Amino acids are organic compounds (similar to fats and carbohydrates) that provide building blocks through which the body can build protein molecules. In this way, the body controls growth, regeneration, and metabolic processes according to genetic specifications.
Essential amino acids are those that, regardless of redundancy, are essential for survival but are not produced by the body itself but must be supplied from the outside.
These amino acids behave similarly to vitamins, so an adequate supply must be guaranteed so that the body can function optimally.
Amino acids are essential for muscle development or hair growth: due to their nitrogen (N) content, they are a basic component. They also serve to build neurotransmitters and enzymes and control almost all metabolic processes.
We can say that amino acids are basic components of the body.
Essential, non-essential and semi-essential
The most important supplier of essential amino acids is daily food. In the case of malnutrition, diabetes, severe illness, or stress, the supply of amino acids may be deficient.
The result is a weakened immune system, and you will feel permanent fatigue, the regeneration processes slow down, and wounds heal less quickly. Essential amino acids include isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Arginine and histidine are considered semi-essential because they are only needed during certain phases, for example, during growth. Non-essential elements such as alanine, on the other hand, can usually be produced sufficiently by the body.
In times of high physical exertion, such as when you are training, a deficiency can occur in this regard.
Most important source of amino acids: food
The best prevention of deficiency symptoms regarding the supply of amino acids is a balanced diet. The dietary supplements can help offset a temporary deficiency. Excellent sources of amino acid supply are, for example, nuts or oats.
Meat is also considered an amino acid supplier. However, this is only partially true since these sensitive molecules are largely destroyed by cooking and boiling them.
All amino acid building blocks are also found in sufficient amounts in plant foods, so vegetarianism does not have to be accompanied by any deficiency symptoms if the diet is well balanced.
Since amino acids are always supplied in combination with salts and fats through food intake, a supply in this way cannot be compared with the intake of food supplements.
In addition, dietary supplements are primarily optimized for a specific purpose.
In case of deficiency
If any amino acid component is insufficient in the body, it will affect the metabolism completely and the function of all proteins. This can cause permanent damage and diseases such as diabetes.
Many diseases, but also a temporary drop in performance and symptoms of weakness, can be attributed to the symptoms of amino acid deficiency.
In particular, people who are under high physical stress, such as competitive athletes, need a higher intake of amino acids. Fasting and reduction diets can severely reduce body reserves. Overdose can also be a problem and damage the kidneys and liver.
The body is not only able to form non-essential acids but can also convert one into the other as necessary. As a result, our biological system can largely control the demand or cover it depending on the life situation.
In stressful situations, a greater supply of essential amino acid building blocks is advisable, but our body automatically ensures the correct balance of the numerous acids with each other. All we have to do is guarantee a balanced diet.
What does whey protein have to do with amino acids?
Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids, which the body does not produce by itself and, therefore, must be supplied with food or by a dietary supplement.
Basically, amino acids enter the blood quickly and, therefore, instantly pass to the muscles since they are already divided to the point that they can be used by the body.
In the muscles, amino acids serve to protect and develop the muscles used during training.
For muscle development, it is advisable to use whey proteins after training to immediately provide the muscles with enough protein for their development and regeneration.
The most important amino acids at a glance
Glycine is the smallest and simplest amino acid. Glycine is not essential and is produced independently by the body. It is involved in almost all metabolic processes.
L-alanine is also not essential and is necessary to build proteins. Among other things, L-alanine regulates blood sugar levels and participates in muscle building. Under the influence of environmental toxins, or with a decrease in performance related to stress, a deficiency can occur which, however, can be counteracted by appropriate supplements.
L-arginine is called semi-essential because it cannot be absorbed through food but must be formed in the body by other amino acids. L-arginine participates in tissue construction and provides important enzymes and neurotransmitters.
Deficiency symptoms can occur here, especially during illnesses or ongoing sports activities, which can be prevented with supplements. L-arginine is also used for the dietary treatment of erectile dysfunction because it contains four groups of nitrogen and, therefore, can form the vasodilator molecule NO (nitric oxide).
BCAA means branched-chain amino acids. These are branched amino molecules such as leucine, valine, and isoleucine. All three must be supplied to the body through food, are essential, and are involved in muscle building.
Creatine is well known in bodybuilding circles because it can promote muscle building. However, creatine is much more important for skeletal accumulation: more than 80% of creatine is stored in the bones. Strictly speaking, it is not just one, but a combination of three different acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine.
Isoleucine provides important messenger substances to the nervous system but also plays an important role in muscle building. The cashews, for example, contain a large amount of isoleucine.
Valine regulates blood sugar and supports the immune system. It also participates in the formation of messenger substances. Valine is found in tuna, eggs, and cheese, among others.
Methionine is necessary for direct protein accumulation. It is said to have a preventive effect against urinary tract infections. There is a sufficient amount of methionine in Brazil nuts, fish, liver, and eggs.
Leucine is essential for building muscle. It is found in peanuts, almonds and peas, among others.
L-cysteine is found in foods that contain protein, although not all types of proteins contain L-cysteine. L-cysteine is a universal building block in the body’s metabolism. It serves for detoxification and has antioxidant properties.