pounds of muscle will get a robust response and over time see positive effects with a 3-gram dose of EAAs.

A young healthy man who weighs 200 pounds and has a muscle mass of about 80 pounds would be better off with a 6-gram dose of EAAs. (A 3-gram dose would be just 0.008% of the muscle mass, so 6 grams would be more appropriate in order to account for the larger muscle mass.)

Two doses per day, between meals, is optimal, but you will still get beneficial effects if you only take one dose per day.

In addition to your protein needs based on your body fat and muscle percentages, your preferred activities and goals will influence both the amount of amino acids you need in a day as well as the optimal timing for ingesting those amino acids. If your primary goal is to facilitate weight loss, and particularly if you’re restricting calories to do so, you’ll want to take 15 grams of amino acids 5 times daily. But those focused on aging healthfully should take 3-6 grams of amino acids once or twice a day between meals.

The important point to keep in mind is that EAAs are required nutrients with many roles in the body beyond acting as components of muscle protein. A small dose of 3 grams can have beneficial effects in a number of respects in addition to building muscle, such as encouraging fat loss, so even a large muscular man will benefit from a small dose. The activities in which one participates, and the desired results from the EAA supplement, are probably more important than a person’s size or physical makeup.

how many grams of amino acids in a day

How to Take Essential Amino Acid Supplements

EAAs can be consumed either as powder dissolved in water, as capsules, as a beverage, or a combination of all three.

EAA supplements usually contain amino acids and some flavoring. It is common that about 20-25% of the weight of a supplement is flavoring. When determining the right EAA dose for you, be sure you are using the weight of the active component of the mixture (i.e, the EAAs) and are not including the weight of the flavoring. If you are using a supplement that has a mixture of free EAAs and protein, add the EAA component of the protein to the amount of free EAAs to determine the dose you are consuming. For example, if you are using a supplement containing 3 grams of free EAAs and 1.5 grams of whey protein you’re consuming approximately 4.5 grams of EAAs, since whey protein is roughly 50% EAAs.

If you are taking EAA supplements because your regular diet falls short in meeting the recommended intake of high-quality protein, then, in addition to the between-meal doses, I recommend taking supplements with your meals to enhance the physiological effectiveness of the consumption of the incomplete protein food sources in your diet. The dosage with meals to make up for dietary deficiencies depends on how far short your diet falls of the goal intake of high-quality protein. In the case of a vegan diet, this could be up to 15 grams of EAAs with each meal to obtain optimal results.

Optimal nutritional supplementation with EAAs will help maintain an adequate supply of amino acids in the blood throughout the day to support various physiological functions without the interruptions that normally occur when food is not being absorbed. Best results are therefore obtained by taking an EAA supplement twice per day, between meals or before going to bed.

If you are still unsure how many grams of amino acids you personally need in a day, don’t worry about it. The beauty of essential amino acids is that there are no known adverse responses to a balanced formulation of EAAs, so you don’t have to be concerned that you are taking too much. A very small dose has proven benefits for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, so you likewise don’t need to worry that you are taking too small of a dose to elicit beneficial results. The recommended dosages are meant as guidelines; if you find successful results with a different dose, stick with it.

A Personal Reflection on Exercise for Older Adults

As we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

There’s no doubt about it: physical activity helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life. But as we grow older, physical activity and strength training must be tempered with modifications to keep us both strong and safe. Exercise for older adults should be carefully structured, diligently performed, and supplemented with essential amino acids.

New to Exercise? Here Are Some Tips!

If you haven’t exercised in years, you might benefit from some help from a certified exercise trainer to develop a program specifically designed for your capabilities and goals. You’ll see benefits from almost any type of exercise, so a trainer may not be necessary if you are otherwise healthy and mobile with good knowledge of the proper form for strength exercises. Just start cautiously and build up slowly. The key to making exercise part of your life is to do something you enjoy. From walking to swimming to tai chi…it all works!

Some of the best types of exercises are those which use your own body weight for resistance, which reduces the risk of injury while still being an effective way to build muscle strength and even muscle mass. Some examples are push-ups, including wall push-ups, resistance band exercises, balance exercises, chair squats, water aerobics, and even brisk walking. Combined with flexibility exercises, research shows these low-impact exercises contribute to better balance with a reduced risk of falls, improved overall physical health, and enhanced quality of life.

