Make amino acids work for you with this easy-to-understand guide
You’ve heard the term before, but have you considered exactly what amino acids are? We’re breaking down the ins and outs of these essential proteins to help you give your body what it needs to live vitally.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids contribute to the development of protein within the body and are vital in promoting wound repair and encouraging healthy tissue in muscles, bones, skin and hair. Amino acids are also crucial in eliminating waste deposits related to metabolism (1).
Foods Containing Amino Acids
Out of the 22 amino acids, there are nine essential amino acids: Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine, and Histidine (2). Foods containing all nine of these amino acids are called complete proteins (3). Some of these complete proteins include (4, 5, 6, 7):
- Chia seeds
These complete proteins are essential to our overall health, which is why they are comprised of the essential amino acids. Our bodies need all nine of these essential amino acids for basic health; since our bodies cannot make them naturally, we must get them from other sources (3).
Making a complete protein
Foods that lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins, and must be supplemented with other proteins to make up for the missing amino acids. Nuts eaten on their own, for example, are an incomplete protein because they don’t have all essential amino acids (called non-essential amino acids), but when you add a balancing food that contains the missing amino acids, you get a complete protein! You might be surprised to see just how many foods we eat together that make up complete proteins. It’s as if our body know how to make smart combinations.
Food combinations that make complete proteins:
- Hummus and pita
- Oatmeal and almond butter
- Rice and beans
- Peanut butter and bread
- Lentils and rice
Non-essential amino acids are proteins that our body can naturally produce on its own (18). Non-essential amino acids play an integral role in removing toxins from the body, supports metabolism, encourage healthy digestion, and aid in promoting healthy body tissue (19). The non-essential amino acids include Cysteine, Alanine, Proline, Serine, Asparagine, Glutamic Acid, Tyrosine, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Glutamine (1).
To ensure you’re getting complete protein into your diet, a supplement can help. Vital Proteins Banana Cinnamon Collagen Whey or Bone Broth Collagen available in chicken or beef are three products that contain all nine essential amino acids while providing collagen protein that supports digestion, supports healthy hair, skin, and nails, aids in muscle recovery, and promotes bone and joint health.
What amino acids can do for you
Amino Acids for Youthful Skin
Studies have shown that amino acids, like Glutamine, can contribute directly to healthy hair and skin by supplying essential nutrients to strengthen connective tissue that supports skin elasticity, and hair and nail strength (13, 14, 15). Glutamine, a non-essential amino acid, is vital in maintaining skin health, however, our bodies produce it more slowly as we age (1). Since Glutamine regulates the acid-base balance, it can support skin firmness (20).
Two amino acids in particular–arginine and carnitine–form creatine, which supports natural skin functions that ultimately produce collagen and elastin through cells that can repair damaged DNA. The formation of collagen through creatine is important because connective tissue is protected and contributes to strong tendons, cartilage, and ligaments. Healthy skin is reliant on the formation of collagen in order to replenish moisture which reduces fine lines, increases elasticity, and increases skin smoothness (16).
Amino Acids for Weight Management
Studies have shown that high-protein foods help people feel fuller, longer, as opposed to foods heavy in carbohydrate or fat content, ultimately reducing overeating (6). A majority of Carnitine, a non-essential amino acid, is found in the muscles (12). Carnitine has been shown to supply oxygen to muscles, which can aid in exercise recovery (22).
One of glutamine’s claim to fame is improving gut health, but glutamine can also be converted to glucose without affecting the body’s glucagon and insulin counts. This enhances the energy supply while passing up fat storage caused by insulin (8). Essentially, Glutamine protects your body from storing sugars and fats, allowing you to feel more energized and alert.
Amino Acids for Muscle Development
Amino acids are essential for the growth and development of muscles (2). Methionine, one of the nine essential amino acids, has been shown to promote the production of creatine, which aids in the development of muscle mass (9), while Lysine can help muscles recover after extensive movement (10).
