Knowing your amino acids will help you take your workouts and health to the next level, allowing you to take control of your diet and attain better results.
Essential Amino Acids
Essential amino acids are amino acids that can’t be synthesized in the body. Consequently, they must come from food.
There are 9 essential amino acids that the body needs, 3 of which are classified as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) – receiving their name from their chemical structure. These amino acids are:
 Histidine
 Methionine
 Lysine
 Phenylalanine
 Threonine
 Tryptophan
 Isoleucine
 Leucine
 Valine
These essential amino acids help protect and care for the body through various stages. They help protect the liver and nerves, aid in healing wounds, and offer mood support – among many other benefits.
The three BCAAs are used as supplements to improve muscle recovery post-exercise, and leucine in particular is known for its ability to influence protein synthesis.1
Non-essential Amino Acids
Don’t let the name fool you. Non-essential amino acids aren’t less important. They are given this name because they are produced within the body and do not need to be obtained from an outside source. These non-essential amino acids are:
 Alanine
 Asparagine
 Aspartic Acid
 Glutamic Acid
Depending on your body’s needs, these non-essential amino acids can be converted into proteins and used as necessary to support various functions throughout the body like sugar and acid metabolism, energy for muscle tissues and the brain, and cell functions in the nerve and brain tissue.
Conditional Amino Acids
As the name implies, conditional amino acids are generally not essential except during certain conditions like times of extreme stress and illness. The conditional amino acids are:
 Glycine
 Ornithine
 Proline
 Serine
 Arginine
 Cysteine
 Glutamine
 Tyrosine

Many of these conditional amino acids, like arginine and glutamine, are found in workout supplements due to their ability to increase the natural growth hormone response and support post-workout recovery.
Final Thoughts
Amino acids are involved in numerous processes throughout the body. Consequently, being deficient in the amino acids you need to obtain from outside sources (essential amino acids) can lead to several health conditions.
Essential amino acids can be found in animal derived proteins like meats, fish, milk, eggs, and even through some plant-based foods like legumes, vegetables, and grains. Bodybuilding and fitness supplements in the form of amino powders, packed with additional hydration and energy boosting ingredients are also becoming increasingly more popular to help gym goers get the amino acids they need to continue their progress in and outside of the gym.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are known as the “building blocks of protein”. Your body breaks down the protein you consumer in food into amino acids. Then, it uses those amino acids to build new proteins. These proteins are essential for the proper function of the body, including its internal organs and muscles. There are three groups of amino acids, essential, non-essential, and conditional.
Essential Amino Acids
Essential Amino Acids are so named because they are not created by the body. As such, they need to be consumed either in the form of food or a supplement.
Of particular interest to athletes are a subset of essential amino acids known as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. These get their name from their chemical structure. All three are known to help promote muscle growth and preservation. The three BCAAs are the following:
 Isoleucine helps to increase endurance and repair muscle tissue. This means it can help you work out harder (e.g. by performing more reps) and recover more quickly afterward.
 Leucine is generally regarded as the most effective of the BCAAs. This is because the body breaks leucine down into glucose more quickly than the other BCAAs. This glucose provides the body with energy and helps prevent the body from breaking down muscle for energy instead.
 Valine helps prevent the breakdown of muscle that occurs during strenuous workouts. It does this by providing more glucose to the muscles. This, in turn, produces more energy. It resembles leucine in this way, though the body breaks valine down more slowly.
In addition to the BCAAs, there are six other essential amino acids, as follows:
 Histidine is used by the body to manufacture blood cells and to protect and repair tissue. It is essential for nervous system function and can help with muscle growth and fat loss.
 Methionine is important in the production of cartilage in joints. It also strengthens the hair and nails and can help treat hair loss.
 Lysine helps the body produce collagen and absorb calcium. It also helps with the treatment of cold sores and can help with diabetes and osteoporosis.
 Phenylalanine is used in the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. As such, it can be helpful for the treatment of depression.
 Threonine helps with immune system function and the health of the body’s connective tissue and muscles. It also helps to maintain the correct balance of protein in the body.
 Tryptophan is known to help improve the quality of sleep. It also helps to improve mood quality and can be used to reduce headaches and maintain a healthy weight.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Non-essential amino acids are those that the body produces on its own without the need for direct consumption. These include:
 Alanine       
 Asparagine       
 Aspartic Acid       
 Glutamic Acid
Conditional Amino Acids
Conditional amino acids are generally not essential, though there are some exceptions. Typically, these exceptions are for the treatment of certain illness or other conditions. These include:
 Arginine
 Cysteine
 Glutamine
 Tyrosine
 Glycine
 Ornithine
 Proline
 Serine
As mentioned above, BCAAs are used by the body as fuel during strenuous workouts. Taking BCAAs can enable you to continue working out for a longer period of time. BCAAs also help keep the body from breaking down your muscles to use as fuel instead. This is why taking BCAAs before a workout is so important. The more strenuous the workout, the more important it is to get enough BCAAs. Studies have also shown that amino acid supplementation may be helpful in mitigating delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This is the condition that every lifter has felt at some point. Especially those who are starting to lift for the first time or who have extended time off from the gym. DOMS can also occur after particularly-strenuous workouts or a new workout regimen. The beneficial effect of amino acids on DOMS helps you work out more often, as it’s harder to lift when you’re sore.
