If you're a regular at any gym, you've probably heard of amino acid supplements. Perhaps you've used them yourself. But do you really know what they are?
The truth is, most people don't...
Even people who use amino acid supplements regularly may not know exactly what they are or why they're using them . They just know that everyone else does it, so there must be something to it. Unfortunately, this isn't the best approach when it comes to supplements. Most supplements--amino acid supplements included--are pretty much useless. Unless you take the time to develop a solid understanding of what amino acids are, the different types that exist, and which ones are actually worth supplementing with, you're probably going to end up wasting your money on inferior products.
Well, not to worry...
By the end of this article, you'll have it down. You'll not only know what amino acids are and what they do, but also which ones are actually worth supplementing with. So, if you're ready to level up your supplement knowledge and stop wasting money on products that don't do anything, let's get to it!
What Are Amino Acids?
Put simply, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are formed through the joining of multiple amino acids.
When you hear the term "protein", you probably think of muscle. While it is true that proteins form muscle tissue, our bodies use all types of different proteins to perform various functions. There are 20 amino acids that are used to form the proteins that makeup our genetic code.
They're called "proteinogenic" amino acids.
When you eat any kind of complete protein (meat, milk, eggs, etc.), you're taking in some amount of all of these amino acids. The term "complete protein" just means all 20 of these amino acids are present.
Proteinogenic amino acids can be further classified as essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are amino acids that you must obtain through your diet. Non-essential amino acids can be bio-synthesized within the body, so you don't necessarily need to get them from your diet.
The essential amino acids are:
The non-essential amino acids are:
Some of the non-essential amino acids are actually considered "conditionally essential" because the body can normally produce them, but under certain circumstances (like disease, stress, etc.), they may become essential.
Then, there are non-proteinogenic amino acids...
These are amino acids that are not used to form proteins. While there are only 20 proteinogenic amino acids, there are hundreds upon hundreds of non-proteinogenic amino acids. Some of them are naturally present in many of the foods we eat, while others only exist in certain plants species. While non-proteinogenic amino acids don't contribute directly to building muscle, some of them are quite useful as supplements.
Why Do People Use Amino Acid Supplements?
Every amino acid is different, so there's really an endless amount of reasons to supplement with one or the other. You'll find amino acids in just about every kind of supplement:
General Health Supplements
Sexual Enhancement Products
The list goes on, but you get the idea.
There's an unlimited number of potential uses for different amino acids or combinations of amino acids, so it's not as if supplements containing amino acids are specifically geared toward working out. Somehow, over the years, the term "amino acid supplement" became synonymous with "workout supplement" though and it just kind of stuck. If you were to ask your friend from the gym what's in that blue liquid he's sipping on in between sets, he'll probably say "amino acids". In reality though, it's only a handful of amino acids. Remember, there are literally hundreds of different amino acids.
Most of them have nothing to do with working out and won't help you perform better or build any muscle, but there are some that absolutely make sense to supplement with if you're hitting the gym on a regular basis.
Which Amino Acids Are Actually Worth Supplementing With?
If you're deficient in any of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids due to a poor diet, you may benefit from supplementing with that particular amino acid. But if you eat a relatively nutritious diet, complete with all 20 proteinogenic amino acids, you probably don't need to worry about supplementing with them.
Aside from Leucine (which we'll talk about shortly) and maybe Tyrosine, not much benefit can be derived from supplementing with any of the proteinogenic amino acids if you're not deficient.
Non-proteinogenic amino acids, however, are a different story. Some of these amino acids can be found in food, but usually not in large enough doses to really do a whole lot. That's why some of them actually make sense to supplement with.
You'll usually encounter Citrulline in one of two forms:
L-Citrulline (basic Citrulline)
L-Citrulline Malate (Citrulline + Malic Acid)
Most studies which have shown ergogenic benefits have used Citrulline Malate, but they're both potentially effective when dosed correctly.
Unfortuantely, most supplements which contain Citrulline are under-dosed. Research shows that you need around 6-8 grams of Citrulline Malate or 4-5g of L-Citrulline to be effective.
Beta-Alanine is the beta-version of the amino acid Alanine. Unlike Alanine, it's not used to form proteins, but instead plays a very unique role.
