Often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, amino acids are compounds used by the body to perform certain functions.
Your body needs amino acids to carry out biological processes like cell building and the synthesis of hormones. They are also aid in muscle growth, synthesis of neurotransmitters, production of energy, and wound healing among other key roles.
There are usually 20 amino acids and the human body needs them all to function and grow properly. Amino acids can be categorized as follows;
· Conditionally essential amino acids.
Non-essential amino acids are usually produced in sufficient amounts by the human body. On the other hand, the body cannot synthesize essential amino acids on its own. We, therefore, need to obtain them from the food we eat.
In this post, we’ll discuss the essential amino acids, including what they are, how they function, possible food sources, and their benefits for weight loss, muscle gain, and mood.
What are Essential Amino Acids?
The body cannot synthesize 9 out of the 20 amino acids needed by the body. These are called essential amino acids and must be acquired either through supplementation or diet.
When you consume proteins through particular food, the body breaks them down into amino acids, which can be reused to make proteins required by the body.
Essential Amino Acids, and their Possible Food Sources
The nine essential amino acids are crucial to the human body, with each performing specific roles, as discussed below;
Histidine is needed to repair and grow body tissues, especially for the maintenance of the myelin sheaths. Also, research shows that amino acids can be used to protect tissues against radiation and suppress tumors.
Histidine can be acquired from beef, chicken, tuna, cheese, eggs, milk, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, peanuts, soybeans, lentils, sunflower seeds, rice, and beans.
Isoleucine works along with valine and leucine to repair and build muscles. It is mainly found in the muscle tissues and plays a crucial role in muscle metabolism, offering it the ability to do work. Also, isoleucine plays a vital role in producing hemoglobin and forming blood clots.
Isoleucine can be obtained from beef, pork, seafood, poultry, lamb, cheese, milk, eggs, beans, oats, seaweed, sesame seeds, lentils, soybeans, and sunflower seeds, among others.
They are used for muscle growth and repair. It is considered the most critical amino acid in building muscle mass. Also, leucine prompts the release of insulin and the production of growth hormones.
It can be obtained from beef, poultry, tuna, pork, cheese, collagen, shrimp, lamb, gelatin, soybeans, lentils, sunflower seeds, corn, peanuts, almonds, wheat germ, beans, and pumpkin seeds, among others.
Lysine is responsible for the production of various enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. It reduces anxiety and stress in the body, thus, enhancing an individual’s mental health.
Lysine can be obtained from poultry, shrimp, eggs, collagen, cheese, pork, beef, tuna, soybeans, lentils, oats, spirulina, quinoa, beans, and pumpkins seeds others.
Methionine contains sulfur, which is a great antioxidant for the body. It protects cells from radical damage and assists in getting rid of heavy metals from the body. Also, amino is vital in maintaining healthy liver function.
Some of the best methionine sources include poultry, salmon, tuna, eggs, milk, cheese, shrimp, pork, beans, lentils, lamb, beef, brazil nuts, tofu, soybeans, wheat germs, peanuts, and quinoa, among others.
Phenylalanine is responsible for creating other amino acids, such as tyrosine, which produces neurotransmitters, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
Some of the best sources of phenylalanine include beef, pork, tuna, eggs, collagen, gelatin, milk, cheese, pork, lamb, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, almonds, spirulina, oats, rice, quinoa, peanuts, cashews, and wheat germ, among others.
Threonine is an amino acid that plays a crucial role in producing elastin and collagen – responsible for providing stretchiness and structure to the skin. Also, the amino acid is found in the central nervous system and helps reduce anxiety and depression. Moreover, threonine is crucial for fat metabolism and prevents fat from building up in the liver.
Threonine can be obtained from beef, pork, tuna, cheese, shrimp, poultry, lamb, collagen, gelatin, cashews, lentils, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, tofu, soybeans, flaxseeds, and pistachios, among others.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is responsible for maintaining proper nitrogen balance. Also, it acts as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates a person’s mood, sleep, and appetite. Also, tryptophan has been proved to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Some of the best sources of tryptophan include beef, pork, salmon, tuna, eggs, shrimp, lamb, soybeans, beans, chia seeds, spirulina, oats, wheat germ, almond, and cashews.
Valine, along with leucine and isoleucine, is responsible for muscle growth and repair. Valine also helps maintain blood sugar as well as energy levels in the body.
Valine can be obtained from pork, tuna, gelatin, milk, eggs, cheese, collagen, beef, salmon, mushrooms, soybeans, beans, oats, spirulina, and wheat germ.
Amino Acid Supplements and Dosage
Besides eating food as a source of amino acids, you can opt for supplements. These provide you with a rapid and concentrated supply of amino acids in the body. Supplements differ in the type of amino acids and their benefits to the body.
Supplements are available in protein powder forms like whey protein, or collagen which is prepared from bone broth and isolated amino acid, such as leucine.
When taking amino acid supplements, ensure you follow the right dosage to avoid side effects. While mild side effects may result from following the wrong dosage, extreme side effects may be a sign of serious problems. Consequently, you have to discontinue taking the supplement.
Health Benefits of Essential Amino Acids
1. Greater Fat Burn
Amino acids, specifically the BCAAs, have been proved to allow individuals to burn more body fat, which, in turn, enhances weight loss. Research conducted by Healthline shows that consuming around 15 grams of BCAAs reduces the risk of becoming obese by 30%.
2. Enhances Mood and Sleep
Tryptophan plays an integral role in regulating an individual’s health. It synthesizes serotonin – a neurotransmitter that influences mood and sleep.
3. Prevent Muscle Damage
For athletes, consuming an amino acid supplement or diet 30 to 60 minutes before a workout has been proven to prevent muscle damage by jumpstarting muscle repair via protein synthesis.
4. Minimize Mental Fatigue
Amino acids, especially the BCAAs, have been proved to minimize mental fatigue during exercise and enhance cognitive performance after a workout session.
5. Boost Exercise Performance
BCAAs help in alleviating fatigue, stimulating muscle recovery, and enhancing athletic performance.
Sings and Symptoms of Amino Acid Deficiency
Lack of sufficient amino acids in the body may result from consuming little amino acids that don’t meet the body’s requirements. This condition is commonly referred to as protein deficiency and can cause negative signs like;
· Shrunk muscle mass
· Weak immunity
· Hair loss
· Impaired growth in children
· Bone loss
· Dry skin
· Puffiness and swelling
· Brittle nails
Protein deficiency can affect both young people and adults. However, it is more prevalent in older adults with chronic conditions like cancer due to an increased body demand for proteins. Vegans are also at risk of getting this condition due to low protein intake. To avoid this, they must take more food rich in plant-based proteins.
Essential amino acids are important to our bodies but cannot be produced by the body. Its, therefore, important to take the right diet and supplements to meet the needs of the body and get maximum benefits of the essential amino acids.