Amino acids (AA) are not just building blocks for tissue proteins but also essential substrates for the synthesis of many low-molecular-weight substances with enormous physiological importance. AAs that can’t be synthesised by our own cells and must be provided in diets through food or amino acid supplements in order to sustain life are nutritionally “essential”. In contrast, AAs that can be synthesized by our own cell machinery and thought to be unnecessary in diets are considered nutritionally “nonessential”.
Furthermore, there are some AAs called “conditionally essential” which can be formed up until we have a change in our physiological status, gut microbiota, environmental factors or pathological conditions. Subsequently, the rates of utilization are greater than the rates of synthesis.
That said, you might need to boost your diet with specific foods or an amino supplement if you’re going through early weaning, lactation, pregnancy, burns, injuries, infections, heat or cold stress.
What Do Amino Acid Supplements Do for You and Your Body?
Build Muscle While You Lose Fat
No matter if you are a professional athlete or trying to lose weight, high-quality weight loss means fat loss while maintaining a lean body mass as much as possible. Hence, you need to lose stubborn fat while you conserve and build muscle.
In the musculoskeletal system, amino acids are required to increase bone and muscle mass, and to reinforce tendons and joints, while promoting fat loss. Whether you’re young or old, getting an amino supplement can help grow or maintain your muscles. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are part of the essential amino acids and evidence suggests BCAA stimulate muscle protein synthesis following resistance training. However, supplementation needs to be supported by a proper diet to obtain the desired results.
Even so, in the absence of other essential amino acids, the responses to BCAA amino supplements are transient and unsustainable in the long run. BCAA supplementation alone does not enhance muscle protein synthesis. Additional consumption of complete, high-quality protein meals with a full range of essential amino acids is the key to getting the results you are looking for.
On the other hand, the less responsive muscles of ageing individuals, likely due to changes in protein metabolism and response to hormones, are still responsive to BCAAs. In fact, BCAA supplementation has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older individuals. Long-term essential amino acid supplementation may be a useful tool for the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), especially if leucine is provided in the amino supplement.
Moreover, a study performed on obese individuals showed that adding essential amino acids and whey protein to a weight loss plan increases the loss of fat. The 2 meal replacements in the study were a protein replacement without essential amino acids and a meal replacement with essential amino acids and whey protein. Although both groups lost about 7% of their total body weight, the amino acids supplements and whey group lost a greater percentage of fat to lean tissue.
Good for Mental Health
Major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are a pandemic of their own. Their incidence ranges from 26 % in America to 4 % in China. Studies have shown that daily supplementation of vital nutrients often effectively reduce patients’ symptoms. Amino acid supplements reduce symptoms because they are converted to neurotransmitters which are usually disturbed or lacking in depression and other mental disorders.
Depression is associated with deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and GABA. Several studies have reported the usefulness of the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine in treating many mood disorders, including depression.
Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin and is usually converted to serotonin when taken alone on an empty stomach. Therefore, tryptophan can induce sleep and tranquillity and restore serotonin levels leading to diminished depression.
Tyrosine can be made from phenylalanine and is thus nonessential. Both tyrosine and its precursor phenylalanine are converted into dopamine and norepinephrine. An amino supplement that contains tyrosine and/or phenylalanine can lead to alertness and arousal.
Most antidepressants and other prescription drugs cause severe side effects and they usually discourage patients from taking their medications. Complementary nutritional treatments, on the other hand, are harmless and have more than one benefit.
Glutamine Supplements May Help Stabilise Blood Sugar Levels
Glutamine is both non-essential and conditionally essential in humans. It’s the physiological precursor of arginine for the production of nitric oxide (NO), which in turn reinforces insulin secretion by the β-cells in the pancreas. Moreover, glutamine creates the main source for the production of glutathione, essential in reducing oxidative stress which results in maintaining inflammatory processes within β-cells in diabetes.
Glutamine’s effect has been proven on more than one occasion. 8 studies showed reducing in serum levels of fasting blood sugar, 4 studies showed a reduction in postprandial (after eating) blood sugar and triglycerides after glutamine supplementation. In addition, glutamine resulted in a significant increase in insulin production in 7 studies.
In conclusion, glutamine supplementation could improve glycemic control but more studies are needed.
Patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) that don’t receive hemodialysis are fed diets low in protein due to the harmful effects they could elicit while they’re being filtered through already damaged kidneys. However, a very low-protein diet supplemented with keto analogues (nitrogen-free essential amino acids) i.e. keto diet proved effective in ameliorating metabolic disturbances of advanced CKD and delaying the initiation of dialysis without the deleterious effects on nutritional status.
Is It Safe to Take Amino Acids Every Day?
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is currently set at 0.8 g protein/kg/day. This is the daily protein intake level sufficient to meet the needs of nearly all individuals. Naturally, the amount needs to increase if you are a dedicated athlete to 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein/kg/day.
The average requirements for some amino acids have been determined such as 40 mg/kg leucine, 35 mg/kg lysine, 15 mg/kg threonine and16 mg/kg valine daily. However, these findings could be outdated and it’s possible that adult requirements for these essential amino acids have been underestimated.
Because the system for disposal of excess nitrogen (a byproduct of protein metabolism) is efficient, protein intakes moderately above required levels are believed to be safe. Just make sure you keep track of what you ingest and you’ll be good to go.
When Should You Take Amino Acids?
Not much research has been done on the topic and the results are contradictory. Only one small preliminary study compared the effect of taking a BCAA supplement before and after exercise.
Young men took 10 grams of BCAAs before a strengthening exercise for their nondominant arm. They experienced less muscle soreness and lower blood markers of muscle damage after exercise than those who took the BCAAs after the arm exercise.
Another study performed on athletic men that were given 25 g of whey protein (which contained 5.5 grams of BCAAs) either right before or right after their weightlifting workouts showed the same improvements in both groups.
That said, it’s not possible to conclude yet when is the best time to take an amino supplement but it’s safe to assume that you should plan your intake according to your exercise routine.