Amino Acids: Your best choice for optimum health, growth, energy and focus.
The biological keys to exercise performance and muscle synthesis
by Gary Crass
"I'm taking in enough whey protein that has the amino acids in it, and I'm eating right and taking a vitamin/mineral supplement, how important can it be to take in extra aminos?"
If you've avoided amino acid supplementation for the reason above, consider this: Virtually every single biological function in the human body requires amino acids and these requirements increase during higher activity levels such as exercise. In the scientific documentaries you'll hear them sometimes referred to as the "building blocks of life," and rightly so because these protein constituents are involved in the production of everything from brain neurotransmitters and cell walls, to cartilage, muscle tissue and energy. This biological reality is crucially important to bodybuilders because the higher physical and mental activity of workouts increases the need for these "building blocks." If your exercise routine seems a bit sluggish and mass gains are progressing slowly it may well be that you're not getting enough amino acids. Maintaining the right diet and taking whey protein, although necessarily important for basic muscle tissue synthesis and good health still will not supply enough aminos for optimum performance and growth.
So if you're not taking them (or only taking a couple) you should consider stepping up your workout results with one of the most crucial supplement groups. The following will help you understand what they do and how to use them effectively.
Before we get into the specifics of what each one does, here's a quick primer on what they are. There are 22 amino acids, 8 essential (cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food) and the remainder non-essential (can be made by the body from other amino acids). You might think of them as construction blocks that come in different sizes and shapes but connect together to form different proteins in the bodyâ€”50,000 different types of protein in all that comprise Â¾ of the weight of the human body (minus the water). Clearly, amino acids are the essence of life.
The following can be used as a quick reference when you're having difficulty with a certain aspect of your workout routine (energy levels, focus, growth, etc.) or if you're just looking for ways to improve your overall health and vitality.
The Ultimate Amino Acid List
Amount: Up to 4800 mg (two 2400 mg servings in 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine)
Used for: Muscle protection and growth.
Optimal Use: 30 minutes before and immediately after training.
Named for their branch-like structure, these 3 highly regarded aminos may be the most important of them all for preventing muscle tissue breakdown. Your body will also use BCAA's as fuel during intense training. All 3 are considered essential (your body cannot produce them so they need to be obtained from food). Together they represent your best bet for increasing size while holding on to your hard-earned gains. Individually they have specific roles:
L-leucine â€” The fourth most abundant amino acid found in muscle tissue, leucine is needed in the right ratio to other aminos in the body or you will be unable to utilize the protein you take in. Simply put, if you don't have enough leucine, you can't grow. This is why you'll always see BCAAs offered as a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, iso-leucine and valine. Some of the critical functions leucine has been noted for are maintaining nitrogen balance (essential for muscle synthesis), preserving glycogen stores and enhancing mental clarity during exercise. Leucine is the more popular of the three for its superior muscle synthesis support, making it a very effective supplement on its own.
L-isoleucine â€” Endurance, as well as muscle healing and repair, are the benefits associated with isoleucine. And like leucine, isoleucine can also be utilized as an energy source during intense exercise. In fact, studies have indicated that BCAAs may provide 10% of the energy expended during a typical workout.
L-valine â€” Muscle metabolism, nitrogen balance and muscle tissue repair are some of the more important functions of valine as well as its use as an energy source during intense training.
Amount daily: Up to 20 grams
Used for: Exercise recovery, growth hormone enhancement, cell hydration, immune system support, anti-catabolic action.
Optimal use: Immediately after workout (with protein), between meals and before bedtime (preferably on an empty stomach).
L-glutamine is available in two forms, L-glutamine and N-acetyl-L-glutamine. The acetyl version is highly stable during digestion, which increases absorption and makes it more readily available to assist muscle synthesis. Glutamine is classified as a non-essential amino acid (which means it can be manufactured by your body from other aminos) although during times of intense body stress such as weight training or recovery from illness, it becomes conditionally essential and must be obtained from food or supplements to avoid serious depletion. This depletion can occur because glutamine is in very high demand in the body and at the same time comprises over 50% of the amino acids found in skeletal muscle tissue. Therefore, if there's not enough glutamine available for muscle repair after your workout because of other priorities then muscle tissue breakdown is inevitable. And considering glutamine levels are reduced by 50% in the body after a workout it becomes clear that this "non-essential" amino is absolutely necessary for bodybuilders. Glutamine has been shown to increase cell water volume, which in turn facilitates muscle energy and repair. Still another, and one of the more critical functions of L-glutamine is its immune system support, as it is one of the primary precursor compounds in the production of glutathione, the master antioxidant in the body.
