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What are Amino Acids?

by Master Analytics 16 Mar 2022
What are Amino Acids?

Young Fit Female pouring amino acids into her pre-workout

Amino acids are often called the "building blocks of life," an apt descriptor when you consider just how critical amino acids are for our overall health and wellbeing. 

You may have seen various supplements promising to provide you with important amino acids, or perhaps you've seen products advertised as containing "BCAAs" (branched-chain amino acids). But what does that mean? How do you know if you need to take amino acids, and can taking amino acids actually support your wellness goals? We'll be answering those questions and many others in this useful guide to amino acids.

What Do Amino Acids Do?

Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins. Each protein creates a unique chain, or sequence, of amino acids. Because of the variation in sequences, different proteins take on various shapes - and therefore functions within your body.

Our bodies use amino acids as a valuable energy source, as well as for crucial functions such as:

  • Breaking down food
  • Tissue repair
  • Growth and development
  • Supporting a robust immune system
  • Producing hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Maintaining healthy skin, nails, and hair
  • Building muscle

Types of Amino Acids

Now that you understand how each unique sequence of amino acids produces a different protein, you can see why there are so many different amino acid types. Each of these distinct proteins plays a vital role in your health, making it extremely important that your body consistently has a diverse supply of amino acids.

There are 20 amino acids that your body must have in order to function properly at a basic level. Of these 20, many can be naturally made by your body, but there are nine amino acids that you need to get from outside sources (such as food or supplements). 

Amino acids are organized into three categories based on how they are obtained and when your body needs them:

Essential Amino Acids

There are nine amino acids classified as "essential," which you must get from food or supplements because your body cannot produce them on its own. In simplest terms, if you don't make sure you're regularly consuming essential amino acids, your body just won't have them - and it won't be able to manage key functions as a result.

The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Non-Essential Amino Acids

Non-essential amino acids are those naturally produced by your body, even if you aren't getting them from food or supplements. The 11 non-essential, naturally occurring amino acids are:

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

Conditional Amino Acids

Some amino acids are not necessarily needed for everyday living. Rather, these "conditional" amino acids are primarily required when your body is sick, injured, or under stress.

The conditional amino acids include:

  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Tyrosine
  • Glycine
  • Ornithine
  • Proline
  • Serine

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs for short, are a specific group of amino acids that share a similar chemical structure. 

The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

BCAAs are often offered as a dietary supplement, with the goal of making it simple to supply your body with an adequate supply. You may be familiar with the idea of using BCAAs for muscle growth during exercise, and BCAA supplements have become particularly popular with individuals seeking ways to support a healthy and active lifestyle.

You can find BCAAs in abundance in plant-based proteins, as well as certain high-quality collagen peptide supplements. 

Can You Be Amino Acid Deficient?

If you're falling short when it comes to a well-rounded supply of amino acids, it can often lead to a broad range of health problems. The effects of an amino acid deficiency can range from fatigue and decreased immunity to serious medical disorders, the symptoms of which can include challenges with executive functioning, skin conditions, and many others.

Common issues that an insufficient supply of amino acids can cause include:

  • Constantly feeling tired
  • Increased rate of aging
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle weakness

In many cases, a serious amino acid deficiency results from a genetic condition. 

However, suppose you've ever spent a considerable amount of time failing to fuel your body with nutritious foods. In that case, you know that the lack of a well-rounded diet - one that doesn't have the amino acids you need - can leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and far from your best self.

Amino Acids and Proteins

Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it makes sense that the best sources of amino acids are protein-rich foods and supplements. Essential amino acids can be found in a variety of foods, including both plant and animal proteins. 

Foods with all 9 of the essential amino acids are called "complete proteins," including quinoa, buckwheat, soy, beef, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. "Incomplete proteins" are those that contain some (but not all) essential amino acids, such as nuts, beans, seeds, and some grains. 

Depending on your dietary preferences, you may or may not already eat many of these foods. For example, individuals who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may need to supplement their diet with added protein to consume all nine essential amino acids efficiently.

Health Benefits of Amino Acids in Protein

If you're interested in supplementing your diet with added amino acids, one of the simplest options is to add a high-quality protein source to your everyday routine. For example, an all-natural plant protein and/or collagen peptides can offer an array of advantages that help you look and feel better than ever.

Here are some of the potential benefits of consuming protein rich in amino acids.

May help improve mood and sleep

Poor nutrition inevitably affects the quality of your mood and sleep, which in turn can land you in a frustrating cycle of feeling tired, irritable, and even depressed. But when you're using an amino acid-rich protein to supplement your diet, the added nutrition could be the boost you need to break free.

Can boost exercise performance

When your mood and sleep quality improves, you're bound to perform better during your daily workout. A nutritious protein source can offer the energy you need to power through regular exercise, simultaneously supporting stronger muscles. 

Support muscle development and repair

Supplementing with amino acids in protein may be beneficial for optimizing the efficiency of your body's metabolic processes. In other words, you can provide your body with what it needs to build new muscle and repair existing muscle tissue successfully. Especially for endurance-based exercises, supplements (specifically those with BCAAs) can reduce muscle damage and support ideal recovery.

May promote weight loss

Another possible benefit of amino acids in protein is the reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as the support of processes that allow your body to reach its optimal weight. Research findings have shown that supplementing with amino acids can reduce excess body fat, which can help you shed those stubborn extra pounds.

Can support joint development

Finally, scientists are learning more about how amino acids can help joint health. Certain amino acids have shown the potential to slow the development of joint-related conditions, such as osteoarthritis. 

Support Your Wellness with High-Quality Sources of Amino Acids

If you want to make sure that your body has all of the amino acids it needs to achieve optimal performance, then you may want to consider supplementing your diet with plant protein and/or collagen peptides. Both of these supplements can deliver an excellent profile of amino acids to your body, but it's important to know that not all protein powders are created equally.

Core Culture's Plant Protein is a 100% organic blend with 24 grams of protein and an outstanding 4 grams of naturally-occurring amino acids in each serving. Combine it with our organic, grass-fed Collagen Peptides, and you can be confident that your body will thank you.

For more information about how to make sure you're getting enough amino acids to support ideal wellness, contact the Core Culture team today!

Sources:

Image Source:  Photoroyalty / Shutterstock

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