Maybe you've seen amino acids in the aisle of your local health foods store or heard about them through your friends at the gym. As a supplement, they are still relatively unexplored in the wellness world, so beyond what you learned in high school chemistry, you may be curious about how amino acids affect your health. In this blog, we explore why amino acids are important and how they impact your workout.
What are Amino Acids And Their Function?
Before diving into how they can help your workout, it's important to understand what amino acids are in the first place. Amino acids are the organic molecules that make up proteins and act as the foundation for compounds like neurotransmitters and hormones. Amino acids are comprised of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
How Many Amino Acids Are There?
The human body has twenty known amino acids that are critical to its growth and function. Out of those twenty, nine are essential, which means your body doesn't produce them naturally, and they need to come from diet or supplements. Within these nine Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), there are three Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) to know about: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
BCAA (valine, leucine, and isoleucine) - Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of EAAs with a branch-like molecular structure and a critical role in building and restoring muscles. The amino acid leucine is particularly vital to post-workout recovery because it activates Muscle Protein Synthesis, your body’s adaptive recovery response to exercise where amino acids convert to skeletal muscle tissue.
Lysine - is essential to the growth and repair of tissues, helps boost the body’s immunity.
Threonine - supports whole-body function, including the cardiovascular, immune, and central nervous systems. Threonine also helps build strong bones and tooth enamel.
Phenylalanine - is a vital component of proteins and enzymes while playing an important role as a precursor to the amino acid tyrosine, which affects mood and cognitive function.
Methionine - creates several different essential substances for the body and regulates the metabolic and digestive processes.
Histidine - this essential amino acid is used to make histamine, a chemical your body releases that regulates immune and physiological responses.
Tryptophan - helps the body produce melatonin and serotonin.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Alanine - helps clear toxins from the body and provides energy to muscles and the central nervous system.
Arginine - helps regulate blood pressure and hormones and encourages healthy tissue.
Asparagine - promotes and supports healthy brain cells and the central nervous system.
Aspartic Acid - synthesizes other amino acids and plays an essential role in enzymes, which enable chemical reactions in the body.
Cysteine - stimulates collagen production supporting the health of hair, skin, and nails while also being an important component of the antioxidant glutathione.
Glutamine - is the most abundant amino acid in the body with a wide variety of functions, including: digestive, brain, and immune function.
Glutamate - or glutamic acid, works as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, providing energy to the brain.
Glycine - this non-essential amino acid is critical to hearing, vision, and movement, producing collagen for restoring tissue and aiding digestion.
Proline - is essential to skin and tissue repair, especially after injury to soft tissue, while also helping to regulate blood pressure.
Serine - helps regulate muscle metabolism, immune health, mental functioning, and mood regulation.
- Tyrosine - plays a role in protein synthesis, producing thyroid hormones and the neurotransmitters that affect stress and mood.
What is the Importance of Amino Acids and Whey Do You Need Them?
As you can see from the roles of each amino acid, all twenty are critical to the proper functioning of the human body. However, the nine essential amino acids are the most important to focus on since you need to supplement them through diet. You can find essential amino acids in many different foods, but animal proteins such as eggs, meat, dairy, and fish contain all nine essential amino acids, making them 'complete' proteins.
The importance of amino acids goes even further if you're focusing on improving your workouts and muscle recovery. Any food that is a complete protein has BCAAs, which aid in Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). But some foods contain high levels of BCAAs that you can seek out and supplement before or after your workout. Whey protein, for example, contains high levels of leucine, the BCAA that directly contributes to MPS.(1)
How Do Amino Acids Help With Your Workout?
Amino acids play an important role in athletic performance and recovery. Based on research, here are the benefits of BCAAs for your workout.
Decreased muscle soreness - A study following twenty young men for four days after performing acute lower body resistance exercise saw the men who supplemented with leucine-rich BCAAs have less muscle soreness compared with the placebo group.(2)
Muscle growth and recovery - Ingesting BCAAs after your workout amplifies Muscle Protein Synthesis, with leucine being the primary stimulating amino acid. Whey protein is a source of BCAAs with high levels of leucine.(1,2)
- Improves physical performance - A study following a group of soccer players found that supplementing with BCAAs enhanced response time and psychomotor performance.3 While a study on recreational cyclists saw improved trial times and perceived less fatigue post-exertion. (4)
Should You Take Amino Acids Before or After Working Out?
You can take amino acids either before or after your workout depending on what outcome you are looking for. When consuming amino acids pre-workout, you’ll see enhanced exercise performance and less fatigue.(3,4)
Taking amino acids post-workout, especially BCAAs from whey protein rich in leucine, can enhance your body's recovery process, decrease soreness, and promote muscle growth and repair.(2) Try a protein shake using Ascent’s Strawberry Whey Protein Powder to make the most of your next workout.
- (“Whey Protein Supplementation During Resistance Training Augments Lean Body Mass | Journal of American College of Nutrition”, 2013)
- (“Leucine-Enriched Essential Amino Acids Improve Recovery from Post-Exercise Muscle Damage Independent of Increases in Integrated Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis in Young Men | Nutrients”, 2020)
- (“The effects of branched chain amino acids on psychomotor performance during treadmill exercise of changing intensity simulating a soccer game | NRC Research Press”, 2011)
- (“Branched-chain amino acid supplementation improves cycling performance in untrained cyclists | Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport”, 2020)