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Amino Acids
Amino Acids - What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids that are used to make proteins in the body, and each one plays a unique role in supporting muscle growth and recovery. Amino acids are necessary for the body to function properly, and they can be obtained through a balanced diet or supplements.

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What are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are organic compounds that serve as the building blocks of proteins, which are essential molecules for the structure, function, and regulation of cells and organisms. You have 20 amino acids commonly found in proteins, each with a unique chemical structure and properties.

Amino acids are made up of a central carbon atom, an amino group (-NH2), a carboxyl group (-COOH), and a side chain or “R” group that varies in size, shape, and chemical properties. The chemical nature of the R group determines the unique properties of each amino acid and its role in protein structure and function.

Amino acids can be obtained from dietary sources such as protein-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. They can also be synthesized by the body from other compounds. In addition to their role in protein synthesis, amino acids play important roles in various metabolic pathways and as signaling molecules in the body.

What Is An Amino Acid?

Courtesy of Dr. Eric Berg DC

How Do Amino Acids Work?

Amino acids are involved in many different processes in the body, including muscle protein synthesis, energy production, and immune system function. When you consume protein, it is broken down into amino acids that are then used to build and repair muscle tissue. Amino acids can also be used for energy production, particularly during exercise.

Types of Amino Acids

There are two main types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained through the diet, while non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body. Some amino acids, like glutamine and arginine, are conditionally essential, meaning that the body may require more of these amino acids during times of stress or illness.

How Many Amino Acids Are There?

There are 20 different amino acids that are used by the human body to build proteins, but among those, 9 are classified as essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own, meaning they must be obtained through the diet. The other 11 amino acids can be synthesized by the body from the essential amino acids or from other compounds.

The essential amino acids are:

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

The non-essential amino acids are:

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

All of these amino acids play important roles in the body, such as supporting muscle growth, aiding in the production of hormones, and assisting in the formation of enzymes and other proteins.

What Foods Are High In Amino Acids?

Amino acids are found in a variety of protein-rich foods, including:

  1. Meat: Beef, chicken, pork, and lamb are all good sources of amino acids.
  2. Fish and seafood: Salmon, tuna, trout, and shrimp are high in amino acids.
  3. Eggs: Eggs are a complete protein source, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids.
  4. Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and yogurt are all good sources of amino acids.
  5. Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are all high in protein and amino acids.
  6. Nuts and seeds: Almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all good sources of amino acids.
  7. Soy products: Tofu, tempeh, and soy milk are all complete protein sources and contain all of the essential amino acids.
  8. Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, and oats are all good sources of protein and amino acids.

It’s important to note that different types of foods contain different combinations and amounts of amino acids. Eating a variety of protein-rich foods can help ensure that you are getting all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

Benefits of Amino Acid Supplements

Amino acid supplements, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), have become increasingly popular among athletes and bodybuilders. BCAAs are essential amino acids that are believed to promote muscle growth, reduce muscle soreness, and improve exercise performance. Other amino acids, such as glutamine and arginine, are also used as supplements to support immune function and muscle recovery.

Drawbacks of Amino Acid Supplements

While amino acid supplements can be beneficial for some individuals, there are also potential drawbacks to consider. Excessive consumption of amino acid supplements can lead to an imbalance in amino acid levels and may even be harmful to the body. In addition, some studies have shown that high doses of certain amino acids, such as arginine, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Complete Proteins

The Bottom Line

Amino acids are essential for muscle growth and recovery, and they play many important roles in the body. While amino acid supplements can be useful for some individuals, they should be used in moderation and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. To ensure that you are getting enough amino acids, focus on consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources.

Sources:

  • Wolfe, R. R. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), 30.
  • Shao, A., Hathcock, J. N., & Risk assessment for the amino acids taurine, L-glutamine and L-arginine. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 50(3), 376-399.
  • Kimball, S. R., & Jefferson, L. S. (2006). Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(1 Suppl), 227S-31S.

Getting Enough Amino Acids from Your Diet

The best way to ensure that you are getting enough amino acids is by consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources. Foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, and legumes are all good sources of protein and amino acids. Vegetarians and vegans can also obtain essential amino acids through plant-based sources such as quinoa, tofu, and soy products.

Amino acids can also be obtained through supplements, but it is important to be cautious when taking these products. Excessive consumption of amino acid supplements can lead to an imbalance in amino acid levels, which can be harmful to the body. 

It is also important to note that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is important to choose supplements from reputable brands and consult with a healthcare professional before taking them.

Conclusion

Amino acids are essential for muscle growth, recovery, and overall health. While amino acid supplements can be beneficial for some individuals, it is important to consume a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources to ensure that you are getting enough amino acids. By understanding the role that amino acids play in the body and choosing a healthy diet, you can support your fitness goals and overall well-being.

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