Amino acids are taking the health community by storm and it’s no wonder why. These building blocks are more than just brainless Lego bricks; they’re intuitive powerhouses that reorder, refold, and rebuild in ways even the brainiest humans can’t predict or replicate. Amino acids are literally the building blocks of life.
There are 21 amino acids that your body uses to build and repair your body. 9 of these are essential amino acids, meaning your body can’t create them—they have to be consumed. In lab tests, scientists fed lab rats a diet consisting only of corn protein. The rats quickly got sick and would eventually die. However, if scientists then provided rats an amino acid-rich food, the rats quickly got better and survived.
So “essential” is not used lightly in this context; amino acids are literally essential for healthy life!
Amino acids, including these 9 essential amino acids, are found in high-protein foods like meats, beans, and nuts, as well as in greens such as spinach, brussel sprouts, and asparagus. However, athletes, individuals with dietary concerns, or those looking for an additional boost often turn to amino acid supplements to help provide their bodies more of these essential building blocks.
What are the main benefits of amino acid supplements?
We know that amino acids are building blocks, but what exactly are the benefits of these molecules and what benefits do people often see from taking supplements?
1 – Greater Fat Burn
Amino acids, especially BCAAs, have been shown to help athletes burn more body fat—especially belly fat. In a study by the College of Charleston, researchers found that consuming BCAA supplements resulted in 2.5X more body fat reduction than athletes who consumed a carbohydrate sports drink, and 50% more than those who consumed a whey protein drink.
2 – Lean Muscle Growth
BCAAs, especially leucine, regulate and improve protein synthesis in muscle repair and growth. These essential amino acids are necessary for repairing and rebuilding muscles that are broken down during exercise.
3 – Prevent Muscle Damage
If you’re an endurance athlete or often work out in a fasted state, you run the risk of your body breaking down muscle fibers for fuel. Taking an amino acid supplement 30-60 minutes before a workout will help prevent this damage by jumpstarting muscle repair through protein synthesis.
4 – Increased Endurance
In a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers found that BCAA supplements decreased fatigue by over 17%. This has to do with transaminase activation to enhance lipid oxidation in glycogen-depleted athletes.
5 – Bigger Gains
In the same study by the College of Charleston that measured body fat burn, they also measured change in 10 RM strength on a barbell bench press and barbell squat. In both instances, athletes taking amino acid supplements saw significantly greater gains than athletes taking whey protein or carbohydrate sports drinks.
6 – Reduce Mental Fatigue
Physical exercises increases the synthesis and metabolism of 5-HT, which is linked to performance impairment and fatigue. Amino acid supplements, including BCAAs, have been shown to reduce mental fatigue during exercise and improve cognitive performance post-exercise.
7 – Decrease Muscle Soreness
When you work out your muscles experience micro muscle tears which your body then rebuilds to be stronger to withstand more impact the next time. Your soreness post-workout—specifically delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—is primarily caused by these micro-tears. When you take amino acid supplements before a workout, you’re jumpstarting muscle protein synthesis to start repairing your muscles faster. These supplements can also decrease muscle protein breakdown. This can decrease soreness and improve muscle recovery time.
8 – Improve Muscle Recovery
There have been several studies regarding taking BCAA amino acid supplements before and after a workout, and conclusions have been overwhelmingly that they can improve muscle recovery post-workout. This is because the supplements increase bioavailability of amino acids to improve protein synthesis.
There are several benefits to amino acids. They’re especially useful for athletes or people with dietary restrictions. If you’re choosing to take amino acid supplements for any of the above benefits, focus on the 9 essential amino acids:
If you’re an athlete, you’ll want to focus on Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine. These are the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are critical for muscle growth, fat burning, and muscle recovery.