Amino acids are crucial for life. Your body mainly utilizes them as parts of a bigger protein molecule; however, their use isn’t limited by just that.
Depending on the type, amino acids can be involved in many processes, including immunity support, combating depression, and improving metabolism.
Here’s all you need to know to make sure you’re getting enough amino acids in your daily diet, along with the list of the best amino acid supplements with balanced formulae.
- 1 7 Best Amino Acid Supplements for Muscle Growth
- 2 What Are Amino Acids and Why Do You Need Them?
- 3 How Many Amino Acids Are There?
- 4 Health Benefits and Uses of Amino Acid Supplements
7 Best Amino Acid Supplements for Muscle Growth
Optimum Nutrition AmiN.O. Energy Powder
This supplement contains an instant amino acids blend that can charge your energy batteries whether you need it for working out or for keeping sharp mind during work. In one scoop, you will get 14 aminos, including all essential ones, and caffeine extract derived from green tea and green coffee beans for that energy boost.
Another great feature is that Optimum Nutrition leaves you with three release forms you can choose from.
Ready-to-drink amino acids are great for active people — just pop them and you’re ready to go.
Traditional powder for mixing is devoid of that standard chalky taste most amino acid blends usually have; plus, it is available in 14 different flavors. The standard serving is 2 scoops of powder, but you may vary this according to your needs.
And, finally, there are drinking sticks that you can easily carry around in your bag and turn them in your vigor essence when you need it.
NOW Sports Amino Complete Caps
NOW Sports is among the best amino acid supplements that come in the capsule form. One serving holds 4 capsules and can give you 3000 mg of both essential and non-essential amino acids along with whey and a soy protein blend.
Also, it’s enriched with vitamin B6 for better mental clarity and stress resistance.
The greatest feature about NOW Sports is that their supplement gives the pronounced effect in the first couple of days. No matter what way of life you lead, these capsules can ensure that you will get better endurance and improved mood for your everyday victories.
Another blend of aminos, RSP, contains both BCAA and EAA. One serving includes 2 scoops that you can take 1 to 3 times per day, based on your needs.
RSP also contains 125 mg of pure caffeine per serving, making it a great substitute for coffee when you need more concentration and a sharper mind. Along with that, these amino acids can help you maintain your weight, as they include L-carnitine and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) that help transport fat into the mitochondria, where it’s turned into energy.
The only noticed drawback with this brand is that it can make you sick if you have a sensitive stomach. Besides that, it may contain trace amounts of gluten due to the manufacturing process.
Muscletech Amino Acids Complex
Muscletech combines a balanced blend of aminos along with electrolyte complex, which makes it one of the best amino acid supplements for athletes and gym devotees.
One of the outstanding features of this supplement is the use of clinically tested betaine to help athletes enhance the percentage of lean muscle mass during their training.
Muscletech has an instant formula, so you don’t need to shake it to make a smooth drink. One serving of this blend is two scoops per 16 oz of water, which makes a sufficient volume of liquid to drink during the workout or as a standalone drink during the day.
BSN Amino X
BSN Amino X stands among the best amino acid supplements that combine a balanced formula and versatility of use. For one serving you will get 10 grams of BCAA (2:1:1 ratio), along with such aminos as L-citrulline, taurine, and L-alanine for better physical endurance and improved mood.
The energy boost and mental clarity are ensured by 12.5 mg of vitamin D per serving. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating metabolism and clearing out the brain fog and apathy.
The only issue with BSN Amino X is that it still may form clumps despite the presence of anti-clumping agents. Thus, you may expect slight dosage fluctuations during use.
Cellucor Alpha Amino EAA & BCAA Recovery Powder
Cellucor is another balanced amino acid complex for versatile use. It packs 14 important aminos that can serve you as an invigorating potion or make you stay focused during intellectual work.
Along with that, Cellucor also contains a blend of electrolytes in the form of coconut water powder and betaine, to help you recover from workouts faster and grow lean muscle mass.
One serving of this supplement is equal to 1 scoop dissolved in 8-12 oz. of water. The manufacturer doesn’t recommend to exceed 4 servings per day — which is enough to maintain the anabolism level in people with a high level of activity.
The most noticed drawback of Cellucor is, according to some customers, that the manufacturer uses too much food dyes that can stick to your tongue and change its color.
