One of the most commonly used supplements in fitness and strength training is without a doubt amino acids in different forms. It is a category that you easily can get confused about and there is many different opinions about the category and what to use. This article is created to cover and describe the most commonly used products of the amino acid category and to give insight in which product that has the highest relevance for the individual to use as a supplement, based on the goals.
Why use amino acids as a supplement?
Before the single amino acid products is explained and described, we need to clarify why it is so relevant to have an amino acid product on the supplement list.
Protein is the foundation of building muscle tissue, and protein is made by amino acids.
We have 20 amino acids that can create proteins for building muscle tissue and maintaining body functions. These can be divided into 2 categories;
Essential amino acids and none-essential amino acids.
There is 12 none-essential amino acids, which the body can create on its own and therefore it is not essential to get those through the diet.
The 8 essential amino acids is, on the other hand, as the body cannot create these. Meat, eggs and dairy products contains a high amount of essential amino acids, which is why it is a common food choice for the fitness enthusiasts.
This is where an amino acid supplement has its relevance – to bring essential amino acids.
A supplementation with amino acids is most relevant as an intra-workout supplement, both when it comes to strength training/bodybuilding, but also cardio. It has a positive effect on recovery and muscle growth as an intra-workout supplement – and here is why.
A pictorial explanation of the functions and benefits of supplementation with an amino acid product is, that you can imagine that every time you put your body through a hard workout in the gym, you dig a hole that you are in and have to get out of as quick as possible. This hole defines the amount of stress, stimulus and muscle tissue breakdown you create when you train and that you have to recover from afterwards, in order to grow muscle tissue and strength.
The deeper the hole is, the harder it is to get out of and our wish is to get out fast.
The function of amino acids as an intra-workout supplement is, that it limits the depth of the hole you dig, so it is easier for you to get out of.
The fatale scenario for your results is, that the depth of the hole gets too deep and the body does not get the nutrition and recovery time it needs to get out. The result of that will be a complete plateau regarding to strength and muscle growth.
In other words;
Amino acids as an intra-workout supplement can benefit you by speeding up the recovery time and limit the damage done at the muscles, so that you can train that particular muscle group again faster.
What kind of amino acid supplements should be used?
EAA (essential amino acids) and BCAA (Branched chained amino acids) is the most commonly used and known products. They both contain essential amino acids and comes in pills or powder.
Again, mostly used as an intra-workout supplement to stimulate protein synthesis, conservation of a positive muscle protein balance and to speed up recovery time.
The difference between the two products is that EAA contains all essential amino acids and BCAA only contains the three essentials that are thought to be the most important ones (L-leucine, L-isoleucine and valine).
In order to create a new protein in the muscle, all essential amino acids are required, which is why the EAA product definitely is the one to prefer. A protein consists more or less of all 20 amino acids, which means that it is crucial to get all essential amino acids through the diet and supplements, as it is a necessity to stimulate protein synthesis for growing muscle and strength. This can be done with the EAA, but not by the BCAA alone, as the full spectrum of essential amino acids not will be available. By having all essential amino acids in the intra-workout and not only the three, the depth of the hole we dig when we train as described earlier will be limited even more. Therefore, the EAA is to prefer when it comes to recovery and stimulation of protein synthesis.
Below is examples of high quality EAA products.
Then why use BCAA?
BCAA can benefit with the effect of suppressing protein breakdown in the muscle cell and act supportive when it comes to preserve an anabolic state instead of catabolic, which is desired.
A higher amount of BCAA available in the blood can contribute to signaling that the body does not need to activate protein breakdown, and can act protein-saving.
This is the primary effect of BCAA. So again, there is more advantages and benefits of choosing the EAA instead of BCAA, but BCAA can also contribute with positive effects.
We can hereby conclude, that if the desire is to stimulate protein synthesis, muscle growth and speed up recovery time as much as possible, EAA is to prefer over BCAA as the full spectrum of essential amino acids is available. Intense strength training is proven to have an effect on the speed of protein synthesis and therefore an intra-workout supplement with amino acids can be beneficial to speed up recovery and growth of muscle tissue. Amino acids should be used as a supplement and it is important to have the protein need covered through the diet.