Daily amount: Up to 12 grams for arginine; up to 9 grams for arginine-AKG.
Used for: Muscle growth enhancement, nitric oxide production for muscle "pump" effect, growth hormone enhancement.
Optimal use: Arginine-AKG: Sustained release capsâ€”3000mg once in the morning on an empty stomach and 3000mg again 30 minutes prior to lunch. Powder: 3000mg before workout and another 3000mg on an empty stomach either in the morning prior to breakfast or afternoon. If you're susceptible to cold sores, take 500mg of L-lysine with arginine.
Arginine is another non-essential amino acid that most bodybuilders would agree is absolutely essential for their workouts. One of the more celebrated supplements in recent years, arginine has shown a remarkable ability to assist in the production of nitric oxide, in turn enhancing blood flow which produces a noticeable "pump" while working out. Arginine also helps preserve lean muscle tissue, stimulates growth hormone release and has a positive effect on raising insulin-like growth factor. All these benefits working together from one amino have established arginine as one of the single most effective (and popular) sports compounds ever for enhancing exercise and producing lean mass. And if this weren't enough, arginine may have a favorable effect on male sexual health and erectile dysfunction as well due to the increased blood flow. Arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate is the more bioavailable and preferred form for its superior muscle pump facilitation and faster anabolic results. Another advantage in the AKG is that because of its high bioavailability only 6 grams per day is needed.
Used for: Exercise performance, muscle growth, precursor to carnosine, nitrogen transport.
Amount daily: 2 grams
Optimal use: 20-30 minutes before workout. Take with creatine for best effect.
The amino acid Beta alanine (beta designates an amino acid classification of alanine which can be alpha or beta) has several very crucial roles in protein synthesis (muscle growth). It's also the primary compound that provides the muscles with stored glycogen during workouts as well as transporting nitrogen, the key component for muscle synthesis.1 Perhaps its most important function is as a precursor to the di-peptide carnosine, showing in a four-week study to significantly elevate levels by as much as 66%. This is important because carnosine has demonstrated a lactic acid buffering effect, which may lower the fatigue threshold allowing for a more effective workout. Indeed, this study credited a combination of creatine and beta alanine for higher lactic acid threshold in one study group compared to a control group using creatine alone. If carnosine's the goal, then why not take carnosine? Carnosine is broken down in the digestive tract so that only 40% is left as beta alanine to be re-synthesized as carnosine again, so you'll actually end up with more carnosine in the long run if you take a beta alanine supplement.
Used for: Energy, exercise recovery, weight-loss and focus, anti-catabolic action.
Amount daily: Up to 2000 mg per day.
Optimal use: Up to 1000 mg immediately prior to training. Take any additional pre-workout supplement Â½ hour before training so as not to interfere with the absorption of ALC. ALC can also be taken on an empty stomach between meals for energy enhancement and focus support. Do not take with food or other aminos.
Aceytl L-carnitine (often referred to as ALC) is a more bioavailable form of the amino acid carnitine, a non-essential amino acid that assists fat metabolism by helping transport free fatty acids into the mitochondria of cells where they can be used as a source of energy. The acetyl version is preferred because it more easily crosses through cell membranes, including the blood-brain barrier making it an excellent brain cell energizer as well. If you need a little focus and pick-me-up during the workday, or any time for that matter, ALC should do the trick, even enhancing mood for many people. ALC is a powerful free-radical scavenger and has also been shown to suppress cortisol, the muscle wasting protein. Studies have validated its energy and muscle recuperative assistance. This along with its fundamental role in helping convert fat to energy makes it one of the most versatile and effective sports supplements available. Of all the amino acids, ALC may be the most effective in supporting weight-loss and energy.
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