Amino acids are building blocks of protein and hence building blocks of muscle tissue. They command the energy we have, the speed of recovery, weight loss and memory functions of the brain.
Amino acids are not only important for building muscles; they aid in giving a higher quality of life. Since the human body does not produce all the amino acids on its own, it becomes imperative to ensure that a proper diet is consumed to ensure that the body can continue to build muscle and maintain proper balance.
What do amino acid supplements do ?
The popularity of amino acids has increased in recent times what with free form amino acids which are free of chemical components that are linked to other molecules. These move very quickly through the stomach into the small intestines and get absorbed into the blood stream.
There are about twenty three amino acids and nine of them are indispensable or essential amino acids. The rest are dispensable amino acids or non-essential as the body can synthesize them from other amino acids.
Sources of Amino Acids: Normal dietary requirement of amino acids can be met with adequate intake of meat - beef, pork, lamb, poultry and milk products. But the availability of amino acids can change drastically depending upon the age of the animal, the cut of the meat, the method of cooking and the additives used in preserving. Absorption of nutrients is not always effective under all conditions. Supplementation of essential amino acids might be required in cases where there is clear deficiency or as an ergogenic aid for better performance or to enhance the quality of life. Enhancing physical performance, reducing fatigue, increasing the threshold of pain - all these are possible with the right amino acid supplements. We cover below some highly rated amino acids specifically for their roles in improving performance.
Amino acid supplements
Arginine is another supplement that helps in muscle building and increases recovery time after working out. L Arginine increases nitric oxide levels (as it is a precursor for the synthesis of NO - nitric acid) and extends muscle endurance. Besides Arginine is an endogenous vasodilator - that enhances overall blood flow which translates to improved physical performance. Arginine supplements have been used to stimulate the secretion of growth hormones, reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol and in lowering blood pressure in some cases. Arginine is considered as a semi-essential amino acid as humans can synthesize this unlike felines like domestic cat for which Arginine is an essential amino acid. Cats need Ornithine - an amino acid which binds ammonia produced from the protein breakdown. Ornithine is synthesized from Arginine and any deficiency in blood levels of Arginine for a Cat may have a serious consequence for the cats.
Arginine also helps:
- Increase oxygen and nutrient delivery
- Faster lean mass gain
- Improved muscle recovery and reduced time in healing and repair of tissues
- Accelerated fast and slow twitch muscle fiber.
Glutamine aids muscle recovery and is particularly useful when you are under stress. It can help fat burning and boost immunity. Though it is available in abundance through normal food sources like beef, pork, poultry and milk products, some conditions like injuries, infections and excessive levels of stress may require supplementation. Glutamine helps faster recovery from burns and illness.
L-Carnitine supplements play a vital role in energy production as this amino acid is vital in transporting fatty acids to mitochondria where energy is produced.
L carnitine is an amino acid naturally synthesized by the body from amino acids - Lysine and methionine.
This amino acid is found mostly in red meats and in smaller quantities in diary products. L carnitine is similar to another amino acid Carnitine which plays a major role in energy metabolism. The body produces carnitine in the liver and kidneys and stores it in the skeletal muscles, heart, brain and sperm.
Deficiency in these amino acids can manifest as general apathy, fatigue, muscle weakness, decreased tolerance to metabolic stress and cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms of fatigue and general prognosis improved significantly in those patients who received oral L-carnitine supplementation. L carnitine's action of facilitating the transport of fatty acids is useful in preventing a buildup of amyloid plaque that damages brain tissues. Supplements of L carnitine has helped in some studies, to improve sperm mobility in men with poorly active sperm, a condition known as asthenozoospermia. Some laboratory studies have indicated the beneficial effects of L-carnitine supplements in counteracting the toxic effects of AZT, a drug for the treatment of HIV - human immuno deficiency virus and acquired immuno deficiency syndrome. Cartinine and L-Cartinine are thought to improve some of the following conditions:
- Heart Disease - As Cartinine helps to improve the overall energy levels, the patients have a better sustained physical activities after suitable medications combined with supplements.
- High Cholesterol - Patients with elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides reported a significant lowering.
