What are AMINO ACIDS?
Updated: Apr 8
Amino acids are called the building blocks of life. They support many critical functions in the human body. Consuming amino acids as part of our daily diet is essential for our survival. Some of us consume amino acids as a supplement in the form of powder, tablet or liquid. Let us understand what are amino acids, their functions, how do we know if we are deficient in amino acids and if we require amino acids supplements.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds that are joined together to form proteins. Each protein is made of combinations of up to 20 different amino acids. When we consume protein it is broken down to amino acids.
Amino acids are classified as:
Essential amino acids.
Non-essential amino acids.
Conditionally essential amino acids.
#1 Essential amino acids:
Essential amino acids are the type of amino acids that the body can not synthesize on its own and relies completely on the food it gets. Consumption of these type of amino acids is essential for survival. The best food sources of essential amino acids are poultry, meat and eggs. There are 9 types of essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, valine, histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and threonine.
#2 Non-essential amino acids:
As the name suggests, non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by our body and we need not rely on the food we consume. There are 4 types of non-essential amino acids: aspartic acid, glutamic acid, alanine and asparagine.
#3 Conditionally essential amino acids:
Some non-essential amino acids can become essential amino acids under special conditions like illness, stress, injuries, exercise etc. Hence, the consumption of non-essential amino acids through food sources or supplements needs to be evaluated on a case basis. There are 7 types of conditionally essential amino acids: arginine, proline, glutamine, serine, cysteine, glycine, tyrosine.
What are branched-chain amino acids or BCAA?
Branched-chain amino acids are the essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine that are thought to have the highest propensity to support muscle gain. BCAAs promote anabolism and reduce muscle loss. BCAAs are abundantly present in meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese and pumpkin seeds. Consuming 15 to 35 grams of BCAAs from food/ supplements is safe to increase performance.
What are the functions of amino acids?
Essential amino acids:
Helping in the physiological functioning of the nervous system, immune system and pancreas.
Supporting the formation of red blood cells, white blood cells, antibodies and maintaining mood.
Synthesizing protein and supporting muscle growth.
Transporting oxygen, regulating hormone secretions, enzymes and sleep.
Non-essential amino acids:
Supporting functions of the immune system.
Removing toxins from the body.
Developing and maintaining brain tissue and acting as a neurotransmitter.
Supporting the cell growth process.
Repair and maintenance of hair, nail and skin.
Symptoms of amino acid deficiency:
Slow to a very slow recovery from illness or injury.
Weakness, tiredness or fatigue without a logical reason.
Atrophy or muscle loss.
Frequent problems of the skin, nails, eyes or hair.
Difficulty in focusing or concentrating.
Can we take amino acid supplements?
Depending on our amino acid requirement we may or may not have to take amino acid supplements. Essential amino acids are required for our survival and if we are not able to obtain the recommended dosage from food alone then supplements will be required. Conditionally essential amino acids may be required depending on some factors like the amount of stress, recovery from disease or injury, lifestyle, exercise etc. Non-essential amino acid supplements are not required as our body is capable of creating them.
Research has shown that when active individuals take essential/ conditionally essential amino acid supplements it benefits in the following ways:
Faster and better recovery.
Accelerated muscle growth or hypertrophy.
Decreased fatigue and muscle soreness.
Amino acids are the building blocks of life that support several important functions in our body.
Amino acids can be classified as essential, non-essential and conditionally essential.
Essential amino acids can not be manufactured by our body and we entirely rely on food for their intake. We will have to take essential amino acid supplements if our food lacks the amount of recommended intake for our lifestyle.
Non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by our body. We do not require supplementing our diet with these.
Conditionally essential amino acids are the non-essential amino acids that are required in greater quantities (and the body may not be able to create so much) under special circumstances like recovering from disease or injury, stress, exercise etc.) These can be derived from food and/ or supplements.
Now we understand what are amino acids.