What're Amino Acids And Why Are They In So Many Nutrition Nutritional Supplements? | Muscle Building Blocks
It appears these days the building blocks of proteins, affectionately called "amino acids", are miniature small gold nuggets that bestow superhuman powers upon anyone fortunate enough to stumble upon them in a sports gel, capsule, fizzy beverage or cocktail. After all, these little guys are beginning to get set by nutrition nutritional supplement makers into just about everything, from your engineered pre-workout snack, to your during work out drink, to your post-workout smoothie mix.
But why are amino acids so common now?
And more to the point, do amino acids really function?
We are about to find out, and have a little fun in the procedure.
Back in biology class, it was suitable to think of a muscle like a huge Lego fortress (or Lego pirate ship, depending on your own tastes), and amino acids as all the small legos that made up the giant Lego construction (your muscle). Suitable, yes. Whole, no. The purpose of amino acids proceeds beyond building blocks - they're vital for the synthesis of proteins, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolic pathways, mental stabilization, and almost every function that occurs within the body. So using the Legos-are-amino acids example, a more suitable analogy would be that you drop all the Legos out of the carton and they self-assemble in a magic pirate ship, then float into the air and fly around the room firing mini cannon balls.
To put it differently, the function of amino acids goes far beyond simple "building blocks".
In the nourishment nutritional supplement business (when I use that word, it appears to denote large fat men in black suits sitting around an oak conference table, but in fact, most of these people are skeletal sportsmen in white shoes and short pants), amino acid nutritional supplements fall into two fundamental groups: Essential Amino Acids (EAA's) and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's).
Essential Amino Acids
Essential amino acids, as the name suggests, are crucial because they can not be made by our bodies, like all the other amino acids. Instead, we need to get them from our diet. Perhaps you have heard of Private Tim Hall, AKA Pvt. Tim Hall? If you are a biology or chemistry geek, you likely have, because he is the pneumonic typically used to recall the essential amino acids, which are Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isoleucine, Histidine, Arginine,Leucine and Lysine. Thanks Tim, we will send you a check if we ever win cash in Biology Trivial Pursuit.
Anyways, let us have a look at why the heck Pvt. Tim might do us great during exercise, beginning with P.
Phenylalanine is traditionally promoted for it is analgesic (pain-killing) and antidepressant effect, and is a precursor to the synthesis of norepinephrine and dopamine, two "feel good" brain chemicals. This could be great because elevated brain levels of norepinephrine and dopamine may actually lower your "RPE" or Evaluation of Perceived Exertion During Exercise, which means you could be more joyful when you are enduring hall through a killer work out session or Ironman bike ride.
Valine, along with Isoleucine and Leucine, is a real player, because it's BOTH an Essential Amino Acid and a Branched Chain Amino Acid. Valine is an essential amino acid. It will help prevent muscle proteins from breaking down during exercise. What this means is that if you take Valine during exercise, you could recuperate quicker because you had have less muscle damage. More information on that in the section below on BCAA's.
Threonine research is a little short. I personally could not find much at all that described why threonine could help with exercise performance, but would hazard a guess that it's contained in essential amino acid nutritional supplements because it's simply that: crucial. And many of the studies done on EAA's only essentially use all of them, rather than isolating one, like Threonine. By way of example, and this is a little intriguing for those who are masochistic enough to enjoy working out starved, there's an important muscle-maintaining effect of an EAA Carb solution ingested during training in a fasted state, and reduced indexes of muscle damage and inflammation. This essentially means that if you burst some essential amino acids, even if you did not eat anything, you mightn't "cannibalize" as much lean muscle during a fasted work out session.
OK, sorry, I got sidetracked there.
Tryptophan is an intriguing one. It's a precursor for serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that can suppress pain, and if you are taking some before bed at night, even get a little sleepiness. The primary reason to take tryptophan would be to increase tolerance to pain during hard work outs, matches or races. But studies to this point go back and forth on whether that really enhances functionality.
Isoleucine, another BCAA/EAA combo, has some of the exact same edges of Valine. More on BCAA's in a bit.
