Amino acids know-how

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It is a well known fact that some of the building blocks of proteins are beneficial for us even if taken on their own, because they have special properties. They have a large supply, and in many cases it is hard to figure out when, and which one to use, or even why to use them. If you’ve ever wondered about mixing amino acids into your shake, or taking amino acid pills with the post-workout shake, but in general you are a bit unsure about the use of such products, then the following lines are just the right ones for you!

Amino acids know-how

As we all know, proteins are made up of amino acids, and some of these amino acids are essential, some others are not. Amino acids have so called peptid bonds between them, and they form a chain in a certain order. This order is defined by a sequence of genes, based on the “genetic codebook” of that particular living being. Their biological role is of utmost importance as proteins take part in every possible process at cell level. When eating proteins as part of the food (e.g. meat or a protein shake), the body breaks down that protein into amino acids.

Besides having a crucial part in several physiological processes, the body can synthesize proteins from amino acids too – and this is the key from our point of view: our body builds muscles (muscle proteins) using them, so in absence of amino acids there is no chance of muscle development.

Essential, and non-essential amino acids

Essential amino acids

These are the amino acids that we need to take as part of the diet, as the human body cannot produce them. There are 9 of them:

Non-essential amino acids

These are the ones that the human body can synthesize from scratch. The following belong to this group:
  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Ornithine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Taurine (it is "a conditionally essential amino acid" as the body might not be able to produce enough if it cannot cope with the stress it has to endure)
  • Tyrosine

OK or not OK?

Each amino acid has particular properties, and we need all of them. Some amino acids have vital roles in muscle building and regeneration, and taking them directly in large amounts can enhance these effects (when compared to consuming them as part of proteins). In one type of proteins some certain amino acids are found in small quantities, while they might be abundant building blocks in other proteins. When amino acids are part of a chain (making up a protein) they are present within the protein in a “not free” form. However the body’s digestion processes decompose the proteins into free amino acids, and then utilizes these amino acids.
If you take certain amino acids in free form, i.e. directly, ‘freed from’ peptid bonds, then their specific effects can be intensifies. That’s why we take arginine, glutamine, leucine, taurine, or even tyrosine. Their special effects are not covered in this article as the effects of the more important amino acids are well known to almost everyone (it is not a random coincidence that everybody talks about mixing BCAA and glutamine into the weight-gaining formula that has 50 grams of protein in it already), but be sure about one thing: using free-form amino acids is clearly beneficial.

Full spectrum amino acid products

These products contain all essential, and non-essential amino acids. In most cases they are pills or liquids, sometimes they are available as capsules. These products have certain mystical auras in some people’s minds: many take 1 or 2 pills with their post-workout protein shakes, or take 3 pills once or twice a day. Here comes a big secret: full spectrum amino acid products are actually proteins. They have one purpose only: to provide the body with smaller amounts of protein without burdening the digestive system, so they are perfect to be used before or during workouts, or distributed throughout the day, between meals. It is not a bad thing to take 20-30 grams of extra protein.
If you take full spectrum amino acids on resting days, then what you create is a continuous provision of amino acids to the muscles, and that can enhance muscle regeneration significantly. However it does make much sense to take them in small doses: most of the amino acid pills provide you with 1 gram of protein per pill, and that means 2 or 3 pills are just as good useful as a chocolate teapot. It depends on the amino acid content of the given product, but there is no point in taking less than 5-10 pills at a time.
Amino acids in liquid form have the main benefit of being easy to take: sipping a capful of sweet, flavored syrup is much easier than swallowing 10 large pills fast.

EAA products

EAA=Essential Amino Acids These products only have essential amino acids in them (in certain ratios), usually in free form. Usually they are available in powder form, as flavored drink powders; they are the best to take during workout as essential amino acids are needed the most at that time, if the goal is to maintain muscle mass and to postpone muscle fatigue a bit.

Peptide amino acids

Last generation of amino acid products might have amino acids kept attached with peptide bonds. In most cases they are present in dipeptide or tripeptide bonds (meaning 2 or 3 amino acids with chemical bonds formed between them); the major benefit of such products is that it is easier for the human digestive system to cope with them. Moreover their absorption is faster than with the peptide bonds broken (having the same amino acids in free form). There can be several different forms of the same amino acid bonded together with peptide bonds – a good example is glutamine peptide, that is commonly used as added amino acid in protein products.

Extra amino, Monsieur?

