Before we dive into how amino acids can help you, let’s get one thing straight. Supplements are tools, and no one supplement is going to fix all your problems or give you superpowers. If a company makes those claims, your best bet is to stay away!
However, some tools are better than others. If used properly, a hammer is one of the most versatile tools that you can own. A screwdriver, on the other hand, has one specific purpose, to screw or unscrew. Amino acids are the versatile tool of the supplement world. They can do a lot of different things and do them well.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Our bodies utilize amino acids for a multitude of functions including, fighting fatigue and preventing muscle damage and soreness. When you ingest protein, whether it is from whole foods or shakes, your body breaks the protein down into amino acids to be utilized for specific functions. So why not just take protein? Great question! You can still take protein with free form amino acids, such as those found in aminoVITAL®. However, amino acids have some distinct advantages over protein. Utilizing free amino acids over protein can mean faster absorption and fewer calories, while also relying on a higher purity and quality than protein.
With that in mind, let’s jump into the 4 reasons why you should start supplementing with amino acids today!
Fatigue occurs on two different levels. It can first occur at the muscle, due to factors such as limited glycogen in the muscles (carbohydrates stored in the muscle) or the buildup of lactic acid (7).
This first type of fatigue, or peripheral fatigue, is what you feel after a hard workout or a long day on your feet. However, there is another type of fatigue that can be harder to fight off, which is referred to in the literature as central fatigue.
Central fatigue or systematic fatigue is the fatigue that you feel like you can’t shake. You feel great physically, but when you go to complete your workout, you are not there mentally. You are not able to hit the weights you easily did the last time you were working out, you cannot keep up with your average mile pace, or you cannot get up off of the couch. This is due to the physical and mental stress that tax our central nervous system, resulting in central fatigue.
BCAAs and Peripheral Fatigue
Amino acids, specifically the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), help protect you from both types of fatigue.First, BCAAs can help increase exercise capacity or time to exhaustion. Specifically, during depleted muscle glycogen -- glucose stored in the muscle for energy (3). Meaning, BCAA supplementation is even more beneficial for those engaging in prolonged exercise or exercising while in a fasted state. If you work out first thing in the morning, are on an intermittent fasting or ketogenic diet, this is you.
See: What Are BCAAs?
While exercising, your energy needs deplete muscle glycogen. During a fast, like sleep, also depletes muscle glycogen. Either way, it means that you are not going to be able to give the same performance you normally would if your glycogen stores were full. BCAAs help counter the effect of depleted glycogen stores and can provide you with an increased ability to perform (3). The BCAAs are also metabolized in the muscle and can be converted to glucose for energy if needed by the body (8). It’s not just the BCAAs that help fight off fatigue though. Arginine helps with the removal of ammonia, which can reduce this first type of fatigue that comes from being active (8).
BCAAs and Central Fatigue
Secondly, BCAAs can help stave off the dreaded central fatigue. In simplified form, the hypothesis works as follows. When you are active, your body releases fat to burn. This, in turn, increases the amount of free tryptophan in your body. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin -- a neurotransmitter that brings on symptoms of central fatigue (1).
What competes with tryptophan to produce serotonin? Well, that would be BCAAs. Meaning, the more free BCAAs you have, the less of this neurotransmitter you will produce, reducing the amount of fatigue you feel (7). Free BCAAs are already in your body. However, if you are active, your muscles are using these amino acids. And, at the same time, it is releasing more tryptophan (1). Supplementing with free form BCAAs, like those in aminoVITAL ® can help balance the extra release of tryptophan and counter the fatigue brought on by activity.
Protect your Muscles
We all work hard to build our lean muscle mass. The last thing we want is for it to waste away. One of the analogies that I have heard is that your muscles are like a 401k, they’re slow to earn, but you reap the benefits for years to come. Here is sound advice, you should not draw from your 401k. And, you should do what you can to protect your muscles from wasting away.
That is where we can use tools, such as amino acids, to help alleviate some of the impacts of living an active lifestyle. Again, it’s the BCAAs that do the heavy lifting. Pun intended!
What exactly happens to our muscles when we are active?
