Essential Amino Acids
In nutrition, the term ‘essential’ refers to those nutrients that cannot be synthesised by the body, thus we must obtain them from food/supplements.
In nutrition, the term ‘essential’ refers to those nutrients that cannot be synthesised by the body, thus we must obtain them from food/supplements. When it comes to amino acids, there are three sub-groups: non-essential, essential and conditionally essential.
The first group can be produced by the body, but their contribution to our health and wellness is vital, nonetheless. The third group are naturally synthesised, but levels are apt to deplete following periods of physical stress – particularly intense training. Finally, the second group – the essential ones – are available via dietary sources only.
Generally, there are eight or nine that fall into the latter group; histidine is technically only essential in infants, but it’s sometimes still added to the list. They are: isoleucine, leucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan.
Included in the above group are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are called such owing to their chemical structure. They comprise of leucine, isoleucine and valine; a lot of emphasis tends to be placed on these, because of their role in muscle protein synthesis. Around a third of skeletal muscle is made up of the BCAAs, and supplementing them can create the right conditions for muscle development.
As supplements, amino acids are the free-from components of protein, without being bound to peptide bonds. This means they have a quicker absorption rate, stimulating a peak in amino acid levels in the blood. Whilst protein foods and supplements are undoubtedly important, it can take longer for the body to assimilate them, whereas the effect of amino acids is readily available.
Usually, the essential aminos will be available as a powder, which is simply mixed with water to make a refreshing beverage. This is ideal for consumption during (intra) training to help reduce muscle protein breakdown and stimulate recovery. However, they can also be effective just prior to and after exercise, or at intervals during the day. Many fitness enthusiasts swear by the use of aminos for ‘fasted’ training, or to bridge nutritional gaps between meals. They’re also available as capsules/tablets for ease of use.
It’s common to find conditionally essential aminos alongside the essential ones, e.g. glutamine. This is thought to maximise the overall efficacy of the formula.