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Amino Acids Facts For Muscle Gain and Fat Loss E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and muscle tissue. All typesamino_acid_capsules of physiological processes relating to sport - energy, recovery,muscle / strength gains and fat loss, as well as mood and brain function - are intimately and critically linked to amino acids. It's no wonder amino acids have become major players in athletes' supplementation, especially among bodybuilders.

There are approximately 23 amino acids 9 of which are considered essential amino acids (EAA), also sometimes referred to as indispensable amino acids (IAA). Essential amino acids (EAA) are coined this term because they are essential to the body and must be supplied from some food or supplement source. The remaining 14 amino acids while often classified simply as nonessential amino acids are still essential to the body, they are just not needed from food or supplement sources because the body does have the ability to synthesizet hem from other amino acids. For this reason the non essential amino acids are now more correctly term indispensable amino acids (DAA) or conditionally indispensable amino acids.

Amino Acids

Essential Amino Acids Nonessential Amino Acids
Histidine Alanine
Isoleucine Arginine
Leucine Aspartic Acid
Lysine Cysteine
Methionine Cystine
Phenylalanine Glutamic Acid
Tryptophan Glutamine
Valine Glycine
Threonine Proline


The Protein Amino Acids Connection

As mentioned earlier, Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and muscle tissue.   Besides water, protein comprises the largest portion of our body weight, and as such, the body's requirement for protein is directly related to good health. Every cell in the body requires protein. Protein is found in muscle, bone, cartilage and blood, as well as enzymes and hormones. Protein essentially allows muscles to contract and hold water, gives hair and skin a protective coating, and provides the rigid framework of bones and teeth. Protein also helps tissue form,regulates the body's water and acid-base balance, and stimulates the production of antibodies. Adequate protein intake is vital for virtually everything from healthy muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, glands, hair, nails,and most body fluids. Additionally, the central nervous system cannot function properly without amino acids, which are necessary for the brain to both send and receive information. 

Essential Amino Acids

If any essential amino acid is low or missing, the effectiveness of all others will be proportionately reduced.

Amino Acids and Protein Quality

You may not give it much thought when you have your meal that what you eat helps determine not only how you look but how your body functions. In the case of protein and protein quality the balance of amino acids in your food is vital to how your body will function. It is the ratio of the indispensable amino acids (IAA) and dispensable amino acids (DAA) that will determine the protein quality of your food.

While the amount of IAAs are generally of greater importance, the DAAs are also significant because they're synthesized too slowly to support maximum growth. Even if a source has a perfect amino acid profile for a given individual and lifestyle, another important factor - to what extent these acids are actually delivered to the tissues when needed - must be considered.That, in turn, raises the issues of digestion, absorption, actual bioavailability and the potential value of supplementation.

Types of Amino Acid Supplements

Most amino acid supplements are derived from egg, animal or yeast protein. Amino acids are available in a variety of forms ranging from single to combination to free form to peptide bonded to branched chain. They can be purchased as capsules, tablets or powders.

Peptide Bonded Amino Acids

Peptide bonded amino and carboxyl groups combine to form "peptide"bonded. A peptide bonded amino acid, then consists of two or more typesof amino acids linked by peptide bonds.

Free Form Amino Acids

"Free form" amino acids are amino acids that are not bound to any other amino acid.The value of free-form amino acids is first and foremost that they don't require digestion. The term 'free-form' means exactly that: They are free of chemical bonds to other molecules and so move quickly through thestomach and into the small intestine, where they're rapidly absorbedinto the bloodstream.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and Muscle Growth

The phrase branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs refer to the amino acids having aliphatic side-chains that are non-linear. These are leucine, isoleucine and valine. The combination of these three essential amino acids make up approximately 1/3 of skeletal muscle in the human body,and play an important role in protein synthesis, muscle development and muscle recvovery.

Amino Acid Studies, Which are Best?

In recent studies, many companies have advertised that free form amino acids are the purest and most biologically active source of  amino acids on the market. In some circumstances this may be true. Other companies tell you that the peptide bonded are the best. Sometimes they are.

Although there are some studies to support the claim that peptides are adsorbed more quickly, it does not necessarily means that peptide bonded are the best. While free form may not be absorbed as quickly in the small intestines, the body has to break the peptide bonded down into single molecules before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, and should be taken with meals. This process takes approximately one and half hours where as free form are already at this stage, and should be taken on a empty stomach.

