Amino acids have the potential to cause weight gain, but their impact depends on a few variables. Like carbs and fats, amino acids contribute calories, which must be balanced by your activity level and energy needs.
While amino acids do contribute calories to your overall diet, they won't necessarily cause weight gain.
Amino acids are different from carbs and fats because they're essential for building every part of your body, from muscles and skin to blood and organs. This means they should be used to produce proteins before they end up being stored as fat.
Supplements with branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA, for weight gain are often used to boost muscle growth.
Understand Amino Acid Metabolism
Carbohydrate, fat and protein — the three macronutrients — provide fuel to energize your body. Sugar from carbohydrates is the body's first choice for energy, then it turns to fats if carbs run out.
While amino acids from digested proteins can be turned into glucose for energy, they're more essential for building your body and maintaining healthy tissues. As long as you have enough calories to meet your energy needs, amino acids are first used to synthesize new proteins.
If you have excess amino acids, they're used for energy or converted into fat.
Recognize Calories From Amino Acids
Amino acids contribute 4 calories for every gram of protein you consume. Carbohydrates also have 4 calories per gram, while fats are a more concentrated source of energy, with 9 calories per gram, according to Washington State University.
Because they contain calories, amino acids can end up as extra pounds of fat on your body. However, the only way amino acids cause weight gain is when you consume more total calories than your body uses for energy.
Depending on your age and activity level, women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories daily, while men should consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories, estimates the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Follow the Protein Recommendations
Rather than worrying about calories from amino acids, plan a menu that provides all of the nutrients you need, while staying within calorie goals. First determine the optimal number of calories you need, then divvy up the total calories between carbs, fats and amino acids from proteins.
The National Academies of Sciences recommends getting 10 to 35 percent of your total calories from protein. Forty-five to 65 percent should come from carbs and the remaining 20 to 35 percent from mostly unsaturated fats.
Read more: How Protein Can Help You Lose More Weight
Consider the Source
The source of your amino acids affects their potential to make you gain weight. You'll get about 21 grams of protein from a 3-ounce serving of meat, poultry or fish, according to the University of Wisconsin.
If you choose a 3 ounce serving of fish such as flounder, you'll only consume 100 calories, while a chicken breast has 105 calories, and high-fat meats such as chuck roast contains 305 calories, reports the USDA.
Beans have 7 grams of low-fat protein in a 1/2-cup serving. Nuts, seeds, quinoa and other whole grains are also sources of protein, but their calories vary, so check their labels.
- National Academies of Sciences: "Macronutrients"
- University of Wisconsin: "High Protein Food Sources"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Flounder"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Chicken Breast"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beef, Chuck, Blade Roast, Separable Lean and FAt, Trimmed to 1/8" Fat, Choice, Cooked, Braised"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beans"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Washington State University: "Nutrition Basics"