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Essential Amino Acids: What are the most common sources?

Posted by Adam Bloom on

Amino acids are chemical compounds that combine to form proteins. Proteins form the basis for muscle tissue, DNA, hormones, and many other crucial elements of a healthy body. There are 20 amino acids, and our bodies can only make 11 of them. These remaining 9 amino acids are the essential amino acids.

We must get the 9 essential amino acids from kind of dietary sources. A few of the best sources of essential amino acids include meats, eggs, soy and tofu, dairy, buckwheat, and quinoa. Hemp is also a great source of essential amino acids.

When we do not get enough of these essential amino acids, we risk some serious health problems. Physical weakness, reduced immunity, and depression are just a few of the potential problems that can come from a deficiency of essential amino acids.

For people who engage in regular exercise, getting enough of the essential amino acids can become something of a challenge. Intense training and physical exercise require increased amounts of essential amino acids to build the muscle and endurance required for these kinds of activities.

Athletes who need to build serious muscle also require a boost of essential amino acids. Supplements that provide these essential amino acids over and above a balanced dietary source can help build the muscle tissue necessary to sustain intense physical training. Even people who are simply working out to maintain fitness can benefit from essential amino acids supplements.

What are Essential Amino Acids?

As stated above, there are 20 amino acids necessary for life. Of these 20, we must derive the 9 essential amino acids from our diet, or we must get them from a supplementary source. Essential amino acids are complex organic acids which form a three-dimensional structure that determines the type of protein that can be synthesized.

The most well-known function of the essential amino acids is the formation of muscle tissue. But essential amino acids also form the basis for hormones and enzymes. If we have a deficiency of essential amino acids, we can begin to suffer serious physical consequences. Even missing just 1 of the 9 amino acids can be catastrophic.

A deficiency of only 1 essential amino acid can compromise the synthesis of all the other amino acids. This will interrupt protein biosynthesis, loss of muscle tissue, a compromised immune system, and a host of other physical and mental problems. Essential amino acids are crucial for maintaining the nitrogen balance necessary for things like kidney function and the immune system.  

Of the 9 essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the 3 that form muscle tissue most readily. As we have seen, all amino acids depend on the presence of all the others in order to maintain a healthy and functioning body. These specific 3 amino acids are readily available for muscle development. However, we should bear in mind that leucine, isoleucine, and valine require the presence of all amino acids to do the work of making muscle.

Essential Amino Acids vs. Non-Essential Amino Acid

Nonessential amino acids are perhaps improperly named. They are essential for tissue growth and repair, the immune system, the formation of red blood cells, and hormone synthesis. They are called nonessential amino acids simply because our bodies can synthesize these amino acids from a balanced diet.

Within the nonessential amino acids, there are 8 that are called conditional amino acids. This means that these rely on the presence of all the other amino acids to be generated in our bodies. The overall lesson from this is that all amino acids are necessary to carry out the most elemental function of life. While the nonessential amino acids can be synthesized by our bodies, they cannot function or be fully present without the other amino acids.

Essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized therefore play a critical role in the maintenance of the nonessential amino acids. We must get these essential amino acids from food or supplements. But we should keep in mind that in the absence of the essential amino acids, the nonessential amino acids will stop being produced by our bodies. This leads to a destabilized nitrogen balance and a host of serious physical problems.

Benefits of Essential Amino Acids

Each of the 9 essential amino acids performs specific metabolic functions. While all the amino acids, essential and nonessential, form an interdependent biochemical system that sustains our bodies, the various essential amino acids have specific chemical properties that sustain equally specific biological functions.

The breakdown of the 9 essential amino acids reveals the benefit of each:

  • Lysine: This plays a crucial role in building muscle and bones. It also helps repair tissue and aids in recovery from injuries. Lysine plays an important role in the regulation of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes. Lysine deficiency has been linked to anxiety.
  • Histidine: Necessary for growth of red blood cells and tissue repair. Histidine also plays an important part in the growth of the protective covering over nerve cells. As histidine is metabolized it partially forms the basis of our immune system, reproductive system, and aids in digestion. Histidine may also help in combatting obesity.    
  • Threonine: Crucial for skin and teeth. Threonine forms part of the enamel of teeth, it helps with the formation of collagen and elastin in our skin. Threonine also assists with fat metabolism.
  • Methionine: This works with the nonessential amino acid cysteine to maintain the health of skin and hair. It also makes healthier nails. Methionine assists with processing certain heavy metals including lead and mercury.
  • Valine: crucial for muscle coordination, mental focus, and emotional stability. Valine is an important component in essential amino acid supplements.
  • Isoleucine: Important for healing wounds, immunity, regulating blood sugar, and hormone production. This is a primary ingredient in EAA supplements because it builds muscle and sustains energy levels.
  • Leucine: Aids in muscle growth and repair. Leucine is also important for bone growth and healing wounds. Leucine is important in EAA supplements since it not only builds muscle but also repairs muscle damage. Leucine is crucial for hormone production and regulation.
  • Phenylalanine: This plays the role of helping the body use the other amino acids. It is necessary for proper brain function.