- Intermittent Claudication - Patients with Deficiency in blood circulation in the peripheral regions ( peripheral vascular disease PVD ) reported better muscle functions after taking supplements.
- Fatty Liver - Alcohol induced fatty buildup in the liver has been reversed and even prevented in some studies.
- Down's Syndrome - In patients afflicted with this disease, significant improvement in visual memory and attention span was noted after supplements.
- Male Infertility - supplementation may increase sperm count and Sperm mobility.
Taurine: Taurine amino acid is essential for bile formation and for general health of the eyes and heart in addition to its antioxidant activity. It is produced from other amino acids like methionine and cysteine in humans and most animals except felines. Taurine supplements result in increased cardiac stroke volume after exercise. Some energy drinks like Red Bull contain Taurine as Ergogenic aid.
Benefits of Amino acid supplements
As mentioned earlier, amino acid supplements are vital nutrients and main building blocks of proteins for the body. As protein is essential for healthy muscles, organs, glands, ligaments, hair and bone growth, amino acids help build specific proteins that the body requires.
Amino acids are critical for repairing organs, muscles, nails, skin, hair, ligaments and glands and if a deficiency is developed in any one of these, it can cause severe compromise to health.
Amino acids supplements are a proactive way to prevent possible deficiencies. However, consult a healthcare professional before taking supplements. Studies reveal that vegetarians are most prone to amino acid deficiencies. Other conditions of amino acid deficiencies include impaired protein absorption, drug use, infection and stress.
Abdominal fat reduction
Amino acids can effectively promote abdominal fat loss. The supplementation of some amino acids for about 19 days can significantly decrease abdominal fat.
Muscle mass retention
When amino acids are used in conjunction with specific resistance exercises, they help muscle building process. Supplementation of amino acid leucine can effectively maintain muscle mass, and prevent breakdown for muscles that are immobilized.
Amino acids assist in muscle building and can help reverse muscle breakdown. Exercise science researchers suggest that amino acids can assist in enhancing exercise performance. VO2max, a scientific method to analyze efficient oxygen usage, was a lot higher when amino acid supplements were used. Isoleucine, valine and leucine amino acids are very effective for increasing exercise endurance.
Certain conditions like depression can develop due to deficiency of some amino acids and negative nitrogen balance in the body. It is important to understand that some non-essential amino acids that are naturally produced in the body can become essential amino acids. It happens that some amino acids need other amino acids to produce effectively and not taking enough essential amino acids can result in non production of non-essential amino acids as well.
Other benefits of amino acid supplements
Amino acids are antioxidants and are necessary to fight free radicals which harm your body. Glutathione and Cysteine are some of the amino acids with antioxidant properties. For vegetarians and vegans, amino acid supplements are vital to ward off protein deficiency and as an important building block. Body builders, weight trainers, and athletes require amino acids for active lifestyles as their muscles need that extra attention and maintenance to perform at their peak.
Amino acid supplements side effects
Taking amino acid supplements is not without its side effects. Like with other supplements and health foods, consuming them in higher doses can cause health problems. Consuming lysine supplements can lead to gallstones and digestive disorders. Arginine supplements can lower blood pressure but it might fall to unhealthy levels causing an electrolyte imbalance. Cysteine when taken in higher doses has been linked to cardiac disease. It can counteract with insulin.
Typically high doses of amino acid supplements without a proper diet to accompany it can result in rapid heartbeat, restlessness and anxiety. Those on amino acid supplements might notice dizziness and depression. Long term usage of amino acid supplements can affect kidney function. For safe dosage levels consult your health care provider and the package labels. Some amino acids require to be taken before food while some may need to be taken along with food. Most amino acid supplements are heat sensitive and as a result need to be taken in liquids at room temperature - if you need to mix the powder. Long term usage of any supplement should be done strictly under professional medical attention.
Alcoholics and diabetics should not consume amino acid supplements without medical supervision. If consumed orally, it may cause a buildup of ammonia in the muscle tissues and this can impact motor coordination. If any symptoms are experienced, it is better to stop operating heavy machines or driving. Contact your healthcare provider immediately. Remember that over consumption of amino acid supplements can cause health risks and unbalanced amino acid mixtures may jeopardize normal balance.