What exactly does this mean? Well many of you may be familiar with the term ‘alpha male’ or ‘alpha dog’, which basically refers to the leader of the pack so to speak, or the dominant figure within a group. When it comes to nutrition, and particularly amino acids, there is a hierarchy relating to their efficacy in promoting muscle recovery and growth, but does one amino acid have the potential to do all of this on it's own? Let's take a look...
Make sure you have a good amino acid base
A good amino acid base implies that your supplement of choice has a wide variety of essential and non- essential amino acids (indispensable and dispensable respectively). Very few (if any) supplements deliver all the amino acids, but some contain more of the essential amino’s than others. One of the most complete and readily available sources of protein is the dairy derived whey protein. Whey protein has a high biological value, meaning the amino acids within it are readily digested and absorbed by the body, this minimises faecal excretion (passing when going to the toilet) of amino acids. Whey protein delivers a great amino acid base in the form of 18 amino acids comprising all 9 essential amino acids (including the Branched Chain Amino Acids [BCAAs]), 6 conditionally essential including arginine, cysteine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine, as well as 3 non-essential amino acids in the form of alanine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. The higher the whey supplement’s percentage of protein is, the more of each amino acid will be available to you. To maximise your amino acid intake, consider supplementing with a BCAA supplement that contains a minimum Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine ratio of 2:1:1 respectively.
So what’s the ‘alpha amino’ and where can you find it?
Look out for Leucine, which is without doubt (according to most recent evidence) the most anabolic and anti- catabolic amino acid of all. Leucine is part of the essential amino acid family, specifically the BCAA category. Leucine has been proven to support muscle protein synthesis, as well as staving off muscle breakdown both before and during exercise. When coupled with Isoleucine and Valine, the BCAA family are complete…Isoleucine and Valine are Leucine sparing, enabling Leucine to do what it’s best at…building muscle! Isoleucine and Valine are glucogenic, meaning they can also be used to form glucose and thus energy. So as far as a muscle building supplement goes, these are the absolute key players to look out for. So if you want to ensure your ‘alpha amino’ (Leucine) levels are adequate then be sure to consume lean sources of meat at least 2-3 times a day. Also, try to get a BCAA supplement down you approx 15-20mins before a workout, whilst remembering to sip it during the workout too.
Leucine leads the way when it comes to muscle building amino acids, but remember that balance is key! An alpha male is only ‘alpha’ if it is amongst peers; otherwise it’s just ‘another male’. A true alpha male will use his prominent position to improve the productivity of the group. Similarly, an ‘alpha amino’ is only as strong as the other amino acids in the group, the benefit of Leucine on its own would be limited, but combined with other amino’s Leucine’s effect is cumulative (it gets stronger). So when it comes to consuming amino acids, ensure you aren’t amino limiting by consuming a variety of protein sources such as white and red meats, fish, as well as plant based sources including quinoa, beans, peas and pulses etc. As well as this, consume a protein shake (whey, pea, soy or nut) after training as well as a BCAA before and during exercise.