It is a pretty common dilemma. Should you add extra amino acids to your shake? Should you take some amino pills with the post-workout shake?
Supposing that your post-workout shake contains 30 grams of proteins, and within 60 minutes after taking the shake comes a proper solid meal (e.g. chicken & rice), then you don’t actually need extra amino acids. This amount of proteins provides you with enough amino acids after the workout, and that is absolutely sufficient for that one-hour period. The shake replenishes your tired muscles with vital amino acids, so from that on it is a waste of efforts to pump extra quantities into the system. The best way to get absolutely sure about it is simply taking shakes of higher protein content, and you can take the extra amino acids at other times (as described above).
This is one part of the things to know. However what’s wrong with the concept of adding extra glutamine, and BCAA to a shake? Actually there can be something to it, as there is a reason why protein products, and weight-gaining supplements have added amino acids, and amino peptides in them. In most cases it is not kindness that drives the producer to add extra amino acids to the product, but the need to compensate for a rather weak amino profile. For instance beef protein has low BCAA content, and contains no tryptophane at all, so producers add these substances to the product (sometimes in rather large amounts).

Will extra amino acids “vanish” in my protein intake, or the special properties will show up anyhow?

I say that they do vanish, or to be more precise: they will blend in with the amino acids coming from digesting the proteins, there is no difference in their utilization. This means that adding extra glutamine, arginine, or any other amino acids to a shake is pointless. But let’s see this thing from a more scientific point of view, and think about the processes taking place in the body:
We take the protein----->the protein is broken down to free-form amino acids when digested----->the body utilizes these amino acids. It is pretty simple, right?
But if free-form amino acids are added to the shake (e.g. L-glutamine), then that content does not require further breaking down as it is of free-form already. This means that part of the digestion process is skipped, since we deal with “digested” protein components. A smaller portion of free-form amino acids added to the shake is absorbed immediately and gets into the blood stream quickly, while the rest makes it to the intestines, and absorbed there. It is evident that this process is faster than having to digest and break down the proteins before the process described is started. So there is some sense in adding extra amino acids to the shake, it is the other factors that might render the extra aminos useless.
In case of amino acid peptides it is an even more easy to tell as the body finds these types easier to utilize than free-form amino acids, so if you are to add extra amino acids to your shake, you would want to use peptides.

In a weight-gaining period...

Many people add extra aminos to weight-gaining formulas that contain 50 grams of proteins already. Let’s cut this short: it is beyond reason, because your shake has enough amino acids and nutrients in it. That is one thing. On the other hand during weight-gaining periods you are well provided with nutrients (if everything goes fine), so there is not much point to taking extra amino acids – they are not needed at all. We do not state that they are useless, but they are much more useful during a diet.

When on a diet...

That is the best time to benefit from extra amino acids, BCAA, glutamine, and EAA products. You take a lot of proteins during that period, but it is more likely for you to get into a catabolic state during a time with basically low nutrient levels, and that can be well compensated with extra amino acids. Before and/or during workouts the extra BCAA, and glutamine are particularly useful, their anticatabolic properties can help maintaining muscle mass. You don’t have to concoct shakes for that either, but it can be done.

High times to take aminos

If you wish to supplement your diet with added amino acids, you might want to take them at the right times to make them really useful.
Free-form amino acids and amino acid peptides
Use them paying respect to the special effects of the given amino acid. For example you can take glutamine between meals, before or during workouts, or even before going to bed if you wish your growth hormone production to be enhanced somewhat. Arginine is usually taken before working out in order to get better ignition, while taking it before going to bed can enhance growth hormone levels too. BCAA is used mainly before and during workouts, as that’s the period when its anticatabolic effects are needed, and when anabolic properties of leucine (ingredient in BCAA) kick in.

Full spectrum amino acid products

In case you don’t use free-form amino acids, you should take these products before and during workouts, or any intense physical activities that might put the body into a catabolic state. It is advisable to take an amount that is equivalent to 20 grams of protein, and take distributed over the day: between meals, and before going to bed (if no other sources of proteins are used at that time).

EAA products

They are to be used mainly during workouts and heavily catabolic exercises, but they can also be used just before working out. The best thing is to take a dose at both times.
So using amino acids is beneficial at any rate, and it is advisable to utilize the specific effects of the amino acids.The point is that you need to use them wisely. Do not mix them headlessly on a “the more the better” basis, as it has very little advantages, and it is a kind of superfluous chicken shit. A real hardcore body builder never rides chicken shit without any concepts. Let’s leave that to fitness peacocks. ;)

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