Amino AcidsAmino Acids
When it comes to explaining what amino acids are in colloquial terms so that anyone can understand, we often say that they are the ‘building blocks’ or ‘bricks’ used by the body to form proteins.
In fact, the organism is able to form tendons, organs, muscles, nails, hair, or hormones just from the 20 types of amino acids that exist.
What are Amino Acids?
In this sense, an amino acid is an organic molecule formed by an amino group, which is known as NH2, and a carboxyl group or COOH. Their combination triggers a reaction that releases a water molecule (H2O) and produces a peptide bond.
Generally, amino acids are crystalline substances with a sweet flavor and, chemically speaking, they are regarded as carbonic acids. Their binding results in the formation of proteins, which takes place in the cell ribosomes.
Moreover, the chemical behavior of the amino acids will be determined by the alpha carbon atom, which is in charge of keeping the amino and carboxylic groups bound together.
Sportspeople require a higher amino acids consumption because they have an increased physical wear when compared to the general public.
Characteristics of Amino Acids
Amino acids are nitrogenous molecules that bind to form a bigger molecular structure called a protein.
Currently, there are 20 known amino acids that are divided in two groups: Essential and Non-Essential.
All about Amino Acids
Generally, these molecules are hydrophilic and when they get in contact with water their structure is not affected, as well as hydrophobic when they cannot be detected in this element, since they rather hide in fats and other types of oily substances.
Why are Amino Acids so important for our body?
First of all, amino acids play a key role within the human organism because they are an indispensable component to make proteins. Therefore, they are vital for the process of protein synthesis that, later on and as dictated by DNA, will modulate other structures like the hormones, enzymes, or antibodies, which are essential for life.
To put it briefly, the protein synthesis is a truly complex process to which we have devoted several articles where we have learned some useful information like how the organism takes the essential amino acids from food, as well as non-essential amino acids, whether the body has to synthesize them or not. Then, once they are absorbed, either in the stomach or intestine, they reach the cell ribosomes where this sophisticated mechanism will take place.
How do they work?
The DNA that is concentrated in the nucleus is the molecule that has the code with the information about the structure of the protein and, therefore, the way in which the amino acids have to be distributed in it. So, in order to go through the membrane of said nucleus, the information is synthesized in a RNA molecule, which is the one in charge of reaching the ribosome.
Once inside the ribosome and with the appropriate information to build the particular type of protein, the amino acids are arranged in such a way that the first one gives part of its carboxylic acid to join the amino group of the following amino acid. This process happens successively until the protein is formed.
In this sense, it is possible to know which is the first amino acid of the chain, since its amino group will be intact, and the last will have the same carboxylic group.
What are the functions of Amino Acids?
Naturally, the main function of amino acids is to participate in the Protein Synthesis process and form complex protein structures that will contribute to the performance of vital organic processes. However, they also specialize in performing a number of very important functions by themselves, in a different section apart from the creation of new protein structures.
First of all, it should be taken into account that most illnesses that affect human beings are mostly due to an unhealthy lifestyle. In this sense, obesity, diabetes, insomnia, arthritis, cholesterol excess, hypertension, or erectile dysfunction are great examples. In fact, most of the bad habits that result in these conditions are closely related to our diet and the kind of food we eat.
Beyond the excessive consumption of fats or harmful substances, the truth is that an amino acids deficiency only worsens the problem and prolongs it over time. In general, amino acids are in charge of transporting all the nutrients and optimizing their storage.
At this point, we could just give information about the functions of amino acids in general. However, since we are going to use the following epigraph to explain the existing amino acids types, we will take the chance to outline the main functions that each one of these amino acids perform in our organism.
What are Essential Amino Acids?
In short, essential amino acids are those that are found in proteins that the organism cannot synthesize on its own and, therefore, they must be obtained through food In general, they are found in foods of animal origin and in the exact proportions that the human body needs to create its own structures. Vegetable sources lack some amino acids, so it is advisable to combine them.
For this reason, a large number of customers have resorted to buying branched-chain amino acids during low-calorie diets, fasting workouts, or even for people whose protein intake is not adequate, such as the elderly or people with liver problems.
Which are the Essential Amino Acids?
