When it comes to health and fitness, we hear a lot about Amino Acids. But what are Amino Acids? Where do they come from? What do Amino Acids do? These are all great questions. Most people don't know though, that amino acids come from protein.
Understanding amino acids and when to use amino acid supplements effectively will help you make sure your body has all the amino acids it needs every day for muscle growth, repair, digestion, and metabolism.
WHAT ARE AMINO ACIDS? Amino Acids are compounds that play many important roles in our body. They're needed for processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones, they can be used for energy, and more. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Any and all protein that you eat is simply a variety of amino acids connected together.
When humans consume protein, their digestive systems break that protein source down into its various amino acids. Amino acids are classified into three groups:
Non-Essential - Our bodies produce these amino acids.
Essential - Our bodies don't produce these, so we must get them through food.
Conditionally Essential - These are nonessential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress because your body will need more of them.
There are 20 amino acids that make up a complete protein.
HOW ARE AMINO ACIDS DIFFERENT? As an adult, we can make 11 of the 20 amino acids in our bodies. They are the Non-Essential amino acids. Which means we need them, but since we can produce them within our bodies it is not essential to get them through food, protein shakes, or amino acids supplements. That leaves us with nine more, the essential amino acids, or better known as EAAs. Which means we must obtain these through food, hence the name, essential amino acids. Now, three of those Essential Amino Acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. These three Amino Acids are the most important for energy production and kick-starting muscle protein synthesis. They are called Branched Chain Amino Acids. Currently, in the Health and Fitness Industry, the big buzz is about Branched Chain Amino Acids.
Many supplement companies have come out with a BCAA product and market them in many different ways. For weight loss, for muscle growth, to be sipped on during the day, post-workout, intra-workout, and the list goes on and on.
ARE AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTS EFFECTIVE? The simple answer, yes. But no matter what your goals are, there are certain things you need to know and understand to get the best results. When it comes to where you are getting amino acids from and earning the best results, whole food protein sources are best. Complete protein supplements (like protein shakes) are second best. Then typically the next most effective choice would be Essential Amino Acid products. Lastly, would be Branched Chain Amino Acid products. Now, even though EAA's and BCAA's are third and fourth on the list, they will still help you reach your fat loss or muscle growth goal when used properly. In this blog, I want to cover the two popular times for amino acid supplementation; In-between meals and around your workout. This way you can have a better idea on whether or not it will be beneficial for you to supplement with amino acids.
SHOULD I USE AN EAA OR BCAA SUPPLEMENT BETWEEN MEALS? For supplementing in-between meals or use during the day, an Essential Amino Acid (EAA) product is usually a superior choice than a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) product. By ingesting Essential Amino Acids through food, shakes, or an EAA product you are giving your body the Amino Acids it needs to stay in the anabolic state (primarily burning fat and carbs for fuel and preserving lean muscle).This will help you build/preserve lean muscle, burn more fat, and recover more quickly.
The current trend, however, is for people to sip on BCAA's during the day to stay in the anabolic state between meals.
This is not as beneficial as an EAA product (Reminder: BCAA's are in EAA's) for multiple reasons. The biggest reason being you are simply missing 6 essential amino acids. Think of it like this … BCAA's are bricklayers and the other EAA's and amino acids are bricks. It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to send bricklayers to the job site if they aren’t accompanied with or closely followed with a supply of bricks to start doing work.
Once again, this is why ingesting complete protein sources through whole foods, or drinking a protein shake, is always the best option for getting amino acids into your body, since you will be giving your body all the amino acids it needs.
WHAT AMINO ACIDS SHOULD I USE BEFORE TRAINING? Once again, BCAA’s are heavily marketed to be taken pre-, intra-, and post-workout. So let’s dive into this a bit.
When it comes to BCAA's before your workout … You do not need to take them. But depending on your goals and your lifestyle, there can be situations where amino acid supplementation before your workout will be beneficial.
For example, if you have not eaten in the last two hours and are headed to the gym, using Essential Amino Acids or a quick digesting complete protein is a good idea. This way you are giving your body the full spectrum of amino acids it needs which includes, BCAA's. If you don't have access to either of those, then using a BCAA would still be a great choice!
AMINO ACIDS DURING MY WORKOUT? This answer, like many when it comes to health and fitness is, it depends. “Workout” is a generic term that can mean very different things to different people. A workout can mean weight lifting, functional style of training, boot camp, bodyweight movements at home, yoga, running and the list goes on and on.
Plus, workouts can vary a lot in duration.
Then, if you start looking at the intensity of your workout, and your nutrition before the workout, the answer can get more and more complicated. So in an attempt to keep it simple, here is my rule of thumb.
If you are doing cardio, lifting weights, or training in any way for less than an hour, you do not need to supplement with amino acids during training.
Now, is there anything wrong with drinking BCAA's during your training? No, not at all. You can pretty much drink BCAA's anytime, as they won’t hurt your results and will give you some benefit, it just might not be considered necessary in this situation. There are most likely other supplements that would have a bigger impact on your results.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO USE A BCAA SUPPLEMENT? Great question and once again, on an individual level, it depends on the person, their goals, and their lifestyle.
But the good news is that there is not a “wrong” or bad time to take BCAA’s, you just might not be getting the maximum benefits of them. This is why I educate my clients on nutrition first, then make sure foundational supplements (the ones that will have the biggest impact on their results) are in place, and THEN we can look at adding in supplements.
Otherwise, just using a BCAA supplement alone without the other more important things in place first is a waste of money. As a general rule of thumb though, a great time to add in BCAA’s would be if you’re training for longer than an hour.
They are great to take during your workout to help prevent excessive muscle tissue breakdown, can help with sustaining better performance throughout longer workouts, and even prime your body for recovery after a long, hard training session.
At this point, Branched Chain Amino Acids become a useful supplement to add to your regiment!
AMINO ACID SUMMARY Amino Acids play a big role in helping you reach your goals. You'll want to make sure you understand Amino Acids, what they are, where they come from, and how you’re getting them into your body through nutrition and supplements.
Currently, we hear and see so much information about BCAA's, making it the “hottest” amino acid supplement.
But when it comes down to it, if you don’t have a good nutrition plan and foundational supplements in place, the benefits you will receive from BCAA’s will be less than what you desire. In order of operations and achieving the best results, you want to focus on whole food protein sources, protein shakes when you can’t eat, and then look at adding in an amino acid supplement.
Now, I know I covered a good amount of info and a lot of the answers are dependent on the goal, lifestyle, and routine of the person asking the question, so if you have any questions about how to use amino acids as part of your routine, reach out to us, we're here for you!