Histidine, as the name suggests, is a precursor to histamine, and really has some antioxidant properties and plays an integral part in carnosine synthesis. Looking back, that sentence I simply wrote isn't really user friendly, and is pretty much only geek talk. Here is a clarification: histamine could allow you to fight off the cell damaging free radicals you create during exercise, and carnosine can help you eliminate muscle burn more rapidly, and helps turn lactic acid back into useable muscle fuel. So hooray for histidine, it gets a gold star sticker.
Next is arginine, and if you are reading this and you are an old man who has relied on somewhat blue sill to have a more joyful time in the sac, you can thank arginine. Arginine helps with nitric oxide synthesis, and nitric oxide is a vasodilator that increases blood flow and could help with exercise capability (in the instance of of the blue pill, for one particular body part). Most of the studies on arginine demonstrate that it truly helps people with cardiovascular disease enhance exercise ability, and like tryptophan, the studies go back and forth on whether it actually helps with the fit people - but it's a whole lot of guarantee.
Leucine is yet another BCAA/EAA combo. We are going to get to BCAA's in about 30 seconds, determined by how fast you read.
Lysine is something my Mother used to take to help cold sores that she got from eating citrusy foods. That is essentially because it helps cure mouth tissue. But more significantly for exercising people, lysine may real help with growth hormone release, which could significantly enhance muscle repair and healing, although if you take lysine in it is isolated type, the quantity you'd need to require to raise growth hormone release would cause gastrointestinal distress, or as I like to it, depressing poopies. But joined with the rest of the essential amino acids, there may be a growth hormone response in smaller doses, and there's some clinical evidence that essential amino acid supplementation could spark growth hormone releasing factors.
That about wraps it up for essential amino acids. The only thing I did not mention is that they may have a bit of an insulin and cortisol raising effect. Before you draw back in shock and go flush all your essential amino acids down the toilet because you heard insulin and cortisol make you fat, recall that both insulin and cortisol are critical (in smaller numbers) for the "anabolic process", or the development, repair and healing of lean muscle tissue. The number you get in essential amino acids is much different than the pressure and insulin/cortisol reaction you get from eating a pint of ice cream while you drink whisky and work on an all night job for work.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
BCAA's comprise leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are fascinating (at least to folks in white lab coats) they're metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. This implies that BCAA's can be relied on as a genuine energy source during exercise, and could thus prevent early muscle failure. There was really one powerful study done by a man named Ohtani that revealed exercising people who got BCAA's had better exercise efficacy and exercise capacity in comparison with a group that did not get BCAA's.
Other studies have found that BCAA's could raise a ton of variables that are actually useful for an exercising sportsman, like red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and serum albumin, and could additionally lower fasting blood glucose and drop-off creatine phophokinase, which means less inflammation, better red blood cell formation, and better formation of storage carb. BCAA supplementation after exercise has been demonstrated to cause more rapid healing of muscle strength, and even more interestingly, the ability to slow down muscle dysfunction even during intense training and "overreaching" (becoming really close to overtraining). Only Google the branched chain amino acid studies by Sugita and Kraemer for more on that (yes, shocker, this is a newsletter article, and not a peer reviewed scientific journal report with complete citations, because if it was the latter, you'd be asleep by now - so if you are a science nazi, then go get active on Google scholar).
OK, so continuing onto with the many cool things that BCAA's can do: when you supplement with them, they fall the blood indexes of muscle tissue damage after long intervals of exercise, thereby suggesting reduced muscle damage, and in addition they help keep higher blood levels of amino acids, which, if you remember, can force you to feel more joyful even when you are enduring during exercise. Rationally, low blood levels of BCAA's are correlated with increased tiredness and reduced physical performance.
Heck, they even use BCAA's in medicine. They could help individuals recover from liver disease, could assist with progress in patients with lateral sclerosis, and could help recuperate in patients who've gone through injury, extreme physical pressure (can you say "Ironman triathlon"?), kidney failure, and burns.