It is considered that there are 20 types of amino acids, 9 of which are essential, although 2 of them are conditionally essential. Let’s explain them:
Histidine is a vital amino acid to repair the tissues and for bone and muscle growth. In addition, it has a strong presence in hemoglobin and it is used to fight anemia, ulcers, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis. It also performs a key task in the protection of nerve cells due to the fact that it keeps the myelin sheaths that cover these cells in proper conditions.
Moreover, it is essential for the production of white and red blood cells, since our body will produce histamine from histidine, and that product will be involved in the formation of red and white blood cells. On the other hand, histidine will also help to reduce blood pressure, eliminate heavy metals, prevent damage from harmful radiation, and increase libido. It is considered an essential amino acid for children, but not for adults.
Leucine lowers glucose levels in the blood and stimulates the production of the growth hormone – leucine prevents the loss of muscle mass. In the same way, it helps to heal the muscle, bone, and skin tissue faster when it is combined with isoleucine and valine.
It also is involved in a physiological activation mechanism, known as the “mTOR pathway“, and through which the protein synthesis processes are set into motion.
Like histidine, it is critical for the production of hemoglobins, as well as for the regulation of the energy levels and glucose in the blood. Moreover, this amino acid is specially beneficial for sportspeople because it repairs muscle tissues that have suffered heavy wear after an intense workout session.
Together with Leucine and Isoleucine, they form the trio known as the “Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s” due to their molecular structure. They perform important functions for the maintenance of muscle mass. Valine is essential for coordination, muscle metabolism, and tissue repair. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the liver and gallbladder, apart from promoting greater vigor and mental acuity.
Lysine is in charge of the proper absorption and transport of calcium, and of the stability of hydrogen levels. Lysine is also an essential part of collagen which makes up the connective tissue and cartilage. In addition, it is involved in the production of antibodies and its consumption is especially recommended for the treatment of herpes. Another important function of the lysine amino acid is that it works together with vitamin C to prevent the formation of blood clots.
The brain would be unable to produce norepinephrine without this amino acid. Norepinephrine is a catecholamine – a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter – which is in charge of transmitting the signals between the different cells that make up the nervous system.
Additionally, it has a very positive effect on the mood, it decreases pain levels, and encourages learning. It is used to combat depression, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, among other diseases in medicine.
Methionine is an excellent source of sulfur which promotes the maintenance of skin, nails, and hair tissues, apart from being an excellent antioxidant element that prevents the accumulation of fat in the arteries and liver.
Methionine helps to detoxify the organism from heavy metals. It is also advisable for women who use oral contraceptive medicines, since it also stimulates the excretion of estrogens.
Interestingly, the amino acid theanine that is in charge of maintaining adequate levels of proteins within the organism. Apart from contributing to the production of collagen which helps to preserve the connective tissues in good conditions, like the skin, and teeth enamel, and elastin (improves tissue elasticity), it also helps to eliminate the fat from the liver when it is combined with methionine and aspartic acid.
An amino acid with a powerful relaxing effect that is perfect for those who have sleep problems as well as anxiety and/or depression. It also works really well for migraines and it reduces the appetite, so its consumption is advised for people that are trying to lose weight.
What are Non-Essential Amino Acids?
On the other hand, non-essential amino acids can be obtained through food or synthesized by our own organism from other amino acids.
What are the Non-Essential Amino Acids?
Like histidine, the amino acid arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid, depending on the circumstances. In any case, it strengthens the immune system and delays the onset and development of tumors in people who suffer from cancer. It also detoxifies the liver by neutralizing ammonia and reduces the chronic effects of alcohol.
Arginine is in charge of directing the blood flow to the virile member during male arousal. It participates in the urea cycle, a detoxifying process through which the body eliminates metabolic waste, that is produced during the catabolism of amino acids.
It is vital for the proper transfer of nitrogen from the tissues that surround the liver, in order to metabolize glucose, detoxify the body, and for a correct and adequate production of antibodies by the immune system.
One of its main functions is related to the excretion and purification processes of the organism. It is perfect for endurance athletes since it increases resistance and reduces chronic fatigue.