You are damaging the muscle fibers, decreasing the range of motion, and causing inflammation and swelling at the muscle (5). Ultimately, you are breaking down the muscle and as a result are likely to be sore, immobile, and relatively weak for the next few days. What if there were a way to alleviate these symptoms? What if you could add one more session in the gym or on the trail to your routine every week? Over a year, how many more calories would you burn? How much volume would you be putting in with just one extra day a week? The answer is, a whole lot more.
A study by Shimomura et al. showed that supplementing with a mixture of BCAAs before exercise allowed participants to exert the same force 3 days after an intense bout of exercise. Whereas the placebo group only showed a contractile force of about 80% versus control (10). In other words, all the participants were asked to exert maximum muscle force on a leg extension before doing seven sets of twenty squats. Ouch! One group was given the BCAA mixture before exercise; the other group was not. Then, 3 days afterward, they were asked to do the same test on leg extension.
The BCAA group was able to exert the same force they did before the squats. However, the placebo group exerted around 80% comparatively. This suggests that ingestion of BCAAs could help alleviate some of the damage to the muscle and loss of contractile force.
What does this mean for you?
An amino acid supplement, like aminoVITAL®, taken before/after exercise could help you bounce back quicker from your active lifestyle. AminoVITAL® contains vegan sourced BCAAs, Arginine, and Glutamine.
The soreness we feel from working out goes hand in hand with the muscle damage experience. However, there is a distinct type of soreness that we have all experienced at some point in our lives.
Remember that time when you first got back into an exercise routine? You thought, “I’m going to start this the right way and destroy some squats.” And you did. However, the next day was a different story. You struggled to get up the stairs, and your legs did not seem to support your body weight.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. DOMS is a minor muscle strain that occurs when we engage in a new or high-intensity activity (9). This can adversely affect performance. The symptoms – dull pain and muscle stiffness – can last 5-7 days (2).
A A study conducted at The Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education had runners take aminoVITAL before and after their training sessions. Runners reported less soreness in lower extremities when supplementing with aminoVITAL® vs placebo (2). The Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education is a division of East Tennessee State University and an Olympic Training site. You normally experience DOMS after engaging in new, intense activities. Especially exercises that have eccentric motion, like weightlifting. For those elite runners, however, their training was not new. They push themselves day in and day out. Yet, supplementation with amino acids were able to help them feel less sore.
How much greater could the effect be on everyday individuals who are trying out new ways to stay active or are just doing what they can to stay fit? As previously mentioned, the study by Shimomura et al. provides a good example of this as the participants in the study were untrained females and those who ingested BCAA reported a significant difference in soreness versus placebo (10). This does not mean that amino acids and in particular BCAAs will not help with muscle soreness for athletes, as this was demonstrated with the collegiate runners, but it does suggest that novices to intermediates may benefit more from amino acids when it comes to muscle soreness.
Protein At Its Purest
Amino acids have a quicker absorption rate even when compared to casein or whey protein shakes. Studies have shown that liquid whey protein as a meal spiked amino acid concentration after about 90 minutes (6). Whereas free form amino acids spiked plasma amino acid concentrations in 30 mins, or 3 times as fast as whey protein (10).
Whole proteins are digested and then absorbed and utilized. In contrast, free amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream. Then, directed throughout the body to be utilized for a multitude of functions. This is vital, especially for nutrition surrounding our workouts. You may not want to throw back a heavy shake, before or during your workout. Similarly, you do not want to eat a sirloin at mile 8 of your marathon. We can utilize the rapid absorption of free amino acids to gear our bodies up to prevent the fatigue that might set in, or help prevent some of the muscle damage and soreness, all without loading up on extra calories. We can also utilize amino acids to jump-start the recovery process even before our training has ended or the chaos of our day has started to settle.
Finally, pure amino acids are extremely low calorie. If you are trying to maintain ketosis or watching your overall calorie consumption, you can take amino acids. Amino acids can help you perform better if your glycogen stores are low i.e. if you are fasting or keto, or are engaging in extended periods of exercise! With aminoVITAL®, you avoid extra fillers and junk that come with many of the products on the market. No artificial flavorings, dyes, or fillers are in any of the products.
