Amino acids combine to form various proteins. While all amino acids serve individual functions within your body, as a group, amino acids promote recovery and muscle growth. While individual amino acids have little effect on muscle growth, both extra protein and additional combinations of amino acids help you add lean muscle mass. For amino acids or any supplement to contribute to muscle growth, you need a balanced diet and well-rounded training program. Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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Twenty two standard amino acids form your bodies proteins, and eight are considered essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body, nor can they be converted from other substances. A small combination of amino acids is called a peptide, and any combination of two or more amino acids fits into this group. Larger combinations of amino acids or peptides form proteins, and these proteins comprise your muscle tissue. Amino acids can even contribute to the formation of collagen, an important connective tissue.
As you train, you traumatize your muscles, depleting glycogen, or sugar. You also break down proteins, which is why you need more protein than someone who does not exercise. Your body does not distinguish among protein sources. All proteins are broken down into their individual amino acids and used on an as-needed basis. The biggest difference between protein-rich foods such as beef and chicken is what else you are consuming with them. While individual amino acid ratios are different between proteins, at the end of the day a balanced diet will provide all the amino acids in sufficient quantity for a sedentary individual.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Certain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine, are called branched chain amino acids. These three amino acids make up nearly 35 percent of the amino acids present in your muscle tissue. While you can get them from food, supplementation of branched chain amino acids can boost recovery. While branched chain amino acids are present in food and protein supplements such as whey protein, they are bonded to other amino acids and proteins. This makes it difficult to achieve the recovery benefits of branched chain amino acids from whole foods; they simply take too long to process.
Timing of Amino Acids
Branched chain amino acids can be taken before, during or after a workout. Post-workout is not the ideal time, however, as you should be consuming a high carbohydrate and protein shake at this time to boost recovery. Amino acids alone do not provide the benefits of carbohydrates plus protein. During a workout is fine, but you may or may not have digestion issues. Experimentation is the only way to find out. Pre-workout is ideal, as you will have digested amino acids acting as a reserve to assist in protein remodeling and muscular recovery.
- "The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness"; Branched-chain Amino Acids Supplementation Enhances Exercise Capacity and Lipid Oxidation During Endurance Exercise After Muscle Glycogen Depletion; A.B. Gualano, et al.; March 2011
- "Journal of Applied Physiology"; Early Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Recovery is Enhanced with a Carbohydrate-protein Supplement.; John L. Ivy, et al., October 2002
- "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism"; Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation Before Squat Exercise and Delayed-onset Muscle Soreness; Y. Shimomura, et al.; June 2010