There are 20 total amino acids that make up all protein in the human body. When your body digests protein, you’re left with amino acids. Nine of those are essential amino acids form a complete protein. I’ll cover each of them below, but this is what your body needs most to build and repair muscle tissue, especially when you’re breaking it down to rebuild better and stronger.
The 9 “essential” amino acids are considered so because your body can’t make or store them on its own. Let that sink in on how important it is to have them readily available when exercising. You need to get them from food or supplement sources. Obviously, you’re not going to be stuffing a slab of meat down your gullet at the gym.
Of those 9 BCAA’s, only three are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), which simply refers to their chemical structure. Any BCAA supplement is, at its core, going to be a combination of the three amino acids listed in specific amounts. You should see 2-parts Leucine to 1-part Valine and Isoleucine. And that’s it. Anything else is an added bonus which you may or may not need, and could be paying extra for or get from other sources.
Any EAA (essential amino acid) supplement is going to include all 9 amino acids. Look for products containing at least 20-3-% Leucine specifically.
What are non-essential amino acids?
Non-essential amino acids are those that can be produced by your body on-demand. The name itself is a bit of a misnomer. These are still important and support things like tissue repair, growth, immune function, and hormone synthesis. The key is that a healthy body with adequate nutrition can make these on demand. So, if you’re eating right, you probably don’t have to worry about these as much.
These are called “conditional” amino acids and include arginine, glutamine, tyrosine, cysteine, glycine, proline, serine, and ornithine. That’s pretty much all we need to say about that.
Overview of essential amino acids
- One of your BCAAs. Used for muscle repair and protein synthesis.
- Another BCAA. Plays a large role in muscle metabolism and energy regulation.
- The third BCAA. Supports muscle growth, muscle regeneration, and energy production.
- Used in the production of Histamine which regulates sleep cycles, sexual function, digestions, and immune response.
- It helps absorb calcium and synthesize protein, enzymes, and hormones.
- It helps absorb zinc which is vital for testosterone production. Vital for metabolism and detoxification.
- It helps produce other amino acids, but most importantly is used for neurotransmitters for brain activity.
- Important for the synthesis of structural proteins like collagen and elastin (think connective tissue, skin, and hair (I probably need to get more of this personally.))
- Precursor for serotonin which regulates mood, sleep, and appetite.
Do you need to supplement amino acids both essential and non-essential?
Your body can synthesize the non-essential amino acids on demand, so if your nutrition is solid and you’re getting enough complete protein (1-1.5 grams/lb lean mass), then there’s no reason to supplement the non-essential amino acids. Just eat regularly and get them from food.
If you’re an athlete looking to maximize your gym or exercise time with a cheap supplement, reduce fatigue, decrease fat, and increase muscle mass, you absolutely should consider supplementing EAA’s or BCAA’s.
Can too many amino acids be harmful?
Yes, they can, depending on your underlying conditions. Your body can’t store the essential amino acids so any not used are disposed of. This could lead to higher levels of ammonia and urea to process and filter through your blood.
Included in the name of amino acid is the word acid, which means they are naturally acidic and affect the pH of your body. Your kidneys may have to work extra hard to regulate as a side-effect. Increasing water consumption can relieve this.
Arginine supplements can also exacerbate asthma or allergy symptoms.
Do amino acids give you energy?
Do BCAAs give you energy? If you consider that feeling fatigued is the same having less energy, then yes. BCAA’s have been shown to reduce the levels of circulating free fatty-acids which then decreases the amount of tryptophan entering the brain. Viola, it’s the reverse of turkey dinner.
But do BCAAs give you MORE energy? In a sense yes. By reducing the ammonia buildup that occurs during exercise (used instead in glutamine synthesis), your body has less central fatigue and lactic acid build up. Find Our Guide Here On Mixing Aminos and Other Supplements for Energy
BCAA health benefits
What can BCAA supplements do for you? They can lead to a reduction in glucose levels which is great for weight loss and diabetes. They also reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscle during exercise. Keep in mind that high lactic acid levels force your metabolism to stop so it can prevent pH reduction which is the opposite of what we want when exercising. Less lactic acid equals less burn and bigger sets.
What is the role of BCAAs in intermittent fasting? Technically speaking they do break your fast. These are a building block of the macronutrient protein and do have nutritional value. They’re essentially food. One gram of BCAA is equal to 4 calories, just as it is with protein. They also have the potential to trigger an insulin response. So, if you take 5g of BCAA (a typical serving), you’ve consumed 20 calories.
But not so fast (see what I did there?) Fasting with BCAAs is incredibly beneficial when you look at the bigger picture. The calorie load is incredibly small and it’s a protein, so the insulin response is also very small and dissipates quickly. If you think this is a problem, then you may need to cut coffee out of your fasting too because it elicits a similar response. The benefit is the reduced fatigue and reduced muscle catabolism, which is far more important.
Typically, people use intermittent fasting while training to burn more fat and decrease insulin resistance. But when you look at the benefits of the amino acid supplement, what you’re getting is increased metabolism and boosted protein synthesis. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot on principle alone.
If you’re really worried about something like Fasted weight training BCAA consumption and don’t want to break your fast early, simply do your weight training just before your fast ends and consume your BCAAs during exercise.