The Essential Amino Acids


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There is a tremendous amount of confusion among the average fitness enthusiast regarding which, if any, amino acids should be taken. The urgency to experiment with supplements seems to arise after an athlete experiences months of intense training, yielding minimal physical results. Progress is being made but, unfortunately, the final word is not out yet on the uses of amino acids. However, some scientific evidence indicates that taking amino acids will assist an athlete in their training regime.


An amino acid is a building block of protein and the term “amino” means containing nitrogen. Amino acids are linked together in a chain-like fashion, forming specialized proteins. There are 22 different amino acids, and what differentiates one amino from another is the branch of atoms attached to the core of each. Amino acids are used by the body in three ways: to build body protein, fat, and for energy. If eaten in excess, protein cannot be stored in the body as such. The protein must be broken down into amino acids, which are ultimately transformed and stored as fat. A nutrition analysis will determine you daily protein intake and compare it to the RDA standards.


What seems to make an amino so appealing to the athlete, and probably the most significant benefit of amino acid supplementing, is the proposed release to additional human growth hormone from the pituitary gland, ultimately giving way to a leaner physique. In addition, specific amino acids termed the branched chain amino acids, (BCCA) which include leucine, isoleucine, and valine have been identified as possessing performance-enhancing qualities. This is due to the chemical makeup of the side branch off of the central core of each amino acid.


During digestion, protein is broken down into small units of amino acids. All but eight of twenty-two amino acids can be produced by the human body. The eight we cannot produce are termed the “essential amino acids” because they must be supplied by our diet. A food containing protein does not necessarily contain all of the essential amino acids. A food containing all of the essential amino acids is called a “complete protein.” Most meats and dairy products are complete protein foods, and some vegetables are, as well (i.e. the russet potato is a complete protein food, flesh and skin, raw small (1-3/4″ to 2-1/4″ dia.) 170g has 3.64 grams of protein). A personalized weight control program will provide you with a balanced menu plan including complete protein foods.


If taken in a pure form, such as a supplement, an amino may perform several different functions. Over the counter amino acids is a big business today. Unfortunately, people are not taking them because they need protein. Instead, they are after the drug-like effects some manufacturers claim they have. Nonetheless, not all the claims are untrue. In the body, amino acids may be converted to activate chemicals like hormones and neurotransmitters. The body metabolizes a pure amino acid differently than when it is part of a protein. While amino acids can prove to be very useful drugs, they are potentially dangerous, and the companies selling them are not doing the necessary research. The proposed theory of enhanced performance due to BCAA works like this: The BCAA are used initially by the skeletal muscles during exercise through a process known as oxidation. An amino produces energy called (ATP – Adenosine Triphosphate), during training due to the oxidation, which provides us with the ability to perform physical activity. Consequently, the rate at which an amino is oxidized increases the exercise intensity. During prolonged training, the amount of BCAA in the blood drops and the body resorts to muscle tissue to get amino acid to utilize them to energy. Essentially, muscle is broken down and robbed of its built-up protein. The end result is smaller and weaker muscles. Theory suggests that if one is able to keep the blood level of BCAA high via supplementing, they will provide the muscles with a source of energy and prevent muscle deterioration.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

*Results not typical, individual results may vary.

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