This has to be one of the most nerdy and technical episodes of this podcast to date. So strap in y’all, we’re learning about amino acids!
WHAT ARE THEY?
All proteins are comprised of amino acids, and protein is what fuels your muscle gains… so you know where this is going. When proteins are digested, that is how you get/absorb amino acids… we’ll dig into more of the great shit amino acids do for you in a moment, but TL;DR – they do everything from help your body break down food to repairing tissue, and then some. You should be making sure you’re getting your daily intake of amino acids/protein (ie: The human body is in a constant state of both protein synthesis (anabolic) and protein breakdown (catabolic). When a person is gaining muscle mass, their rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than their body’s rate of muscle protein breakdown. On the flip, someone who becomes inactive for an extended period of time will have greater rates of muscle protein breakdown as the body returns to equilibrium. )
There are 20 to 22 amino acids, depending on who you ask, but they all fall into one of three categories: essential, non-essential, and conditional.
- Essential amino acids can’t be made by your body, so you must get them from your food.
- There are nine of these amino acids.
- Non-essential amino acids are produced in the human body, so you don’t need to intake as many of these as you do essential amino acids.
- There are eleven non-essential amino acids.
- Conditional amino acids are usually not essential except for when your body is fighting illness or under stress.
- There are eight conditional amino acids.
- Let’s talk about branched chain amino acids, AKA BCAAs.
- There are three: Leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They make up around 35% of the amino acid content within human muscle tissue.
So now that we’ve bombarded you with all of this information about amino acids you didn’t know you needed, let’s talk about some of the key ones and why they should be on your radar.
WHY THEY’RE IMPORTANT
Each amino acid plays a unique role in the function of your body, but we are going to cover some of the biggest players you’ll hear about on your muscle building journey, and why they’re important. They improve liver function, enhance athletic performance, reduce muscle breakdown, and much much more… so let’s meet our contestants.
- Alanine plays a big role in biochemical processes that happen while you’re training – it’s a must and is found in high amounts in muscle tissue.
- Beta-alanine is something we see marketed sometimes, but is newer in the supplement realm. Some studies say it can promote performance in athletes.
- Arginine is a part of quite a few metabolic factors that are important for athletes. It is shown to help increase human growth hormone, which can of course, lead to more muscle gainzzzzz.
- BCAAs are one of the most common supplements you’ll see out in the wild, every brand has their own version, and it’s up for debate on if they actually do anything… your mileage may vary.
- First, let’s talk about leucine, it’s probably the most important BCAAs because it helps with energy production and has a role in protein synthesis which helps muscle growth and recovery. Obviously if you’re exercising, both of those things are very important. Of all of the amino acids present in a protein, leucine is the only one that is independently capable of increasing muscle gain.
- Leucine is capable of enhancing muscle protein synthesis signaling for a period of about 3 hours after ingestion (Norton & Wilson, 2009)
- Isoleucine is also important and super useful, it’s needed for hemoglobin… that’s the protein in your red blood cells.
- The sticking point about BCAAs isn’t whether or not you need them, because you do, no discussion… it’s whether or not supplementing them works, because you can get them in your food.
- The positives of BCAA supplements is they can help you get those amino acids if you’re somehow lacking them in your daily diet, some people say they experience an energy boost from BCAA supps, some report less soreness after exercise, and some people just like how they taste.
- The biggest negative is that if you use them super often during your day, you’re not going to get the benefits of all those BCAAs you’re drinking, so you’re paying for expensive pee. And, if you’re already eating an adequate amount of protein in your diet, they may not be necessary.
- Again, your mileage may vary. If BCAA supps interest you, try them out. If they don’t, that’s also perfectly fine. You do you. However you choose to get them is great if you’re hitting your nutritional goals.
HOW TO GET THEM
We’ve talked about getting amino acids from food and supplements, but what kinds of food? Here we go!
- When we talk about getting aminos from food, here’s where you start: Lean meat, fish, milk, tofu, cheese, eggs, quinoa.
- How many grams are you getting from your food?
- For a 3.5oz serving of animal protein:
- Lean red meat – 6 grams
- Chicken breast – 6 grams
- Salmon – 5 grams
- Canned tuna – 5 grams
- For dairy:
- A cup of parmesan cheese has 2.2 grams
- A cup of milk has 2 grams
- A 100-gram serving of cottage cheese gives you about 25% of your daily amount of protein and has significant amounts of amino acids. If you’re struggling to hit your protein intake – again, make friends with cottage cheese.
- Other protein sources
- 3oz of tofu has 2 grams
- one large egg has 1.5 grams
- Mushrooms have a total of 17 amino acids, including all of the essential ones, so if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, figure out how to work mushrooms into your meals.
- Legumes and beans are a good choice when it comes to high-quality proteins, look for: peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzos, and edamame (AKA soy beans)
- How many grams are you getting from your food?
Motherfuckin’ amino acids, now you have the jist of what they are, what they do, and why they’re good for you.