Amino Acids and Their Importance in Your Workouts

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and also give the body nitrogen. When protein is digested it is then broken down into specific amino acids that your body uses for certain purposes including building body tissue in the skin, bones, eyes heart and muscle.

It’s important to be aware of amino acids when exercising as they are the foundations of muscle growth. The reason it’s suggested to take protein shakes (which often contain key amino acids) straight after exercise is because muscles are especially receptive when the blood flow to the exercised area remains relatively high.

Amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential depending on whether they can be synthesised by the body on its own or obtained from our diets.

The Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids must be obtained from our diet as our body cannot synthesise them on its own. Some common essential amino acids include:

  • Histidine is a precursor to the non-essential amino acid histamine, which is used in the immune system. It is involved in a wide range of metabolic processes in the body and is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, allergic diseases, ulcers, and anaemia caused by kidney failure or kidney dialysis.
  • Isoleucine regulates blood sugar, helping to keep energy levels stable. It can also help heal and repair muscle tissue, and increase endurance. This is often found in post-workout proteins.
  • Utilised in the liver, adipose tissue and muscle tissue, leucine is the only dietary amino acid that has the capacity to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Look out for this one in your dietary proteins.
  • One of only two amino acids that are classified as acidic, lysine aspartic acid is used in protein absorption. It has also been shown to improve athletic performance and to prevent and treat cold sores. Good sources of lysine are high-protein foods such as eggs, meat (specifically red meat, lamb, pork, and poultry), soy, beans and peas, cheese (particularly Parmesan), and certain fish (such as cod and sardines).
  • Methionine is found in meat, fish and dairy products and is used in the breakdown of fats and to detoxify the liver. Other uses include treating depression, alcoholism, allergies, asthma, copper poisoning, schizophrenia, drug withdrawal and even Parkinson’s disease.
  • Phenylalanine comes in three different forms, but only L-phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, and is found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. It is used to treat depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Used to treat various nervous system disorders, threonine changes in the body to a chemical called glycine which helps to reduce constant and unwanted muscle contractions.
  • Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which is a hormone that transmits signals between nerve cells and can alter mood and is associated with feeling good. It is used to treat insomnia, sleep apnoea, depression, anxiety, ADHD and to improve athletic performance.
  • Assisting the body in breaking down proteins for use in healthy cells, proline increases the production of collagen, improves the texture of skin, prevents loss of collagen and spurs new cell formation. It also aids in recovery during times of soft-tissue trauma, injury and wound healing.
  • Serine aids metabolism and is the precursor to amino acids such as glycine and cysteine. It is a great example of how amino acids can aid in weight loss.

The Non-Essential Amino Acids

The body is able to make non-essential amino acids, so they don’t need to be obtained from food. However, the body’s ability to produce them can be inhibited by environmental factors such as exposure to toxins and pollutants.

  • Alanine can affect blood sugar levels and is used to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), diarrhoea-related dehydration, liver disease, fatigue and stress.
  • One of the 20 most common natural amino acids on Earth, asparagine can be found in dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, lactalbumin, seafood, asparagus, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains.
  • Often called a brain food for its ability to pass through the blood brain barrier, glutamine is used to treat depression, moodiness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and to enhance exercise performance.
  • Glycine is involved in the transmission of chemical signals in the brain and is used by the body to make proteins.
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