One study showed that rats that were given essential amino acid supplements experienced increased muscle development, as well as bone mass and strength (11). This was due to increased calcium absorption within the bones as a result of the amino acid supplement (21).
- 3 cups water
- 2 servings Bone Broth Collagen Powder
- 1 2" knob of fresh ginger - peeled and sliced
- 1 1" knob of fresh turmeric - peeled and sliced
- 2 slices fresh lemon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Add all ingredients into a pot. Bring to a boil. Remove liquid from heat. Strain ingredients. Sip and savor.
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(5) Nutritional Quality of the Protein in Quinoa Seeds. Nair, BM, Raules, J. Foods for Human Nutrition Jan. 1992; 42(1): 1-11
(6) Leidy, H. J., Tang, M., Armstrong, C. L., Martin, C. B., & Campbell, W. W. (2010). The Effects of Consuming Frequent, Higher Protein Meals on Appetite and Satiety During Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Men. Obesity,19(4), 818-824. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203
(7) Insoluble fraction of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) protein possessing cholesterol-binding properties that reduce micelle cholesterol solubility and uptake by Caco-2 cells. Metzger, B.T., Barnes, D.M., Reed, J.D. Department of Animal Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2007 Jul 25;55(15): 6032-8.
(8) Prada, P.O., Hirabara, S.M., de Souza, C.T., Schenka, A.A., Zecchin,H.G., Vassallo, J., Velloso, L.A., Carneiro, E., Carvalheira, J.B., Curi, R. & Saad, M.J. (2007) L-glutamine supplementation induces insulin resistance in adipose tissue and improves insulin signalling in liver and muscle with diet-induced obesity, Diabetologia, Volume 50, issue 9, (pp. 149-159)
(9) Methionine. (n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2017, from http://www.aminoacid-studies.com/amino-acids/methionine.html
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(12)Evans, A. M., & Fornasini, G. (2003). Pharmacokinetics of L-Carnitine. Clinical Pharmacokinetics,42(11), 941-967. doi:10.2165/00003088-200342110-00002
(13) Saini, R. & Zanwar, A. A. (2013) Arginine Derived Nitric Oxide: Key to Healthy Skin, Bioactive Dietary Factors and Plant Extracts in Dermatology (pp. 73-82)
(14) Evangeliou, A. & Vlassopoulos, D. (2003) Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit – When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Volume 4, issue 3, (pp. 211-219)
(15) Reda, E., D’Iddio, S., Nicolai, R., Benatti, P. & Calvani, M. (2003) The Carnitine System and Body Composition Acta Diabetol, issue 40, (pp. 106-103)
(16) Williams, J.Z., Abumrad, N. & Barbul, A. (2002) Effect of a Specialized Amino Acid Mixture on Human Collagen Deposition Annals of Surgery, Volume 236, issue 3, (pp. 369-375)
(17) Amino acid composition and nutritive value of the alga Spirulina maxima. Clément G, Giddey C, et al. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 1967 Nov;18(11):497-501.
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(19) W. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from https://www.dietaryfiberfood.com/amino-acids/non-essential-amino-acids.php
(20) Welbourne, T.C. (1995) Increased plasma bicarbonate and growth hormone after an oral glutamine load The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 61, issue 5, (pp. 1058-1061)
(21) Tu, M., Chen, H., Tung, Y., Kao, C., Hu, F., & Chen, C. (2015). Short-Term Effects of Kefir-Fermented Milk Consumption on Bone Mineral Density and Bone Metabolism in a Randomized Clinical Trial of Osteoporotic Patients. Plos One,10(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144231
(22) Giamberardino, M., Dragani, L., Valente, R., Lisa, F. D., Saggin, R., & Vecchiet, L. (1996). Effects of Prolonged L-Carnitine Administration on Delayed Muscle Pain and CK Release After Eccentric Effort. International Journal of Sports Medicine,17(05), 320-324. doi:10.1055/s-2007-972854