Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and they play many important roles in your body. Your body needs amino acids to build proteins, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Amino acids are found in protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, and soybeans. Some people take amino acids in supplement form as a natural way to boost athletic performance or improve mood. Essential amino acids are amino acids that your body cannot make on its own. You must get essential amino acids from food or supplements. Nonessential amino acids are amino acids that your body can make on its own. Conditionally essential amino acids are amino acids that your body can usually make on its own but may not be able to during times of illness or stress.
What are essential amino acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds that play a vital role in the human body. There are 20 different amino acids that the body needs for proper growth and function, and 9 of these are classified as essential amino acids. This means that the body cannot make them on its own and they must be obtained through diet. The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins, but some plant foods such as soy products also contain all 9 essential amino acids. This makes them complete sources of protein. Amino acid supplements are also available, which can be helpful for people who don't eat enough protein-rich foods or who have specific amino acid deficiencies.
Conditionally essential amino acids
Your body needs amino acids to function properly. Some amino acids, like glycine and arginine, are considered "conditionally essential," which means that your body can't make as much of them as you need when you're ill or pregnant. That's why people might take amino acid supplements to meet their bodies' needs.
Amino acids are important for everyone, but they're especially important for pregnant people and people who are healing from an injury or fighting a disease. If you're pregnant, it's important to get enough amino acids to support your own health and the health of your baby. And if you're ill or injured, amino acid supplements can help you recover.
How many essential amino acids are there?
There are nine essential amino acids, each of which performs several important jobs in your body:
Phenylalanine. Your body turns this amino acid into the neurotransmitter’s tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids.
Valine. This is one of three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on this list. That means it has a chain branching off from one side of its molecular structure. Valine helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production.
Threonine. This is a principal part of structural proteins, such as collagen and elastin, which are important components of your skin and connective tissue. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function.
Tryptophan. Often associated with drowsiness, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your appetite, sleep, and mood.
Methionine. This amino acid plays an important role in metabolism and detoxification. It’s also necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium, minerals that are vital to your health.
Leucine. Like valine, leucine is a BCAA that is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing, and produces growth hormones.
Isoleucine. The last of the three BCAAs, isoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production, and energy regulation.
Lysine. Lysine plays major roles in protein synthesis, calcium absorption, and the production of hormones and enzymes. It’s also important for energy production, immune function, and the production of collagen and elastin.
Histidine. Your body uses this amino acid to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function, and sleep-wake cycles. It’s critical for maintaining the myelin sheath, a protective barrier that surrounds your nerve cells.
As you can see, essential amino acids are at the core of many vital processes. Although amino acids are most recognized for their role in muscle development and repair, your body depends on them for so much more.
Health benefits of taking essential amino acid supplements
May help with mood
Tryptophan is an amino acid that plays an important role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and behavior. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression and anxiety, and several studies have shown that taking tryptophan supplements may help reduce symptoms of these conditions. A review of 11 high quality studies found that taking 0.14-3 grams of tryptophan per day could help decrease anxiety and increase positive mood in healthy people.
May improve exercise performance and recovery
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and play an important role in many bodily processes, including muscle growth and repair. BCAA supplements, which stand for branched-chain amino acids, are a type of amino acid supplement that is often used by athletes to improve performance and reduce recovery time. Just like all amino acids, BCAAs are important for the human body and can be found in both animal and plant proteins. However, BCAA supplements can be a helpful way to make sure you're getting enough of these essential nutrients.
Many people take BCAA supplements to alleviate fatigue, improve athletic performance, and stimulate muscle recovery after exercise. In a 2017 study, resistance-trained athletes took BCAAs at a dose of 0.039 grams per pound (0.087 grams per kg) of body weight, with a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Those who took the BCAAs showed improved performance and muscle recovery and decreased muscle soreness compared with those who took a placebo. A review of eight studies found that taking BCAAs was superior to rest for promoting muscle recovery and reducing soreness after exhaustive exercise. What’s more, another review that included nine studies found that taking BCAAs helped reduce muscle damage and soreness. If you’re looking for a way to improve your athletic performance and reduce muscle soreness, ProLab Amino 2000 is worth giving a try!
May be helpful for wound healing and surgery
A study in 243 people with pelvis or long bone fractures found that those who took conditionally essential amino acids for 2 weeks after surgery had lower rates of death and medical complications than those who received standard nutrition. A review of 20 studies looking at the effects of taking BCAAs in people with cancer undergoing surgery found that those who took BCAAs around the time of surgery had reduced postoperative complications from infections and fluid accumulation in the abdomen. What’s more, according to results from one study, taking essential amino acid supplements may help reduce loss of muscle volume in older adults recovering from knee replacement surgery. Amino acid supplements are a safe and effective way to support healing after surgery and can help reduce complications and speed up recovery.
- Your body can’t produce the nine essential amino acids, so you need to get them from your diet or supplements. Conditionally essential amino acids are nonessential amino acids that become essential in certain circumstances, such as illness or pregnancy.
- All nine essential amino acids perform important roles in your body. They’re involved in many processes, including tissue growth, energy production, immune function, and nutrient absorption.
- Taking certain essential amino acids in supplement form may help improve mood, support exercise performance and recovery, and help improve health outcomes after surgery.