BCAAs an have a beneficial effect for those looking to increase mass and strength. Muscle is made from protein, and protein is made from amino acids. So, the more amino acids you take in, the easier it is to add mass. Furthermore, BCAAs-leucine in particular-have been shown to kickstart muscle growth by triggering the muscle protein synthesis process. Studies have shown that lifting novices and veterans alike stand to benefit from BCAAs when training to build strength and mass.
A 2009 study showed that experienced lifters who took a BCAA supplement for eight weeks added about twice as much mass and strength as those who took a protein shake instead. Likewise, a 2011 study showed that inexperienced lifters gained 40.8% more strength over a 12-week resistance training program. By contrast, the lifters who were taking a placebo only gained 31.0% over the same period. Science, people. It’s good stuff.
Not only are BCAAs effective for gaining muscle mass, they also help to burn body fat. The same study from 2009 also found that the lifters who took a BCAA supplement lost more fat than those who didn’t. Another study showed that isoleucine is particularly beneficial for burning fat.
BCAAs are particularly useful for those who want to lose weight without also losing muscle. Accomplishing this goal can be tricky under normal circumstances because losing weight requires you to burn more calories than you consume. The catch is that the protein you need for your muscles to recover and grow is typically found in the food that you’re cutting back on. If your body isn’t getting enough energy from food, it may resort to breaking down your existing muscle for energy. This is where BCAAs come in. They can serve as a substitute for protein while adding little to no calories.
What is the Proper Dosage of Amino Acids Per Day?
With BCAA supplements, it is important to keep the ratio of the three BCAAs in mind. Since leucine is the most effective of the three, it is recommended to use a ratio of 2:1:1. This means that the supplement should have two grams of leucine for each 1 gram of isoleucine and 1 gram of valine. Some supplements have ratios as high as 10:1:1, but there is no evidence that this is more effective.
It is also recommended to take at least 3 grams of leucine each day. At a ratio of 2:1:1, that works out to 6 grams of BCAAs each day to get the optimal amount of each. It is recommended to take BCAAs both before your workout (30 minutes prior is optimal) and immediately afterward. BCAAs can be added to your protein shakes. At 5-10 grams for each serving, this should be enough BCAAs for your daily needs. Those looking to add mass can consider additional servings mid-workout or throughout the day.
Why Drink BCAAs?
A more appropriate question would be, “Why wouldn’t you drink them?”
Unlike other essential amino acids, branched-chain amino acids are “oxidized primarily in the skeletal muscle. This means they are more readily available to directly and indirectly improve physical performance.
Improve Fatigue
Exercise triggers BCAA catabolism. Consequently, researchers believe BCAA requirements may be higher in physically active individuals.
One cross-over study administered a mixture containing 5 g BCAAs to several young, healthy female and male test subjects. The subjects were unaccustomed to regular exercise and underwent compound leg exercises to fatigue over several weeks.
For female test subjects, muscle soreness was higher on day 2 and day 3 during the placebo trial. However, after supplementing with the BCAA mixture, subjects reported peak soreness only occurred on day 2 and “was significantly lower than that which occurred following the placebo trial.” Researchers note delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurring during days 3-5 in female subjects was markedly lower during the BCAA trial.
For male test subjects, DOMS also peaked on day 2 and was generally lower in the BCAA trial but failed to reach statistical significance. Researchers believe this is because the male test subjects’ body mass required more BCAAs. However, it is said muscle soreness during a certain 5-day period was lower in both sexes during the BCAA trial compared to the placebo.
Speed Protein Metabolism
Although all branched-chain amino acids are beneficial to exercise and performance, leucine often steals the show. Leucine is special in its ability to promote muscle protein synthesis. This optimized synthesis results in more muscle fibres and stronger muscles.
Studies show leucine amplifies protein synthesis by optimizing protein activity involved in mRNA translation.
Leucine is considered unique in its metabolic regulatory roles. However, its benefits are most noticeable in the absence of the branched-chain aminotransferase (BCAT) enzyme because leucine’s skeletal muscle benefits are buffered by this enzyme.
Ameliorate Mania
Branched-chain amino acid use isn’t limited to the gym. Although more research is required to confirm findings and efficacy, branched chain amino acids are studied for their ability to improve mood and mania.
In one study, 25 subjects with mania were given 60 g BCAA or a placebo over a 7-day period. Results show the BCAA mixture led to lower mania ratings in the first 6 hours of treatment. The study says a “persistent advantage” resulted from BCAA supplementation.
Boost Immune System
Because exercise is physically demanding on muscles and central nervous system, athletes often are subject to increased sickness and infection. These facts may all influence glutamine levels, an amino acid known for its immune function benefits. Glutamine levels fall as a result of prolonged exercise and high intensity workouts.
BCAAS are considered nitrogen donors for glutamine synthesis. Research reveals 6 g BCAA for 2-4 weeks and an additional 3 g dose 30 minutes before a long-distance run “prevented the 24% fall in the plasma glutamine concentration observed in the placebo group.” The BCAA dose also modified immune response to exercise.
Increase Power Output
Once again, leucine outshines its counterparts and has been shown in a clinical study to influence power output.
Untrained men were given 4 g isolated leucine while undergoing a workout program over a 12-week period. Researchers noted the test subjects experienced greater power output from the leucine group without notably influencing lean mass or fat mass. The untrained participants who supplemented leucine “demonstrated significantly higher gains in total 5-RM strength… and 5-RM strength in 5 out of 8 exercises.”