If you don’t remember high-school biology, I don’t blame you. Most of us were preoccupied making paper airplanes, passing notes, or falling asleep at our desks, because well, we were bored out of our minds. Plus, the question always was, are we really going to need to know this when get older. Well, here you are, so the answer is yes. Now it’s time for a refresher, to learn about what amino acids are.
What Are Amino Acids?
Often referred to as the building blocks of protein, there are 20 common amino acids that play numerous roles within your human biology. Amino acids are composed of an amino group and a carboxyl group which is acidic, hence the name amino acid. Between these groups are alpha carbons which are shared through a covalent bond to both the amino group, carboxyl group, and a carbon atom, thus making the general molecular structure of an amino acid.
Amino acids are needed for several integral biological processes, such as muscle growth, muscle repair, and converting food into energy.
Amino acids are broken down into three different groups, essential, non-essential, and conditional. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body and thus need to be obtained through your diet or from supplements. Non-essential amino acids are naturally produced by the body, yet under certain conditions of severe stress or physical trauma some of those amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, and proline, may be become depleted which are then classified as conditionally essential amino acids.
For example, glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid. Surgical patients, or patients who have experienced extreme trauma will be intravenously administered glutamine since stores will be completely depleted. Glutamine helps improve immune system response, aids in wound repair, and helps initiate protein synthesis for patients experiencing muscle catabolism and atrophy from injury
ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS [EAAs]
NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
CONDITIONALLY ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS [BCAAs]
ARGININE (essential in children, not in adults)
Amino Acid Supplements
In terms of athletic performance, several studies have shown that certain amino acids, administered in higher doses, may provide ergogenic benefits, to help you increase muscle growth, improve strength, delay muscle fatigue, increase peak power, and accelerate the muscle recovery process.
The amino acids responsible for building more muscle, are the branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs. It’s a 50-50 chance that you know what BCAAs are and what they do, but for the sake of probability, let’s talk about what BCAAs are and why you need them.
Everyone goes crazy for protein. But have you ever sat back and wondered why? Let me tell you. Energy is derived from the foods you eat. And as you digest macronutrients, such as protein from the chicken taco you ate for lunch, that protein is then broken down into its simplest form – amino acids. This is the entire reason why amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein. The protein you eat, and the protein you drink after your workout, is loaded with amino acids, which are responsible for helping you build more muscle mass, strength, and optimizing recovery. The most important amino acids of them all, when it comes to performance and strength, are the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
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Research suggests, that BCAAs have a positive impact on muscle protein synthesis, the muscle building process. BCAAs also prevent protein degradation or muscle mass breakdown, which keeps your body in an anabolic state. In order to build muscle your body must be in a net positive amino acid balance. If the rate of muscle protein breakdown is greater than the rate of muscle protein synthesis, your body becomes catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue for energy. Without an abundance of protein and amino acids in your diet, you wouldn’t have the proper nutrients to build more muscle. Training without eating or supplementing protein, is like going to work and not getting a paycheck.
Most sports nutrition supplements are created with amino acids. Creatine for example, is bonded between three distinct amino acids, L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. When these amino acids are bonded, they form phosphocreatine, which is then stored in skeletal muscle for energy. Consistently one of the most popular ergogenic aids, studies have indicated that creatine supplementation increases muscle creatine and phosphocreatine levels approximately 15-40% within skeletal muscle tissue which enhances anaerobic training capacity and improves performance outcomes.
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Beta-alanine is a non-essential beta amino acid. A beta-amino acid, simply means that the amino group is covalently bonded to a beta carbon, as opposed to an alpha carbon. Studies have shown that when beta-alanine binds with the amino acid l-histidine, it creates a di-peptide called carnosine. Carnosine is found in both type I (slow-twitch) and type II (fast-twitch) muscle fiber types. Numerous studies have shown that increased muscle carnosine levels help delay muscle fatigue and counteract the build-up of lactic acid, which improves muscle endurance capacity and workout volume.
During exercise, carnosine helps prevent intracellular acidosis by providing a hydrogen ion buffer to maintain a normal muscle cell pH during intense activity of short duration. Lactic acid causes a drop in muscle power and strength. If you can increase your lactic acid threshold, you inevitably delay muscle fatigue and increase workout volume.
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Citrulline Malate is a combination of the amino acid L-Citrulline and malate which is derived from malic acid.
L-Citrulline is a key component in what’s called the urea cycle. The urea cycle facilitates the detoxification of ammonia into urea, which is the metabolic waste product of protein digestion generated from exercise. When your digestive system metabolizes Citrulline Malate, enzymes in your liver convert it into ornithine and arginine, where it is then converted into Nitric Oxide (NO). Higher ornithine and arginine plasma content improves the ammonia recycling process and nitric oxide metabolism.
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Nitric oxide is a vasodilator which allows more blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to be transported directly into the muscle tissue. Studies have proven that Citrulline Malate has impressive ergogenic benefits when it comes to high-intensity and resistance training modalities. More nitric oxide will facilitate greater advancements in stamina, endurance, strength, and exercise recovery.
What Are Amino Acids: Takeaway
Amino acids are vital for your overall health and specific biological functions such as protein synthesis, nutrient absorption, and muscle tissue repair. Including protein and amino acids in your nutrition protocol, will aid in building more muscle mass and burning body fat. Supplementing with amino acids, in higher doses according to clinical research, can help you make the gains you need to be more competitive and optimize your athletic performance.
Ready to take your performance to the next level and add some BCAAs to training?
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 Douglas W. Wilmore, The Effect of Glutamine Supplementation in Patients Following Elective Surgery and Accidental Injury, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 9, September 2001, Pages 2543S–2549S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.9.2543S