Regardless of what type of workouts or exercise program you engage in, it will be necessary to push yourself, both to create the exercise habit and to reach new performance and fitness gains. You are actually in a pretty enviable position, because you should see some rapid improvement as soon as you begin to train. The improvement will be especially dramatic if you couple your exercise with premium essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. And what better motivation to continue exercising than results you can see!

It’s also important to moderate your expectations. Please be aware that at some point you will plateau in your progress. This is a normal part of developing and sustaining fitness. When you hit a plateau, you just need to push harder and increase your activity levels to keep improving. Resist the urge to baby yourself! You are capable of more than you realize.

The key to success is consistency. You have to make exercise a nonnegotiable time of the day. Setting a schedule and sticking to it is the surest way to maintain the consistency that you need.

An Exercise Pro? I’ve Still Got Tips!

If you are an exercise aficionado, you’re starting with the tremendous advantage of being in much better shape than the average person your age. Even so, I’m guessing you still face challenges. The challenges are part physical and part psychological, and the two aspects may merge together indistinguishably. I can relate, as I fall into this group and have talked with many former athletes in the same situation.

When I was young, my athletic focus was basketball. I was even drafted by the Warriors into the NBA. When my basketball career ended, I took up distance running seriously. Although not a world-class runner, I nonetheless embraced the challenge of setting both short- and long-term goals, and I trained hard to reach those goals. Being a scientist, I approached training for marathons methodically. I carefully recorded every workout in detail, including distance, time, etc. I did interval workouts twice per week and recorded every split of every interval. I raced steadily from age 25 until last year at age 69 when I had my hip replaced.

As I got older, I faced the same challenges that all of my friends who ran faced. Injuries became more frequent and it took longer to recover, not just from injuries, but from workouts. What was most discouraging was that, regardless of my workouts, I inevitably got progressively slower over the years. At 65, I was still trying to do the same program as when I was younger, but with drastically less success. I was running quarter-mile intervals at a considerably slower pace than I could maintain for an entire 26-mile marathon when I was younger. Intellectually, I understood that the days of 65-second quarter-mile intervals were long in the rearview mirror, but psychologically, it was much harder to accept. I would look at the workouts in my running log that I used to do and feel overwhelmingly discouraged at the decline in my ability. I could understand why almost everyone I knew from years of running had given it up.

At some point, I decided that I would rather keep running at a slower pace and within my reduced capabilities than quit altogether. This is a realistic modification when it comes to exercise for older adults. I retired the old running logs and started a new one so I could train refreshed. I wish I could say that, all of a sudden, I saw the light and loved running again, but it doesn’t really work that way. I still get frustrated when I’m jogging and someone breezes by me like I’m standing still. Nonetheless, I have made enough peace with my current abilities that I keep plugging away every day. I now take naps after good workouts, as I recognize I don’t recover very fast anymore. I never question why I am still working out—it’s just what I do.

The moral of my personal story is to keep doing whatever activity or sport you love. As difficult as it may be, it’s productive to move past the dismay of needing to play from the forward tees on the golf course when you used to play from the tips, or the disappointment you feel because you can only play doubles in tennis now. The benefits of participation in activities you enjoy trump any of these psychologically “negative” aspects. The social aspect of joining workout classes in the gym or a golf group is a great hack for adjusting to retirement. You just need to let go of what you used to do, and be happy with what you can do now.

Supplements for Seniors

I have found that using an EAA supplement before and after exercise has benefited my training tremendously, especially when it comes to recovering faster. I take a pre-workout beverage that seems to give me energy to get started and sustains my effort throughout the workout. I also take a post-workout muscle support supplement that seems to reduce inflammation and improve my gains in strength.

I have seen firsthand how combining EAA supplements with exercise positively influences body composition. One of the advantages of my line of work as a researcher is that I have been able to measure my body composition on a regular basis for the past 45 years.

When I was young and training twice a day for competitions, I had about 4% body fat. I predictably gained fat and lost muscle with time, despite continued training. At 65, my body fat was 22% of my body weight. Two years ago, at age 69, I started combining EAA supplements with my normal exercise routine. Even with the surgical stress of a hip replacement, I have increased my lean body mass and reduced my fat mass to slightly less than 20%. It is remarkable to have your body composition moving in a positive direction when you are in your 70s! And I entirely credit the regular use of EAA supplements in conjunction with my habitual exercise routine for the improvements in both body composition and performance that I have experienced in the last couple of years. I hope I’ve inspired you to follow suit!

Exercise for older adults helps us age gracefully, increases longevity, and enhances quality of life.

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.