Some athletes — especially bodybuilders and other strength training athletes — pay close attention to their amino acid consumption. Some even take supplements to boost their intake and get the right balance of amino acids, especially something called branched-chain amino acids. But an understanding of amino acids shouldn’t be of importance to just athletes. Amino acids are also crucial to good brain function, so anyone concerned with maintaining and improving cognitive function and anti-aging should at least understand the basics of these powerful molecules.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are most commonly referred to as the building blocks of protein. Protein is an important macronutrient that we consume in foods like meat and poultry. But proteins inside the body serve several key functions.
Proteins provide the basic structural components of our muscles, brain, nervous system, blood, skin, and hair. Protein is also essential for acid-base and fluid balance in the body and helps transport oxygen, fats, and important vitamins and minerals.
Our bodies require 20 different amino acids. Together, these amino acids are sequenced and folded to combine in almost endless ways.
Long chains of amino acids are linked by peptide bonds. The way in which the bonds are linked is called their primary structure and determines its function in the body. Peptide bonds also have a secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structure. The final quaternary structure is a protein.
Amino acids make up the enzymes that facilitate the myriad chemical reactions in our bodies. They carry nutrients and other necessary molecules through our blood and across cell membranes and transport signals from one part of the body to another. Furthermore, the antibodies which protect us from illness are proteins.
Essential Amino Acids
Of the 20 amino acids that we need, our bodies can make 11 of them. The other nine we must get through our diets. These are called essential amino acids because it is essential that we eat them.
The essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Nonessential amino acids include alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. These amino acids are made by the body.
There is also a situation in which an amino acid or other nutrients can be conditionally essential — amino acids that become essential because the body has trouble making it due to a disorder, illness, or aging.
For example, cysteine is sometimes considered a conditionally essential amino acid in special populations including infants, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
There are some amino acids called branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs. You may have heard athletes and bodybuilders refer to BCAA supplements or foods that provide branched-chain amino acids.
BCAAs are essential amino acids that have a branched R chain — essentially a side chain. These amino acids are metabolized in the muscle and are considered to have the greatest impact on muscle development. Branched-chain amino acids include leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
Amino Acids Role In Anti-Aging
Amino acids are the foundation of every important process as they are necessary for all metabolic processes. Its primary functions are the optimum transport of nutrients and storage optimization of all nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, minerals and vitamins).
Amino acids play a key role in the structure of the body: The human being, or any other living organism, is formed of numerous cells with different functions. Amino acids are part of the vast majority of these cells, either in the membrane or the various structures contained in the cytoplasm.
Also, amino acids aid in the repair of used tissues, as well as wound healing and, have a necessary role in helping to maintain and improve cardiovascular health.
Arginine, as one example, is one of the most common amino acids, and is used in the production of nitric oxide, which is a fundamental element in the regulation of blood pressure. Nitric oxide is produced in the muscles that form the heart, allowing you to control the speed and reach of contractions and the expansion of your muscles to keep them in good health.
Another good example is phenylalanine, which is an important amino acid that our organism obtains solely and exclusively from the diet since it is not able to synthesize it. Used mainly by the brain to produce noradrenaline, a chemical that transmits signals between the nerve cells of our brain, and in turn, promotes alertness.
You can obtain these amino acids fundamentally from the food richest in proteins, which our body breaks down to obtain them and thus form new proteins.
Methionine or tryptophan is another of the best known essential amino acids. We can also take into account non-essential amino acids such as taurine which is a non-essential amino acid.
Non essential amino acids are those that our body can manufacture itself from other substances (the essential are those that we must ingest necessarily with diet or external input).
However, although our body can synthesize all these non-essential amino acids, orthomolecular therapy uses certain nutrients to compensate for deficiencies or help the body to restore or maintain health by imitating its defense mechanisms.