Essential Amino Acids
The Building Blocks of Life
Essential amino acids are the energy source and building blocks for cellular growth, regeneration, repair and survival as well as to regulate gene expression. (7) Amino acids are most recognized in their role of muscle development and repair. Studies have shown amino acids reduce the rating of perceived exertion when performing high intensity workouts, promote muscle recovery and reduce muscle damage and soreness after a workout. (3, 4, 5). Amino acid deficiencies can lead to many serious issues that may affect not only your muscles and strength but also your nervous, reproductive, immune and digestive systems. Deficiencies can lead to serious health problems such as depression, sleep disturbances, fatigue and poor nutrient absorption to name a few. (6)
There are two main types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. There are 20 amino acids in total, 9 of which are essential amino acids which means the body cannot make them on its own. The combination of essential and non-essential amino acids makes up oligopeptides, peptides and polypeptides otherwise known as proteins which carry out biological functions and respond to cellular environment through innumerable biochemical processes. An example of a peptides biological function and a biochemical process is how a peptide stimulates your skin to make collagen.
Peptide: Two or more amino acids joined together by peptide bonds making up amino acid chains. Peptides can be subdivided into 2 types.
Oligopeptides: 2-20 amino acid chain. A branched chain amino acid (BCAA) is just that, they have a branched chain of amino acids to form protein structure.
Polypeptides: 50-2000 amino acid chain. Polypeptides can also be called proteins.
Peptidyl Transferase: Enzymes responsible for peptide bond formation during the creation of new proteins in the body.
Interesting factoid: Did you know the largest protein chain in humans is called Titin and has more than 27,000 amino acids? Essential amino acids include methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, histidine and valine and play a vital role in our overall health. As an example, tryptophan is required for the body to make serotonin which increases which regulates our sleep, mood and behaviors. Supplementing amino acid tryptophan has been shown to reduce symptoms such as irritability, depression and insomnia. (1) Essential amino acids are required by external food sources because the body cannot produce them. All 9 essential amino acids are found in red meat, fish, poultry, eggs and animal milk products. There are some honorable mentions in the plant kingdom such as buckwheat, quinoa, spirulina, algae, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and soy that contain all 9 amino acids. Combining plant based foods that do not have all 9 essential amino acids in the diet such as beans, rice, legumes, lentils, seeds, nuts, chickpeas, broccoli and spinach ensures all 9 essential amino acids are available without animal protein.
The 11 remaining non-essential amino acids include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. All of the non-essential amino acids are made in the body primarily from glucose with exception of tyrosine which is synthesized by phenylalanine and are therefore not essential in the human diet. Nonessential amino acids are also found in both animal and plant-based food. Amino acid availability verses bioavailability as we age It is important to get enough protein in our diet. The daily recommended value for protein is 46-63 grams per day. A 6-ounce beef steak has almost 49 grams of protein, 2 eggs has just over 12 grams and a single cup of lentils has almost 18 grams of protein. It is important to know that older adults require more protein intake than younger adults. (8) Plant based proteins are also available although they are not as rich in amino acids as animal products and while most plants do not have all 9 essential amino acids, they do come with other benefits such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, Phyto-nutrients and fiber to name a few.
Regardless of the source of amino acids in our diet, whole foods require healthy digestion to break the food sources down into the individual amino acids needed for the body to form into specialized cells. As we age, we process proteins in our food less efficiently making it more difficult to break down proteins into individual amino acids. (10) In addition, the intake of antacids, antihistamines and proton pump inhibitors also decrease stomach acidity. Many people choose whey or other animal protein or plant-based protein shakes and drinks to increase amino acids. An animal or plant-based protein. shake is a food product which requires the body to break the protein down into amino acids.
If you or someone you love are showing signs of aging and looking to maintain and improve muscle, strength, stamina, balance and a wide variety of other health benefits, then consider supplementing with essential amino acids. You deserve to experience improved physical stamina, endurance and healthy protein synthesis to enhance your overall health in every stage of life so you can experience greater wellness and enjoy the things you love and are purposed to do.