Aspartic acid also has powerful effects against depression, it protects the liver, and helps with the metabolism and formation of cell structures.
Due to its antioxidant effect, cysteine is very effective to detoxify the organism overall. Cysteine protects the organs from the harmful effects of substances found in alcohol, tobacco, and drugs in general, as well as preventing the hardening of the arteries and rheumatoid arthritis.
Cysteine is also a precursor form of Glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants available in our organism, apart from enhancing the effects of the vitamins E and C.
It is a conditionally essential amino acid because, even though our body generates it, this production may not meet the requirements of the body in certain circumstances, like when we go through a period of heavy workload or stress, for example.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the muscle tissues of human beings. Therefore, it also has a very positive effect for athletes and sportspeople. Moreover, it is regarded as brain fuel and it contributes to achieving an acid-alkaline balance in the organism which, as it has been previously shown, can hinder the onset of certain diseases such as cancer.
Glutamic acid acts as a neurotransmitter within the organism that stimulates the brain cells, spinal cord, and the nervous system overall. Glutamic acid is also involved in the metabolization of fats and sugars and helps to transport potassium.
It facilitates the storage of glycogen, protects the prostate, and slows down the deterioration of muscles, apart from strengthening the nervous and immune system. It makes up part of the collagen structure, and provides support in order to improve healing.
It helps to produce collagen and prevents its loss, so its effects can be observed, for example, in a better state of the skin. It usually works along with vitamin C to keep the connective tissues healthy. It is also involved in the maintenance of the bone and cartilaginous system.
It is fundamental for the metabolism of body fat since it reduces its absorption, and to produce the growth hormone. Ornithine is vital to develop a strong and healthy immune system.
It is essential for the proper use of fatty acids and fats, as well as for the maintenance of the immune system and muscle growth. It also protects the nerve fibers and it is vital for the correct functioning of RNA and DNA.
It focuses on the metabolism overall. In addition, it plays a crucial role in regulating the mood since it is the precursor form of dopamine and adrenaline. It also helps with weight loss.
Properties of the Amino Acids
Amino acids have multiple tasks because they are used by our organism to synthesize proteins, although they can be used to synthesize glucose in exceptional cases, for example during a very low carbohydrate diet or prolonged fasting.
Although their functions tend to be simplified, the reality is quite different, since they participate in most of our physiological processes of our organism. This is why they are found in the brain (GABA, Tryptophan), as a vasodilator (Citrulline, Arginine or Ornithine, among others), as a precursor form of glucose (Alanine) or of substances related to allergy (Histidine), with structural functions (Methionine) and even as an adjuvant when it comes to eliminating toxins (Cysteine).
Even then, we can find derivatives of amino acids that have other functions, such as:
- Tissue repair (mainly muscle tissue)
- Collagen synthesis
- Mediators in the metabolism of fats and sugars
- Regulators of glucose in the blood
- Appetite mediators
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters related to sleep/wake
- Synthesis of catecholamines
- Synthesis of hormones
Amino Acids Supplements
The amino acid supplements deserve a special mention. On the one hand, there are those that are focused on solving a certain deficit that exists in a particular individual.
On the other hand, there are those that are related to sports. In both cases, they usually have large amounts of certain amino acids. In this sense, you just have to do your research and find information about the functions that they perform in the organism to understand why.
How should we consume Amino Acids?
The way we take amino acids, whether they are essential or non-essential, will depend on our training. Normally, the amino acids can be taken during the workout if it lasts more than 90 minutes or if the intensity is very high.
Using branched-chain amino acids is crucial for endurance athletes. They should consume around 6 – 15 g of BCAA’s since they allow to reduce the use muscle glycogen, which successfully delays fatigue.
In strength athletes, muscle contraction can easily increase the protein breakdown, which is why the consumption of BCAA’s during the workout may also have a positive effect. As we can see, the intake of amino acids in the peri-workout (before, during, and after the exercise) can be quite interesting.
For those who want to improve their physical composition, amino acids (specially BCAA’s) will help you to achieve your goal. It has been shown that leucine supplementation reduces the protein requirements of the organism. In this case, consuming a little amount of BCAA’s between meals or adding it to the least proteic meal would be the best thing to do.