What to Know About Amino Acids


As a “clean” eater, you probably know more than most people about protein, carbs and fats.


But, perhaps you’ve not given much thought to amino acids.


They’re actually essential for life. But, what are they?


Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.


Unlike carbs or fats, proteins need to have amino acids to form their structure.


For the body to fully repair and recover, it requires complete proteins.  


While the process is complex, there’s just a few things you might find helpful to know.


Protein is Made From Amino Acids


Protein is present in every cell.  It helps us build and maintain healthy bones, muscle and skin.


Protein is found in nuts, seeds, dairy, fish, meat, poultry, and beans. It is essentially a long chain of amino acids.  When your body digests protein found in these foods, it is breaking it down to the amino acids.


There are three types of amino acids:


  • Essential
  • Non-essential
  • Conditional


Here’s the difference:


  • Essential Amino Acids can NOT be made by your body but are necessary.
  • Non-essential Amino Acids can be produced by your body on its own.
  • Conditional Amino Acids are the kind you usually only need if you’re ill or stressed.


Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids.


Of the 20 total amino acids, there are nine (9) your body can’t make on its own.  These amino acids must come from food sources.

The nine (9) essential amino acids are:


  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine


Your body needs each of these in different amounts to build muscle, break down foods, repair tissue and facilitate many other functions.


Eating a Variety of Foods is Enough – Unless…


As mentioned earlier, the body requires complete proteins to fully synthesize and repair tissue – as well as other functions.  Therefore, the body requires both essential and non-essential amino acids to facilitate recovery (complete proteins). 


However, there’s no need to become too particular about which foods do or don’t have certain amino acids.  If you’re eating a balanced menu plan that incorporates several different protein sources every day —  you’ll be fine.


Supplemental Amino Acids:   That said, it’s true that among high-level fitness enthusiasts and athletes there are times when consuming supplemental amino acids may be beneficial.  


The most common are the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA):


  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Valine


There are several studies that demonstrate BCAAs can play a role in muscle recovery and exercise performance.


For many athletes, the ability to recover more quickly after a  workout or event, through the use of BCAAs, allows them to train with equal or more intensity the following day.

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