Are Amino Acid Supplements a Waste of Money?

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Amino Acid Supplements

Protein is made up of amino acids, and these amino acids are necessary for vital body processes such as creating hormones and neurotransmitters. 

Amino acids are mostly found in foods high in protein such as meats, fish and seafood, dairy, and soy products. 

Some people choose to take amino acid supplements to target certain health outcomes such as improving strength or boosting mood. 

Amino acids are typically considered either essential or non-essential depending. This article will explain what essential amino acids are, if you get enough from food, and when it might be helpful to add a supplement. 

What are Essential Amino Acids?

Amino acids are considered essential when the body cannot make them on its own. That means we must get essential amino acids from food and/or supplements. In other words, these amino acids are an essential part of our diet. 

In fact, there are actually 20 different amino acids that the body requires, however, only 9 of these are considered essential.

Therefore, these 9 essential amino acids must come from food or supplements. 

The 9 essential amino acids are as follows: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine (1).

Why are They Called Essential?

Simply put, some amino acids are essential because we need them to function properly. 

The human body can produce nonessential amino acids, so we don’t have to worry about getting these through our diet. 

These 9 essential amino acids play several vital roles in the body. To name a few, these amino acids build muscles and bones, transport nutrients, produce neurotransmitters, support the immune system, and allow for appropriate digestion and absorption in the gastrointestinal system. 

Without these amino acids, health issues such as a weakened immune system, depression, fertility complications, stunted growth, reduced mental alertness, and many more would likely arise. 

How are EAAs Different From BCAAs?

A subcategory within essential amino acids is another group called branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. 

There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

These BCAAs are still considered essential, however, they are given their name due to their branched structure. On a molecular level, these amino acids have side chains that give way to their special bodily roles. 

Compared to the other essential amino acids, BCAAs receive a lot of attention in the literature. In fact, there is significant research that points to the benefits of taking supplemental BCAAs, especially as it relates to athletic performance. 

The following section will further detail some of the benefits of amino acid supplements, including the benefits of BCAAs. 

Benefits of Amino Acid Supplements

A large majority of the research on supplemental amino acids focuses on BCAAs. 

Research suggests that supplementing with leucine may help improve body composition by increasing muscle growth. Plus, it can also help heal skin and bones, particularly after an injury (2).

Additionally, valine has been shown to boost muscle growth and recovery, especially after strength training exercises (3).

Isoleucine is another branched-chain amino acid and is found mainly in muscle tissue. It plays a great role in the immune system as well as in metabolic function (4).

In addition to the BCAAs, research suggests that some other essential amino acids can be helpful for targeting certain goals. For example, tryptophan supplements may help boost mood, as tryptophan is an essential precursor to serotonin. There are also some amino acids, particularly arginine and glutamine, that specifically target wound healing and can help speed recovery after surgery.

Do I Get Enough EAAs From Food?

It’s actually pretty easy to meet your daily essential amino acid needs. After all, they’re found in quite a wide variety of foods. 

Some of the best sources of essential amino acids include animal proteins such as beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, eggs, seafood, and dairy products, for example. There are also plant-based sources of protein such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame, that contain all essential amino acids. 

However, if you have a restrictive diet and are struggling to meet your protein needs, it’s possible – although unlikely – that you are not getting adequate essential amino acids from food.

Even if you do get all your essential amino acids from food, it can actually still be beneficial to take concentrated amounts in supplemental form, depending on your health goals. 

Should I Get an Amino Acids Supplement?

As noted in the previous section, most people get enough essential amino acids through their diet.

However, if you’re looking to take your health to the next level such as boosting muscle growth, enhancing performance at the gym, speeding up recovery from an injury, supporting the immune system, or even boosting mental health, taking a high-quality amino acid supplement might be helpful. 

If you do choose to include an essential amino acid supplement into your routine, be sure to choose a high-quality product that is free of additives and artificial sweeteners, such as Naked EAAS. 

It’s probably helpful to also note that taking amino acid supplements is considered safe for most individuals. However, if you’re interested in taking amino acid supplements, it might be best to discuss with your doctor or registered dietitian to get a better understanding of how amino acids may benefit you and help you reach your goals. 

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