“Protein” is widely known as a beneficial factor to your body’s structural health. It is essential for muscle growth, and it is a basic source of energy. However, “protein” actually describes a number of different compounds, or “proteins," which are all made up of amino acids.
As the “building blocks” of proteins, amino acids are worth considering as the primary suppliers of the same benefits you would get from proteins. There are various benefits to the consumption of amino acids, because it turns out that amino acids play a critical role in many of your bodily processes, not just muscle growth.
Essential Amino Acids
According to healthline.com, amino acids are considered either essential, conditionally essential, or nonessential. While all 20 amino acids in existence are necessary for your body to grow and/or function properly, only some of them are considered immediately essential for consumption.
Essential amino acids are the nine that are not produced by your body, and must be obtained through consumption of the right foods. If your body has enough of the essential amino acids, as well as the amino acids it produces by itself, then your body will be able to produce a sufficient amount of protein.
Given the myriad benefits of the essential amino acids, let’s take a look at seven of them:
Amino Acids Reduce Fatigue from Exercise
Of the nine essential amino acids, three of them are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Per webmd.com, the BCAAs are distinguished by their chemical structure, which allows them to work in ways that other amino acids do not. The three BCAAs are valine, leucine, and isoleucine. According to a study found on pubmed.com, BCAAs can be helpful to reduce the mental fatigue one feels during intense exercise. While intense exercise can blur your mental clarity because your muscles demand more energy to function, BCAAs can potentially reduce this blurring and keep you clear-headed while you work out.
Improve Muscle Growth
BCAAs are popular with many athletes. For one thing, consumption of BCAAs following a workout has been proven to increase muscle growth, per healthline.com. However, according to healthline.com, the benefits of consuming BCAAs, which are often found in supplement form, are maximized only when they are consumed alongside the other essential amino acids. Therefore, consumption of all of the amino acids together, and especially BCAAs, is sure to help increase your muscle growth from exercise.
Amino Acids Can Decrease Muscle Damage
According to a 2012 study found on pubmed.com (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22569039), athletes who consume BCAAs prior to an intense workout are likely to experience less delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the 24-72 hours after exercise, when compared to athletes who do not take BCAAs. Decreased muscle damage can be critically helpful to athletes who train regularly, as recovery time is essential between intense workouts in order for the benefits to set in. With decreased muscle damage, athletes can get back to their intense workouts quicker with regular consumption of BCAAs.
Prevent Muscle Breakdown Over Time
Per healthline.com, research has shown that consumption of BCAAs and the other essential amino acids is likely to decrease the amount of muscle wasting, or breakdown, that occurs over time. Yes, this is useful to athletes. However, this benefit shows that amino acids can also be extremely useful for other populations, such as the elderly.
Improve Immune System Function
As stated earlier, the benefits of consuming sufficient amino acids are myriad, going far beyond just muscle growth. Per the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some amino acids play a helpful role in immune system function. The two amino acids cited as directly improving immune system function are threonine and isoleucine. With a balanced intake of BCAAs and other essential amino acids, your body’s immune system is more likely to effectively fight off sickness.
Benefits to People with Liver Disease
Per healthline.com, BCAAs have been shown to play a role in the improvement of more than one type of liver disease. Hepatic encephalopathy is a condition in which brain function is impaired when the liver is unable to remove toxins from the bloodstream. While consumption of BCAAs has not been shown to remedy this disease, it has been shown to decrease the symptoms and signs of the disease.
The benefits of sufficient amino acid consumption are evident, no matter your condition. Considering the basic function of amino acids as “building blocks” of protein – as well as the variety of benefits – it is clear that having enough amino acids in your diet is essential for your overall health.
If amino acids are not highly prevalent in your diet, then they can be supplemented by over-the-counter supplements, or whey protein. Regardless, take care to ensure you are consuming amino acids for the sake of your muscles, immune system, and overall health.