Amino acids are the “building-blocks” of proteins. Protein, from the Greek word meaning “of prime importance,” constitutes an array of structures. Examples of these structures include hormones, enzymes, and muscle tissue. Here’s a short amino acids definition for the – soon-to-be – gym rat you are.

What are those Amino Acids exactly?

So, as we said, amino acids are the compounds that are the building blocks of protein. There are essential amino acids -which are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the organism itself – and non-essential amino acids, meaning the organism is able to craft them from other substances.

You get them all from eating protein, and they are what your body uses to build muscle protein, among other things. The muscle proteins mainly are actin and myosin. So, amino acids are the building blocks of those two contractile proteins.

An amino acids definition that’s fine, but how does it work concretely?

Well, amino acids in food make up protein. When protein is digested it is once again broken down into specific amino acids, that are then selectively put together for different uses. These new proteins formed in the body are what makes up most solid matter in the body: skin, eyes, heart, intestines, bones and, of course, muscle.

There are around 20 standard amino acids. Of those 20 amino acids, 8 of them are considered essential, which means that you need to get a certain amount of them in your diet to function properly – our bodies cannot synthesize them from other materials, so we only get them from food. Those 8 are: histidine, lysine, phenylalanine, methionine, BCAAs (or leucine, isoleucine and valine) and threonine.

How shall I consume amino acids?

It’s actually pretty simple, the need for amino acids, or protein as a whole, increases with the body weight, the standard equation remaining 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, so keep that in mind when supplementing with free form amino. The bigger you are, the more you need.

I stick to my point that except for BCAAs, individual free form amino acids should not be supplemented except in phases of overtraining or dieting. Most of them have muscle-sparing, energizing and motivational properties that are useful in those situations. But a healthy diet rules out the need for any and all separate amino acids.

In a nutshell

Use: Increase protein synthesis for muscle building and repair

Timing: Pre-workout, post-workout, throughout the day

How Much to Take: 20-30 grams per intake (watch! I’m talking of protein as a whole, so either your protein shake or an amino acid supplement but not both, or if you wanna mix them up you wanna end up with up to 30 grams of amino acids in the compound)

References:

Balch, CNC, Phyllis A., and James F. Balch, M.D., Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 3rd Ed. New York: Avery, 2000.

Katch, Frank. Katch, Victor, McArdle, William (2001). Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (5th Ed.). Maryland: Lippincott William and Wilkins.

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