Amino acids are literally the building blocks of the myriad of proteins the body needs. They’re found in foods such as meats, beans, and nuts, as well as in greens such as spinach, Brussel sprouts, and asparagus, as well as synthesized by the body. However, even with the most carefully crafted diet, hard training athletes will generally seek out an amino acid supplement that will help make sure that there is no deficiency in the building blocks of the muscles they seek to build, particularly the essential amino acids (EAAs).
Of the 20 individual amino acids required to form “complete” protein, nine of them are termed “essential.” This means that although the body requires them, we don’t produce them in adequate quantities, and therefore must get them from our diet. As with the essential fatty acids, if you go long enough without essential amino acids, the deficiency can cause a number of illnesses, accelerated aging, muscle loss, fatigue, and even death. Yes, you could actually die.
Do we have your attention?
It’s no joke; a crappy diet, devoid of essential amino acids, is going to shorten your life. The absolute essentiality of these special aminos was discovered when researchers were investigating what they refer to as a “corn chip diet.” Scientists fed lab rats a diet of only corn protein (no essential aminos). They noted that the rats got sick and would eventually die. However, when the sick rats were given complete protein, they got better and thrived. The scientists concluded that the difference between the corn protein and the milk protein they subsequently fed the rats, was that the milk protein included all the essential amino acids the corn protein lacked.
When you eat protein, it’s broken down during digestion into individual amino acids, which are then absorbed into the blood stream and recombined to form various proteins which help the body complete numerous processes such as building muscle, burning fat, repairing damaged tissues and regulating many processes in the body.
The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Even if one essential (or non-essential) amino acid is missing, the remaining 19 cannot be utilized and the body consumes them, which can lead to a negative nitrogen balance in muscle. Exactly the opposite of what the athlete needs.
So “essential” is much more than a practical term. Essential amino acids are literally essential for life!
What are the benefits to the athlete in taking EAAs?
- Lean Muscle Growth
EAAs, particularly leucine, helps the body grow and repair muscle by improving and regulating protein synthesis in muscle. EAAs are absolutely necessary for building and repairing muscles that are broken down during intense exercise.
- Fat Burning
EAAs have demonstrated an increase in body fat oxidation, particularly belly fat. In fact, a recent study demonstrated a 50% increase in body fat oxidation supplementing with EAAs over a whey protein shake, and 2.5 times more than athletes who consumed a carbohydrate sports drink.
- Better Gains In Lean Mass
The scientists who measured body fat burn, also measured the change in a ten rep maximum strength test using free weight squats and bench presses. In both cases, athletes taking EAAs saw significantly greater strength gains than athletes using whey protein or carbohydrate shakes.
- Prevent Muscle Protein Breakdown
Athletes who insist on lifting weights or doing cardio “fasted” run the risk of the body breaking down muscle tissue for fuel. EAA supplementation an hour prior to training will help jumpstart protein synthesis in muscle.
- Increased Endurance
The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness published a study that demonstrated EAA supplementation decreased muscle fatigue by almost 20% in glycogen-depleted athletes by increasing transaminase activation which assists in lipolysis (fat burning). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5477153/
- Muscle Recovery
Numerous scientific studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated that EAAs can improve muscle recovery post-workout because of their bioavailability, which improves muscle protein synthesis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568273/
- Ease Muscle Soreness
Intense weight training causes micro tears in the muscle fibers. Healing these tears rebuilds the muscle to be stronger the next time around. Known as “delayed onset muscle soreness” is caused by these micro-tears. EAA supplementation helps increase muscle protein synthesis to start repairing muscles faster and shorten recovery time.
Science has clearly demonstrated the numerous benefits of EAA supplementation, particularly for athletes subjecting themselves to calorie restriction. Any carefully crafted supplement regiment must include all nine essential Amino acids. Don’t waste another training session by heading to the gym without them.