Before we dive into why 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!
Yet, it is well understood that 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.
It’s also important to understand what amino acids are. Simply put, they are the building blocks of protein and are utilized by our bodies 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 so they can be utilized for their specific functions. So why not just take protein? Great question! You can still take protein in conjunction with free form amino acids, such as those found in Amino VITAL®, but as you’ll see below, 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!
1. Prevent Fatigue
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 is better understood as systematic fatigue. This is the fatigue that you feel like you can’t shake. Many of us have had those days where you feel great physically, but when you go to complete your workout, you just aren’t there mentally. You’re not able to hit the weights you easily did last time you were working out, or you can’t keep up with your average mile pace, or you simply can’t get up off the couch. That’s because physical and mental stress tax our central nervous system, which results in central fatigue.
BCAAs and Fatigue
Amino acids, specifically the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), help protect you from both types of fatigue. First, it has been shown that BCAAs can help increase exercise capacity or time to exhaustion specifically when muscle glycogen (glucose stored in the muscle for energy) has been depleted (3). This means that 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.
When you exercise your muscle glycogen is depleted as energy. It is also depleted during a fast, like sleep. Either way, it means that you aren’t going to be able to give the same performance you normally would if your glycogen stores were full. BCAAs help counters 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).
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). Now, you do have some free BCAAs in your body, but if you’re being active, your muscles are using them up at the same time it is releasing more tryptophan (1). This is where supplementing with free form BCAAs, like those in Amino VITAL ® can help balance that extra release of tryptophan and counter the fatigue brought on by activity.
2. 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’s some sound advice, you shouldn’t draw from your 401k. Just like you should do what you can to protect your muscles from wasting away.
So what exactly happens to our muscles when we are active? Well, 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 some of these symptoms so that you could get back to your life a little quicker? 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 and how much volume would you be putting in with just one extra day a week? The answer is, a whole lot more.
Well, that’s 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!
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 compared to control. 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 a BCAA mixture before the exercise, while 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, while the placebo group only exerted around 80% compared to what they did previously. 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 and me? Well, it means that taking Amino VITAL®, which contains vegan sourced BCAAs, Arginine, and Glutamine before and after exercise could help you bounce back quicker from your active, healthy lifestyle.
The soreness we feel from living an active lifestyle usually 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. The next day was a different story though. You struggled to get up the stairs and your legs couldn’t seem to support your body weight. Or maybe you experienced this distinct soreness when you took your child to a rollerblading party and thought you’d get back out there on the skates like in the glory days. The next day it felt like there was a knife stabbing you on the inside of your thigh.
This soreness is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS and it is actually a minor muscle strain that occurs when we engage in a new activity or a high-intensity activity (9). This can adversely affect performance and the symptoms, such as, “dull pain and muscle stiffness,” can last for up to 5 or 7 days (2).
A study conducted at the Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education, a division of East Tennessee State University, an Olympic Training site, showed that runners reported less soreness in their lower extremities when supplementing with Amino VITAL® vs placebo when taken before and after their training sessions (2). You normally experience DOMS after engaging in new, intense activities, especially exercises that have eccentric motion, such as weightlifting. For those elite runners, their training wasn’t anything new. They were used to pushing themselves day in and day out and yet, supplementation with amino acids was 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.
3. 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).
In order to be absorbed and utilized, intact, complete proteins need to be digested first. In contrast, free amino acids are absorbed more quickly and 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, just like you don’t 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 and can be taken if you are trying to maintain ketosis or are just watching your overall calorie consumption. We also discussed 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 Amino VITAL® you also avoid a lot of the extra fillers and junk that come with many of the products on the market, because no artificial flavorings, dyes, or fillers are used in the products.
4. Quality & Purity
So this brings us back to that initial question of why amino acids over protein? You may be thinking, “Okay, 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?” Before we jump into that, let me again state that no one supplement will solve all the nutrition problems out there.
This article is not saying that you should just take amino acids and never ignore your overall nutrition again. 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!
What you do need to be wary of is the quality of the supplements you are putting into your body. Pure amino acids and protein powders are made in very different ways, which means they can come with their own risk 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. In fact, the study showed that plant-based proteins actually 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 that are used in Amino VITAL® are sourced from a patented fermentation of plant material and not an extraction process, thereby eliminating the chance of contamination by absorption of metals from the ground. Amino VITAL® uses AjiPure® pharmaceutical grade amino acids in all products to ensure the highest quality possible.
The amino acids used in Amino VITAL® 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 Amino VITAL® 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 Amino VITAL® products are certified vegan, certified gluten-free, non-GMO, and are tested by independent third parties for banned substances.
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.
- – Amino VITAL® 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.
Blomstrand, E. (2006). A Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Reducing Central Fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition,136(2), 544-547. doi:10.1093/jn/136.2.544s
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
Shimomura, Y., Inaguma, A., Watanabe, S., Yamamoto, Y., Muramatsu, Y., Bajotto, G., . . . Mawatari, K. (2010). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation before Squat Exercise and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,20(3), 236-244. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.20.3.236