IN-KAGED Amino Acid Powder
IN-KAGED amino acids are designed with athletes in mind; however, their balanced ingredients work great for average people as well. One serving (1 scoop) of this supplement contains 5 grams of BCAA with the most optimal 2:1:1 ratio, as well as fermented L-citrulline for better absorption.
Coconut powder and 124 mg of pure caffeine make this amino acid complex a good replacement for your morning coffee or afternoon pick-me-up. And for even better mental clarity, IN-KAGED is packed with high doses of taurine and L-tyrosine. These amino acids are well-known as brain boosters and mood regulators.
Top it with the fact that IN-KAGED doesn’t use any artificial flavors or dyes, and you will get one of the best amino acid blends on the market available for daily use.
What Are Amino Acids and Why Do You Need Them?
Amino acids are complex compounds that have at least one amino group (-NH2) and at least one carboxyl group (-COOH) in their structure. They naturally appear in your body as a result of protein hydrolysis, whether after you take a protein-based meal or as a reaction product during the anabolism stage.
You need amino acids not only for building protein molecule; they’re involved in other physiological processes:
- hormonal regulation;
- production of neurotransmitters;
- mood regulation;
- aiding in weight loss and muscle building;
- making enzymes etc.
All amino-acids are water-soluble, which is the reason behind their great bioavailability.
How Many Amino Acids Are There?
This guide will focus on 20 basic amino acids that form proteins in the human body. But there are also about 250 other amino acids that do not form proteins; your body uses them mainly as fuel or for the synthesis of other complex substances.
Scientists outline different types of amino acids according to their structure, properties, and other factors. However, the most understandable classification is based on whether you can produce amino acids within your body or not. This classification allows dividing all amino acids into three categories:
- non-essential — your body can produce them;
- conditionally essential — your body can produce them, but you might need additional supplementation under certain health conditions;
- essential — these amino acids cannot be produced inside your body, so you must obtain them from food or supplements.
Below are the detailed explanations for each type and their main functions.
Non-Essential Amino Acids
What makes these amino acids non-essential is that although you may get them through your diet, your body produces them by itself by breaking down protein molecules. This group of amino acids is the largest and includes 11 substances:
- Asparagine. Asparagine works as a neural enhancer and a precursor to some alert neurotransmitters.
- Arginine. This amino acid helps increase overall endurance and works as one of two main excitatory neurotransmitters in your brain.
- Alanine. This amino acid is used mainly as an energy source for your body and helps produce glucose and promote liver health.
- Aspartic acid. Aspartic acid is used as an energy source during the TCA cycle and boosts cellular metabolism.
- Cysteine. Cysteine is used by your body as an antioxidant and protects it from free radicals, radiation, and harmful metabolites.
- Glutamic acid. This one is most easily used as an energy source and promotes muscle recovery. Glutamic acid is also responsible for the ‘umami’ taste, the key component of Asian cuisine.
- Glutamine. Glutamine is one of the key substances to protect the gastrointestinal tract and improve your immunity. It is also used as a cell fuel in the gut.
- Histidine. This amino acid helps your body utilize essential microelements, such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese and protects the kidney and liver cells from oxidative damage.
- Proline. Proline is the key factor in the synthesis of collagen — a protein that can be found in your skin and joints.
- Glycine. This amino acid promotes the production of glutathione, one of the main components of hemoglobin. Along with that, this amino acid is used to promote healthy sleep and relaxation.
- Tyrosine. Tyrosine serves as a base for thyroid hormones; good mood regulator.
- Serine. This amino acid is used to produce phospholipids, which serve as building blocks for liver cells.
“All amino acids come in two symmetrical forms, known as L-structure and D-structure. The L-structure is predominant and natural to the body, while the D-structure possesses absolutely no nutritional value.”
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
This cannot be considered a stable category, because, in fact, you may develop a deficiency of any of the non-essential amino acids if you have certain conditions, such as:
- chronic stress;
- gastrointestinal issues, e.g. leaky gut or malabsorption;
- cancer treatment;
- low-protein diet.
In all of these cases, you may need additional supplementation with amino acids along with taking them from food sources.
“One of the non-essential amino acids, histidine, can be considered semi-essential because your body produces it only when needed. Histidine is responsible for maintaining healthy levels of hemoglobin. Thus, if you don’t have anemia or severe blood loss, you may not have this amino acid in your body as well.”