Quality & Purity
You may be thinking, “Well, this all sounds pretty great. I can help prevent fatigue and protect against muscle damage and soreness! But, I have heard that protein contains BCAAs and other amino acids. So, why not just take protein?” Again, no one supplement will solve all the nutrition problems out there.
This article is not saying that you should take amino acids and ignore your overall nutrition. No, what we are trying to convey is that amino acids are extremely versatile and should be a key component of any persons “toolbox” on their path to becoming more active and healthy. That does not mean you should never take a protein shake if it is high quality and you need the extra protein. In fact, doing so will only help you with some of the previously discussed benefits because protein is made up of amino acids!
Be wary of the quality of the supplements you are putting into your body. Pure amino acids and protein powders are made in very different ways. Meaning, they have different risks of contaminants. A study carried out by the Clean Label Project showed that in 134 protein powders tested, all of them showed “detectable levels of at least one heavy metal and 55% tested positive for BPA” (4). For those of you who believe that you are unaffected by this because you use top tier vegan protein, that is not exactly the case. The study showed that plant-based proteins tested worse than some whey proteins. (Want to see how your favorite protein scored, click here.)
Why are amino acids any different?
Not all of them are. However, the amino acids in aminoVITAL® are from a patented fermentation of plant material and not an extraction process, eliminating the chance of contamination by absorption of metals from the ground. aminoVITAL® uses AjiPure® pharmaceutical-grade amino acids in all products to ensure the highest quality possible.
The amino acids used in aminoVITAL® are backed by over 100 years of research and in fact, these amino acids are the same ones that first introduced the use of intravenous amino acid therapy in hospitals in 1956. The standards used for aminoVITAL® are far and above what is required for nutritional supplements, as to meet pharmaceutical standards, not just those set by the FDA for nutritional supplements. All aminoVITAL® products are certified vegan, certified gluten-free, non-GMO, and are tested by independent third parties for banned substances.
See: About aminoVITAL
We covered a lot of information in a short period of time, so let’s do a quick recap. If I were you, my question before reading this article would have been, why take amino acids? The answers:
- Amino acids help prevent fatigue, both peripheral and central.
- Amino acids aid in preventing muscle damage and the associated muscle soreness.
- aminoVITAL® and its free amino acids are of the highest quality and purity.
- Amino acids are excellent while you are being active as they are quickly absorbed and low calorie.
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Flynn, A., Whiton, T., & Sato, K. (2018). Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation May Produce Marginal Reductions in Muscular Soreness in CollegiateDistance Runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,50, 588. doi:10.1249/01.mss.0000537026.73026.53
Gualano, A. B., Bozza, T., Lopez de Campos, P., Roschel, H., Dos Santos Costa, A., Luiz Marquezi, M., & Herbert Lancha, A., Jr. (2011). Branched chain amino acids supplementation enhance exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness,51, 82-88. Retrieved Septemeber 10, 2018, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49813873_Branched_chain_amino_acids_supplementation_enhance_exercise_capacity_and_lipid_oxidation_during_endurance_exercise_after_muscle_glycogen_depletion.
Hirsch, J. (2018, March 12). Arsenic, Lead Found in Popular Protein Supplements. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://www.consumerreports.org/dietary-supplements/heavy-metals-in-protein-supplements/
Howatson, G., Hoad, M., Goodall, S., Tallent, J., Bell, P. G., & French, D. N. (2012). Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition,9(1), 9-20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-20
, S., & M. (2008, July 24). An open label study to determine the effects of an oral proteolytic enzyme system on whey protein concentrate metabolism in healthy males. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-5-10
Newsholme, E. A., & Blomstrand, E. (2006). Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Central Fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition,136(1), 274-276. doi:10.1093/jn/136.1.274s
Ohtani, M., Sugita, M., & Maruyama, K. (2006). Amino Acid Mixture Improves Training Efficiency in Athletes. The Journal of Nutrition,136(2). doi:10.1093/jn/136.2.538s
Petchonka, A. (2012). Reducing Muscle Soreness and Muscle Damage: A Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids. Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies,02(05), 2-5. doi:10.4172/2161-0673.1000e125