Amino Acids Explained

January 08, 2021 5 min read

Amino Acids Explained

What are aminos?

Amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles in your body including the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. They also support organ function, immune system, metabolism, muscle development and repair. 

Amino acids are organic compounds that consist of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group. 

There is growing recognition that besides their role as building blocks of proteins and polypeptides, some amino acids regulate key metabolic pathways that are necessary for maintenance, growth, reproduction, and immunity. (source

In total, there are 20 different amino acids required by your body to grow and function properly. They’re categorized as essential, conditionally essential or nonessential depending on several factors. All 20 aminos are important for your health as they each play different roles in the body, however only nine amino acids are classified as essential. (source)

Essential amino acids (EAAs)

The essential aminos include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. All of which must be obtained through your dietary intake, unlike nonessential aminos.

Sources of proteins can be found in both vegetables and animal foods, however the nutritional value of vegetarian proteins are lower than that of animal foods because they do not provide all essential aminos like animal products do. Animal proteins such as eggs, meat, poultry and fish are the best complete sources of essential amino acids and also provide some non-essential amino acids as well. (source)

When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. The human body utilizes amino acids to make proteins to help the body with various processes such as breaking down food, building muscle, repairing body tissue, and regulating immune function. (source

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

The conditional amino acids include glutamine, glycine, arginine, cysteine, tyrosine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

Conditionally essential means they are only considered to be essential under certain circumstances such as high stress times or illness. For example, although arginine is considered nonessential, your body can’t meet demands when fighting certain diseases like cancer. (source)

Therefore, in certain situations the conditional aminos must be supplemented through diet in order to meet your body’s needs.

Nonessential amino acids

Nonessential means that our bodies produce the amino acid even if we do not get it from the food we eat. Nonessential amino acids include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

So, what roles do each of the essential aminos play in the body specifically? 

Histidine: Histidine is used to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function and sleep-wake cycles. It’s critical for maintaining the myelin sheath that acts as a protective barrier to nerve cells. (source

LysineLysine has a lot of health benefits, not just protein synthesis. It has been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in some people. (sourceLysine also plays a role in hormone and enzyme production, energy production, immune function, and it is necessary for the absorption of calcium, as well as the production of collagen and elastin. (source)

MethionineMethionine plays an important role in metabolism and detoxification. For example, it is used to prevent liver damage from the use of acetaminophen poisoning. It’s also necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium. (source)

Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is a precursor for the neurotransmitters tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Phenylalanine is also used for a skin disease called vitiligo, depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, pain, acupuncture anesthesia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, weight loss, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. (source)

Threonine: Threonine is a principal part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, which are important components of the skin and connective tissue. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function. (source) In more extreme situations, threonine is used to treat various nervous system disorders including spinal spasticity, multiple sclerosis, familial spastic paraparesis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease). 

Tryptophan: The body uses tryptophan to make melatonin, which helps regulate our circadian rhythm/sleep-wake cycle and it is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin that helps regulate appetite, sleep, mood, and pain.

The liver can also use tryptophan to produce niacin (vitamin B3), which is needed for energy metabolism and DNA production. In order for tryptophan in the diet to be changed into niacin, the body needs to have enough iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B6 (source). 

Branched Chain Amino Acids

You may have heard about BCAAs otherwise known as branched chain amino acids. Three of the nine essential amino acids are branched-chain amino acids, simply meaning it has a chain branching off to one side of its molecular structure. These are the most commonly known in the fitness world as many people may supplement with them to help boost their performance and enhance recovery. 

Why? Because they each play a role in activating muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of building muscle...which is why all of us workout and lift right? To build the muscle we want and achieve our body composition goals! Additionally, they can help with decreasing soreness, aid in fat loss and improve endurance.

ValineValine, like most of the amino acids helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production. This is why valine is commonly used by athletes as it helps supply the muscles with extra glucose for energy production during intense exercise and is effective for maintaining liver glycogen and blood glucose levels. (source)

Leucine: Leucine helps contribute to the blood sugar regulation, stimulates wound healing and produces growth hormones. It also plays an important role in generating ATP, which is the source of energy for use and storage at the cellular level. Leucine also prevents the breakdown of muscle proteins after a severe stress event or trauma to the body and may be beneficial for people with phenylketonuria - an inborn error of the metabolism, that if left untreated can cause seizures, behavior problems and mental disorders. (source)

IsoleucineIsoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and may help control blood sugar. It is also heavily utilized in the development of muscle tissue and aids in healing injured muscles. Isoleucine is important for immune function, hemoglobin production, energy regulation and endurance. (source)

As always, we recommend consuming a diet high in nutrient dense foods and supplementing when necessary to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. As mentioned earlier, amino acids provide a lot of benefits to the body and assist several functions of the body. They also are necessary when you’re injured or fighting off sickness, which is why we have included them in our HYDRATE along with a high dose of Vitamin C to boost your immune system! 

If you do not consume animal products regularly, we would recommend supplementing with BCAAs to help you achieve a full amino profile and maintain a good balance of amino acids.

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