Essential Amino Acids
The remaining eight amino acids must be obtained only from external sources because your body cannot produce them. These are:
- Isoleucine. Isoleucine is necessary for hemoglobin synthesis and muscle development.
- Leucine. Leucine promotes regeneration and bone growth.
- Lysine. Essential for the synthesis of enzymes and hormones, lysine is also an important component of muscle protein.
- Valine. Supplies the muscle tissue with energy during work and prevents its break down.
- Threonine. Threonine aids in keeping the immune system healthy and protects the liver from fat build-up.
- Methionine. This amino acid has a pronounced anti-depressive effect and helps treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease due to its antioxidant properties.
- Phenylalanine. Boosts memory formation and cognitive functions, especially in children.
- Tryptophan. This amino acid is one of the essential components in serotonin synthesis and has significant anxiolytic properties.
“You don’t need to eat foods that are rich in essential amino acids with every meal. Just be sure to maintain your daily protein intake and consume diverse foods.”
What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids and How Do They Differ from the Rest?
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, is a term that includes three essential amino acids — isoleucine, leucine, and valine. Their name refers to the branched structure of the amino acid molecule, which resembles a little tree.
When it comes to amino acids vs BCAA, there’s one main difference — BCAAs are metabolized in the muscle tissue, while other aminos absorb in the liver. This results in a more pronounced effect and better bioavailability because BCAAs get directly into your bloodstream a couple of minutes after you drink them.
BCAAs are mainly used by athletes as a pre-workout complex for improving performance and preventing muscle breakdown, or as a post-workout supplement to promote faster recovery and replenishment of glycogen storages.
What Foods Are Rich in Amino Acids?
If you choose the supplementation with amino acids from your everyday diet, you need to know which foods serve as sources of amino acids and have the most diverse profile.
That’s easy. Since all the amino acids are parts of proteins, you need to consume complex protein foods, e.g. meat:
Another protein-dense food, such as fish, milk, mushrooms, and eggs, also contain different proportions of amino acids. Thus, if you maintain a balanced diet, you won’t have a problem with reaching the recommended daily intake of amino acids.
However, if you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or have some other dietary restrictions, then things will be a bit different for you.
The only amino acid foods with a balanced protein profile suitable for vegans are buckwheat, soy, and quinoa. These plants contain all eight essential amino acids, so you need to include at least one serving of them per day in your diet.
Or, your healthcare practitioner may prescribe you additional supplementation with amino acids, so you won’t have to worry about not getting the right amount of these substances.
Health Benefits and Uses of Amino Acid Supplements
The list of amino acid uses is very diverse because it’s a large group of chemicals that are involved in numerous physiological processes. However, only a few of them have solid evidence of effectiveness, backed by studies. So, here’s what amino acids do.
Impact Muscle Growth
The use of amino acids for muscle growth is the most discussed and well-known topic. People lose muscle mass with age or during a serious illness, and some studies found that taking amino acids can reduce the speed of this process.
For instance, a study published in Clinical Nutrition Journal took a sample of 22 older participants on bed rest. Half of them received 15 grams of amino acids for 10 days, while the other half took placebo pills. By the results of the study, the placebo group had a decrease in muscle mass volume by 30%, while the amino acid group managed to maintain protein synthesis in muscle tissue.
Boost Energy Before Workout
Some aminos can be used as a fuel for cells. That’s why taking amino acids for working out, according to studies, may decrease muscle soreness and improve your overall performance and concentration.
This is especially true for BCAA supplements, as BCAAs are directly absorbed in the muscles. The Nutrition Journal conducted a review of randomized clinical trials and reported that taking BCAA works significantly better than just a passive recovery after the exercise.
Promote Weight Loss
Consuming amino acids for weight loss also has a scientific background. For example, this 2009 study revealed that consuming a branched-chain amino acid supplement during eight weeks of resistance training resulted in greater gains and significant increase of lean muscle mass compared to taking whey protein shakes.
However, other essential amino acids may aid weight loss too, although more data is required. Thus, a 1994 study on phenylalanine reported that this amino acid may promote the release of appetite-suppressing hormones, which can make you feel fuller even if you consume a lower amount of food.
The use of amino acids for depression and other mental disorders might be a useful addition to a comprehensive treatment. The thing is, tryptophan plays a role in serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is your ‘happy molecule’ that influences mood and provides the feeling of euphoria. When you lack serotonin, you may begin to experience the following pathologies:
- major depressive disorder;
- obsessive-compulsive disorder;
- some forms of schizophrenia.
