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Essential Amino Acids

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About Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids (EAAs) are the human body's most foundational building blocks. These amino acids are required for a vast number of processes, from the repair of muscle tissue after exercise to supporting liver detoxification and even aiding in neurotransmitter production in the brain. With such a wide range of metabolic processes that rely on amino acids, any deficit can significantly impact health, as well as exercise performance and recovery.

 

Low essential amino acid levels can occur for a number of reasons, such as a decreased intake of quality protein food, poor protein digestion or absorption, or an increased protein requirement. Increases in requirement for protein, or essential amino acids, can occur for a number of reasons, such as fighting an infection (cold or flu), healing after a physical injury or increases in exercise level. Interestingly, essential amino acids are required to produce new white blood cells (immune cells) in the bone marrow, for the synthesis of immunoglobulins and also to heal damaged tissue.

 

Essential amino acid supplements are stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) more robustly than any known food or supplement, with decades of research supporting their use for this purpose. MPS is an anabolic process that leads to the building and repair of muscle tissue. When the rate of MPS is the same as the rate of breakdown, muscle size stays the same. However, maintaining muscle breakdown and building are both important processes for maintaining healthy protein turnover in muscle.  

 

EAAs have been shown to stimulate MPS to a much greater degree than whey protein powders, or even quality dietary protein such as whole eggs or fish. This means they can improve muscle recovery or growth as a result of exercise, and assist with recouping muscle tissue losses after illness. 

 

Essential amino acids supplements have the advantage of being in free-form, meaning that there is no digestion required before absorption can take place. Once absorbed into the blood, they are transported to the tissues of the body, such as muscle. Individuals with digestive difficulties may find essential amino acids supplements more helpful than standard protein powders for this reason—they do not need to be digested by acids and enzymes, which we may not always have enough of. Essential amino acids can be used before, during or after exercise, without leading to nausea as food or protein shakes can sometimes do when engaged in rigorous exercise. 

 

Some Roles of Essential Amino Acids:

* Tryptophan- used for serotonin production, which is then used for melatonin synthesis at night, therefore helping with mood, sleep and digestion. 

* Phenylalanine- required for tyrosine, dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline production. These assist with mood, energy level, blood pressure and help to reduce addictive tendencies. 

* Lysine- needed for carnitine synthesis, which aids in mitochondrial health and the conversion of long-chain fatty acids to energy. It is also needed to support the immune system, helping to control the replication of some viruses and soft tissue strength via hydroxylysine. 

 

You may wish to try essential amino acids supplements between meals, to maximise muscle protein synthesis, or take them immediately before or during exercise, to offset the catabolic effects of strenuous training. However, mild to moderate intensity exercise may not benefit from EAA supplements, as evidence suggests that cortisol levels can actually be lowered by this form of exercise, with reductions seen for aerobic exercise up to 40% of maximal oxygen consumption. 

 

Three of the essential amino acids are called the branched chain amino acids, and are found in quality protein food and powders, as well as plant proteins, such as those found in plant protein powders of pea, rice, sacha inchi and chia seed etc. Proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids in appreciable amounts are generally referred to as complete proteins. These foods will also contain a substantial amount of nonessential amino acids.

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