The important takeaway from all of this is that while each essential amino acid provides specific benefits, it is the interdependent reactions of all of them that make for fitness and health. 

We should also bear in mind how important essential amino acids are to our mental well-being. It is easy to focus on building muscle and endurance. But we can clearly see that a proper balance of essential amino acids also keeps is calm, helps us sleep, and fights depression.

Amino Acid Deficiencies

We can already see that all 20 amino acids are necessary to maintain health. Since all amino acids rely on each other to properly function, the absence of one of the essential amino acids will result in potentially serious health problems.

Some of the more common problems associated with amino acid deficiencies include:

Anxiety

Threonine and histidine deficiencies are linked to anxiety. Since these essential amino acids help with brain function, not getting enough will manifest as anxiety disorder and mild depression.

Threonine deficiency can also lead to a decreased resistance to disease.

Because valine is absolutely crucial for muscle development, having a deficiency will obviously impact protein synthesis and decrease muscle. Another problem associated with valine deficiency is insomnia. Valine helps to regulate sleep.  

Deficiencies of isoleucine and valine, two essential amino acids important to muscle development, can also lead to muscle wasting, shaking, and fatigue.

It is important to keep in mind that in addition to the conditions above that result from deficiencies of specific essential amino acids, not getting enough of any amino acid will harm your overall health. Nonessential and essential amino acids rely on each other properly perform their biochemical functions.

Essential Amino Acids Food Sources

Essential Amino Acids Food Sources

Food sources typically provide all the essential amino acids we need to maintain our health. Physicians and nutritionists generally recommend the following foods in order to maintain a healthy intake of essential amino acids:

  • Meat, eggs, soy, black beans, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds are all good sources of lysine and histidine.
  • Cottage cheese contains high levels of threonine.
  • Eggs, grains, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of methionine.
  • Soy, cheese, peanuts, and whole grains all have high levels of valine.
  • Dairy, soy, beans and other legumes are good sources of isoleucine and phenylalanine.

Finally, as many of us know from experience, turkey is a great source for tryptophan. That sleepiness after eating turkey comes from this essential amino acid.  

Getting our essential amino acids from foods can provide all we need for basic health maintenance. Intense training and workouts will necessarily demand higher levels of essential amino acids to build muscle, repair muscle and bones after workouts, and sustain stamina and endurance.

Amino Acid Supplements and Dosage

Athletes who engage in intense workouts and training often require amino acid supplements to build muscle and strength. Endurance athletes will also require amino acid supplements to sustain the stamina these sports require. Athletes often need to boost they get from amino acid supplements in order to repair tissue that gets worn down from serious and intense competition and training. muscle

Amino acid supplements generally contain the three branched-chain amino acids most useful for muscle growth. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These can often be found in protein supplements.

The science of the dosage can get complex, but there are some general guidelines. For resistance athletes, a supplement dosage of 1.6-1.7 g of protein that contains essential amino acids per kilogram of body weight. Endurance athletes are prescribed 1.2- 1.4 g per kilogram of body weight.  

Trainers will generally recommend about 40 g of supplements form rice protein or other plant-based protein for a good dose of essential amino acids. This will provide the basic dosage prescribed above.

A good supplement will provide the dosages required according to these recommendations. NF Sports has a Post-Workout Recovery Drink Mix that contains a 4:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This will promote muscle tissue repair, reduce muscle soreness, and facilitate recovery from high-intensity training.

NF Sports also offers a Pre-Workout Blend to boost performance and endurance. This, like all NF Sports amino acid supplements, provides the recommended dosage of essential amino acids that build muscle for serious athletes.

There are also supplement bundles that will provide all you require before, during, and after working out and training. These bundles are designed to provide the essential amino acids necessary to put on serious lean muscle and burn fat, sustain endurance and stamina, and repair torn and stressed muscles post-training.

Wrapping things up

Of the 20 amino acids necessary for a healthy body and mind, 9 of them cannot be produced by our own bodies. These 9 amino acids are called essential amino acids. They are necessary for protein synthesis that builds muscle, but they are also important to a number of biological functions. Even our state of mind can depend on getting enough essential amino acids.

All essential amino acids can be found in common food sources. Meats, dairy, soy, beans, and grains are all great sources of essential amino acids. However, for those who work their bodies hard in performance sports and endurance sports, increasing the essential amino acid intake can be critical.

Essential amino acid supplements help serious athletes train hard and perform well. These supplements provide the added essential amino acids necessary to build serious muscle, repair muscle damage from intense competition, and even facilitate muscle growth after a workout.

While it is crucial for anyone to make certain they are getting all the essential amino acids, it is especially important for athletes to monitor and supplement their essential amino acid intake. Essential amino acid supplements not only help with the protein synthesis that builds muscle, but they also help repair the damage to muscles that can come with intense workouts. 

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