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How Do Amino Acids Affect the Brain?

As more and more people – from weightlifters and bodybuilders to weekend warriors and the casually fit – begin using amino acid supplements, many new and prospective users have asked questions about these products. Common queries include what amino acids do to your body (make it stronger), which amino acids are most effective (the branched-chain kind), and whether you can take amino acid supplements on an empty stomach (they’re actually more effective that way). One question that people have been asking is how amino acids affect the brain: Do they impact your mood? Can they help you focus? To find the answers to these questions and others, keep reading as the people at aminoVITAL® explain.

Which Amino Acids Affect the Brain?

Though our bodies use 20 different amino acids, only a few of them get to enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the filter that partitions our brain from our circulatory system. These are the aromatic amino acids (AAAs) – namely tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine – and the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

We’ll tackle the aromatic acids first, since they have the most direct impact on brain function. These amino acids are important for maintaining proper brain chemistry because they form the foundations of many of the neurotransmitters that enable us to think and feel. Tryptophan, for example, turns into serotonin once it crosses the BBB – a neurotransmitter that affects mood, concentration, appetite, and even a person’s level of motivation. Tyrosine and phenylalanine, in turn, are used to create (among other things) two other very important chemicals in the brain: dopamine – which brings pleasure and aids in memory – and adrenaline, which needs no introduction.

As for the BCAAs, it’s unclear what effect they have once they reach the brain itself, if any. That said, these amino acids can definitely affect things like mood and energy levels. That’s because there’s only so much room to cross the BBB, and branched-chain amino acids compete with aromatic amino acids for that space; the more BCAAs there are, the less space is available for AAAs like tryptophan and tyrosine to cross the barrier. This means that fewer AAAs reach the brain, which in turn means lower levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters.

Amino Acids and Fatigue

The effects of these amino acids may sound abstract, but those who lack one or more of these compounds will definitely feel the impact. Take athletes, for example. As we work out, our muscles begin to pull BCAAs from our bloodstream; these compounds are used for everything from triggering the production of new muscle tissue to providing energy to glycogen-depleted arms and legs. BCAAs can also help to limit soreness, protect muscles from damage, and help with focus and concentration.

The way they help us focus is simple: they keep the tryptophan out of our brains. Remember how BCAAs compete with AAAs to cross the blood-brain barrier? Well, as more and more BCAAs are sucked into your muscles during exercise, the BBB ends up with more open spots to allow amino acids to cross into the brain; these are taken by tryptophan and the other AAAs. In other words, the more your BCAAs are pulled to the muscles, the less competition tryptophan has to cross into the brain. Because tryptophan makes serotonin – which can make us feel tired and unmotivated – the end result is that we wind up fatigued, limiting our ability to exercise.

How BCAA Supplements Help You Exercise

By supplementing with BCAAs, you can return the amino acid balance to your bloodstream, preventing excess tryptophan from reaching the brain and reducing serotonin production there; doing so will help you fight fatigue and improve your ability to push yourself during workouts. BCAAs carry other benefits as well, though, some of which are detailed below:

  • Leucine is the amino acid in charge of giving you bigger muscles. It activates the mTOR pathway in skeletal muscle, which in turn triggers the creation of new muscle tissue. While most of the leucine you ingest goes toward this purpose, some becomes the metabolite HMB, which can help to prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins. Basically, leucine makes your muscles bigger and helps them stay that way.
  • Whereas leucine builds strength, isoleucine improves endurance. During exercise, this amino acid helps ensure a steady supply of energy flows to the muscles, and it can help speed up recovery times as well.
  • Valine is the little brother of the BCAAs. It supports the other two amino acids by guarding against muscle breakdown, regulating the immune system, relieving stress, and promoting healthy cognition, among other functions.

Amino acid supplements carry additional advantages over traditional protein supplements as well. Free-form amino acids require much less digestion than whole proteins, for one thing, which means they’re available much more quickly. Plus, amino acid supplements reject the excessive calories and sugars found in popular protein shakes and powders, instead offering a lean supplement that contains only those nutrients essential for maximizing gains and improving post-workout muscle recovery. Try an amino acid supplement today and see the difference for yourself.

High-Quality Amino Acid Supplements Available from aminoVITAL®

Amino acids offer a safe, effective, and low-calorie way to get the most out of your workouts without undermining your overall health and fitness goals. The amino acid supplements from aminoVITAL® are made with the highest quality amino acids created by Ajinomoto, a global leader in amino acid research and production. To learn more about aminoVITAL® supplements and how they can help you boost athletic performance, visit us online or call (888) 264-6673.

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