A British Journal of Nutrition study reported that long-term treatment with tryptophan improved mental energy levels and reaction time in middle-aged women.
Another study found that tryptophan combined with fluoxetine may help treat sleep disorders in patients with depression.
Treat Sleep Issues
Aiding in better sleep quality is another one of the promising amino acid benefits. Typically, glycine and tryptophan are used as sleeping aids and several studies confirm their effectiveness.
Besides being a precursor for serotonin, tryptophan can convert in a 5-HTP molecule in your stomach. 5-HTP (Hydroxytryptophan) performs numerous functions related to your sleep, including:
- promoting melatonin production;
- reducing sleep onset;
- balancing your sleep and wake cycle.
Now, about glycine. This amino acid also takes part in serotonin synthesis with tryptophan, but it can also impact your sleep by lowering body temperature. Low body temperature is needed to produce melatonin, our sleep hormone. Thus, taking higher amounts of glycine before sleeping can be useful for people who experience jetlag or live with an irregular working schedule.
“If you’re experiencing glutamine deficiency, this may lead to insomnia since glutamine is one of the inhibitory neurotransmitters. Taking this amino acid prior to sleep may help reduce the symptoms; however, consultation with a doctor is recommended.”
Dosage, Safety and Side Effects of amino acids
Since some amino acids enter into your body with food, there are some estimated dosages that are considered sufficient. They are usually measured in milligrams per 1 kg of body weight, and according to experts, for the eight essential amino acids the estimated dosages are as follows:
- isoleucine — 19 mg/kg;
- leucine — 42 mg/kg;
- valine — 24 mg/kg;
- lysine — 38 mg/kg;
- threonine — 20 mg/kg;
- methionine — 19 mg/kg;
- phenylalanine — 33 mg/kg
- tryptophan — 5 mg/kg.
For example, if you want to determine how much valine a 60kg person needs, then multiply 24 mg by 60. You will get 1,440 mg or 1.44 g of valine per day. The same math applies to other aminos.
Typical amino acid supplements usually contain from 5 to 10 grams of amino acids per serving; taking up to 4-6 servings per day is considered a safe amount.
However, if you have a sensitive organism or are prone to certain health conditions, you may experience some side effects of amino acid supplements:
- gastrointestinal problems like bloating, diarrhea, or nausea;
- abdominal pains;
- dizziness and headache.
Besides that, your kidneys need to work harder to flush out the byproducts of protein breakdown, such as uric acid, ammonia, and creatine. Thus, if you have any kidney problems, it’s strongly recommended to consult your doctor and do not self-prescribe these supplements.
FAQ About Amino Acid Supplements
Can I take amino acid supplements as a meal replacement?
Although some amino acids can be prescribed as a part of parenteral nutrition in certain health disorders, there usually are other ingredients in those nutritional mixtures too, such as fats and carbohydrates. The energetic value of amino acids-only supplements isn’t enough to replace a full meal, so if you need a supplement that can serve as food substitution, it’s advisable to switch to protein shakes.
What is the best time to take amino acids?
The correct answer on when to take amino acids depends on your needs and goals. Most manufacturers advise distributing the servings throughout the day. For example, take your first serving after waking up, the second one before the workout, the third one after a workout, and the last one before sleep. This is a very general scheme, so you should consult your doctor to find out what will work exactly for you.
Can women take amino acids?
Of course, yes. Amino acids are present in bodies of both men and women. So, if you don’t have a certain health condition or sensitivity to particular amino acids, you can take them without any problems.
Can I take aminos during pregnancy?
Although all amino acids are familiar to your body’s immune system, there isn’t enough data on how it may react to increased amounts of amino acids during pregnancy or breastfeeding. You may want to address this question to your doctor.
Amino acids are vital for many functions in your body.
They are divided into two main categories: non-essential, the ones your body can produce, and essential (with a subgroup of branched chain amino acids or BCAA), the ones you need to get from food or other sources.
Some aminos can be considered conditionally essential, as your body might need increased amounts of them under certain conditions.
One of the best ways to balance the amino acid intake — for example, if you’re training in a gym or have stressful and hard intellectual work — is to take them in the form of a supplement.
This guide allows you to choose among the seven most reliable amino acid blends on the market that may suit your everyday needs.