In my personal opinion I believe that both are useful and beneficiary for growth and development because each one is unique in its own way.Therefore both should be taken for optimal results.The basic rule that I always tell my clients is

  • Use peptide bond amino acids for improving the protein efficiency ratio of dietary protein. This means having a few with each meal. Why? (1) it will increase the biological value of your meal/add more protein that is easily available and (2) Peptide bond Amino acids are usually less expensive than free form.
  • Use free form amino acids immediately prior and BCAAs immediately after weight training.  Free form and branched chain amino acids when used properly can help maximize muscle growth and recovery following intense exercise. During intense physical exercise like weight training, stress on muscle fibers can cause damage. This activity utilized BCAAs and if you do not have extra amounts they will be derived from complete proteins and muscle (called catabolism) and render the rest incomplete and unusable. By increasing the amount of BCAAs prior to and immediately following weight training you will be supplying the body with what it needs as a result of resistance (weight) training. This will prevent muscle breakdown (catabolism) and promote a anabolic (muscle building) state. Several studies show that athletes who supplement with free form amino acids can get IAAs, high in BCAA content, to the muscles much more effectively. If your are in a intense training regime try consuming free form (6,000 -8,000) before and branched chain after (2,000-4,000).

Amino Acids for Energy - The Creatine Connection

Many misconceptions exist about the muscle contraction and the use of energy substrates during heavy during heavy, high-intensity weight training. When you're engaged in a repetitive power workout, a substantial portion of your energy comes from non carbohydrate sources.When muscle contracts, it uses its stores of adenosine triphosphate (ATP, a substance vital to the energy processes of all living cells)for the first few seconds. ATP is used to immediately replenish these stores is creatine phosphate.

Creatine Phosphate is made from three amino acids: arginine, methionine and glycine. To keep Creatine Phosphate and ATP levels high, these amino acids must be elevated in the bloodstream. Traditionally, these proteins have been supplied by food sin the diet. Elevating levels of these amino acids or of Creatine Phosphate with conventional foods takes a great deal of time (for digestion) and isn't specific, typically providing levels of fats and carbohydrates that mayor may not be desired. The use of free-form amino acids, alone and in combination with creatine supplements, can provide directed source of energy for power and growth. The recent explosion of creatine supplements in the market attests to its value to hard training bodybuilders and other strength / power athletes.

Amino Acids and Fat Loss

In fat loss, two major processes must occur: 1) the mobilization and circulation of stored fats in the body must increase; and 2) fats must be transported and converted to energy at the powerhouse site of cells,the mitochondria. Several nutrients can assist in the conversion of fat to energy, including lipotropic agents such as choline, inositol and the indispensable  amino acids (IAA) methionine which, in sufficient quantities, can help improve the transport and metabolism of fat.

Supplementation with complete indispensable amino acids (IAA) mixtures, BCAAs and glutamine can also help keep calorie and food volume down while providing targeted support directly to the muscles, liver and immune systems so critical to optimizing body composition.

John Baroud
Young Bodybuilders like John Baroud Understand the Importance of Amino Acids

Reducing Muscle Catabolism

The human body has the innate ability to break down muscle tissue for use as an energy source during heavy exercise. This muscle catabolism can cause muscle soreness, shrinkage of muscle tissue and may even lead to injury. A primary cause of muscle catabolism is a biochemical process within the body known as gluconeogenosis. Gluconeogenosis means producing or generating glucose from non carbohydrate sources. The part of this reaction that of importance to bodybuilders is known as the glucose - alanine cycle, in which BCAAs are stripped from the muscle tissue and parts of them are converted to the amino acid alanine, which is transported to the liver and converted into glucose.

By consuming supplemental BCAA's. the body does not have to breakdown muscle tissue to derive extra energy. A study conducted recently at the School of Human Biology, University of Guelph, Onterio, Canada,confirmed that the use of BCAA's (up to 4 grams) during and after exercise can result in a significant reduction of muscle breakdown during exercise.

Bottom Line

Amino acids are essential to life. Understanding which amino acids are most beneficial and at which time can help improve athletic performance, strength and help improve body composition in a more efficient way and maximizes your desired results!

About Jeff Behar

Jeff BeharJeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. Jeff Behar's work often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Jeff Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker and weight loss expert.
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