Beta-Alanine is the rate limiting factor in the biosynthesis of Carnosine which acts as a Lactic Acid buffer, effectively delaying muscular fatigue. Although Histidine (a proteinogenic amino acid) is require for Carnosine synthesis as well, Beta-Alanine supplementation alone has been shown to increase muscle Carnosine concentrations and enhance muscular endurance. The clinically effective range for Beta-Alanine is anywhere from 3-6 grams, taken daily. The lowest daily dose of Beta-Alanine shown to still increase muscle Carnosine concentrations is 1.6 grams, but the higher the dose, the faster it works.
Carnitine is actually not an amino acid. It's a dipeptide (two amino acids combined), but most people don't know the difference anyway and Carnitine is often referred to as an amino acid. It plays an important role in the transport of Fatty Acids into the mitochondria of the cell where they can be burned for energy, but is also a powerful antioxidant. This gives it a wide array of practical and potential benefits. Carnitine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle oxygenation and reduce exercise-induced oxidative damage. This makes it ideal for aiding in recovery from rigorous exercise.
There are many kinds of Carnitine:
Glycine Propionyl L-Carnitine (GPLC)
While some forms may be absorbed faster (like L-Carnitine L-Tartrate), they're all effective.
The clinical range for Carnitine is anywhere from 1-3g, depending on the type. If you're taking Carnitine for exercise recovery purposes, go with 2g of L-Carnitine L-Tartrate daily, prior to or during exercise.
Taurine is similar to Carnitine in a couple ways:
It's not technically an amino acid, but is often referred to as one
Taurine supplementation has been shown to reduce oxidative damage resulting from exercise. There is also some evidence which suggests it may improve exercise performance and promote fat-oxidation. You'll usually see Taurine as L-Taurine, the most basic form. The clinical range is 1-2g daily.
Leucine is actually the only proteinogenic amino acid that I actually think is worth supplementing with. It stimulates muscle protein synthesis via activation of a signaling molecule called mTOR. It's the most important amino acid when it comes to building muscle. You can definitely get enough Leucine from your diet to support your muscle-building goals, but supplementation can help ensure that you stay in muscle-building mode. It's especially useful if you engage in fasted cardio or are on a reduced calorie diet. Both of these things can cause you to lose muscle, but Leucine has actually been shown to preserve muscle mass in such instances. The clinically effective range for Leucine is anywhere from 3-5 grams. More is okay too though. Leucine can't hurt you!
What About BCAAs?
You're probably wondering why I didn't throw Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) on the list of amino acid supplements that are actually worth taking. Well, that's because, with the exception of Leucine, there's not much evidence that BCAAs really do much of anything.
Isoleucine and Valine are kind of just along for the ride.
Peronally, I don't mind taking BCAA supplements that contain Isoleucine or Valine, as long as it's not at the expense of Leucine. Too many BCAA supplements cap it at 5 grams of BCAAs, with a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine to Isoleucine to Valine. That's only 2.5 grams of Leucine!
There's nothing wrong with BCAA supplements as long as they contain a full clinical dose of Leucine, but 2.5 grams won't cut it. Go with 3-5 grams and accept nothing less!
Choosing A Quality Amino Acid Supplement
By now, it should be painfully obvious that not all amino acid supplements are created equal. In fact, most of them are pretty useless.
You want to go with one that contains:
Amino Acids That Actually Do Something
Clinical Doses Of Those Amino Acids
After years of trying all the different amino acid supplements I could get my hands on and being continually disappointed, I finally just decided to make my own.
Thus, Amino Beyond was born. With clinical doses of proven ingredients like:
L-Carnitine L-Tartate (2g)
Amino Beyond has everything you need to:
Enhance Muscular Endurance
Optimize Muscle Growth
Not to mention it'll give you some pretty awesome pumps!
The Bottom Line On Amino Acid Supplements
While the majority of amino acids aren't useful as supplements, there are some that make sense to use for certain things. Although most amino acid supplements just contain a blend of proteinogenic amino acids that are supposed to help you build muscle, it's actually the non-proteinogenic amino acids that provide the most unique benefits.
As with any kind of supplement, the important thing is that you're amino acid supplement contains clinical doses of research-backed ingredients that have actually been PROVEN to work.