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Do I Need Amino Acid Supplements If Trying to Build Muscle?

author image Angela Brady
Angela Brady has been writing since 1997. Currently transitioning to a research career in oncolytic virology, she has won awards for her work related to genomics, proteomics, and biotechnology. She is also an authority on sustainable design, having studied, practiced and written extensively on the subject.
Do I Need Amino Acid Supplements If Trying to Build Muscle?
A muscular man is drinking from a supplement bottle. Photo Credit marinovicphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Amino acids are stars in the supplement world, hailed as the magic touch for those who wish to build huge amounts of muscle as quickly as possible. While amino acids are important to your muscles, they won't build them for you -- only heavy weight training can do that. Many bodybuilders take multiple amino acid supplements at once, thinking that they are giving themselves a boost, but that's not true. Bodybuilding without any amino acids is fruitless, but there's no evidence that individual oral supplementation provides an extra benefit.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the individual components that make up a protein molecule. There are 20 in total, each present in varying concentrations to perform a specific purpose. Individually, amino acids are highly specialized. When they group together to form proteins, they play a role in almost everything that goes on inside your body. Of the 20 amino acids, your body produces 10 of them all by itself. The other 10 are called "essential amino acids" because you must get them from food.

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Essential Amino Acids

The amino acids you must ingest include leucine, isoleucine, lycine, methionine, histidine, phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan and threonine. Arginine is necessary for children, but usually not adults. Arginine is also one of the most common amino acid supplements, along with lycine and tryptophan, but beneficial effects of oral supplementation have not been proven. Theoretically, tryptophan should raise your pain threshold, allowing you to work out harder, and arginine and lysine should trigger the release of additional human growth hormone to allow your muscles to grow larger. It sounds like a bodybuilder's dream cocktail, but the theory did not translate into real-world findings, according to a 2005 paper in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition."

The Other 10

Your body makes its own tyrosine, serine, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, proline, glycine, aspartic acid, alanine and asparagine. You get tyrosine from phenylalanine, one of the essential amino acids, so if your diet isn't balanced, you may suffer from a tyrosine deficiency only because your body doesn't have the ingredients to make it -- but it won't make you build muscle faster. Many supplement stores carry glutamine and aspartic acid, neither of which have been proven to improve bodybuilding results. Taurine is another non-essential amino acid found in energy drinks, which may help your body recover from exercise faster because it has antioxidant properties, but does not bind with other amino acids to form proteins.

What To Do

Don't spend money on amino acid supplements unless you've been diagnosed with a deficiency, in which case your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment. If you're healthy, concentrate on eating a balanced diet that includes adequate protein to provide for muscle growth -- about 0.63 to 0.77 grams per pound of body weight, according to the American Dietetic Association. If you eat animal protein, like meat, fish or poultry, you'll get complete protein -- in other words, all of the essential amino acids. If you're a vegetarian, eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you don't miss out on certain amino acids. If you have difficulty meeting your protein allowance, use a protein supplement shake mix instead of individual amino acids.

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