What are Amino Acids and should you take them?

If you have read any of the muscle magazines or checked out the online bodybuilding sites, than I’m sure you’ve seen Amino Acids advertised somewhere in the form of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), Essential Amino Acids, Non-Essential Amino Acids, etc.

Amino acids are basically the building blocks of proteins. To give you an analogy of how it all works. Let’s picture a cross section of muscle tissue as this very paragraph of text that you are reading right now. Then imagine that each word you are reading resembles the protein of that section of muscle. And each individual letter represents an amino acid.

Just like certain combinations of letters make up words, certain combinations of amino acids make up proteins. The key elements of an amino acid are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There are approximately 500 known amino acids. They all play numerous roles in the body, everything from aiding with metabolism to performing critical biological roles as neurotransmitters.

In humans, there are 20 standard amino acids that are used to synthesize proteins. Of the 20 standard amino acids, 9 are called Essential Amino Acids because the human body cannot synthesize them from other compounds at the level needed for growth, so they must be obtained from food.

Failure to obtain enough of even 1 of the 9 essential amino acids will result in degradation of the body’s proteins (i.e. breaking down muscle tissue). Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the human body does not store excess amino acids for later use, that’s why we must eat protein frequently throughout the day in order to provide our body with the amino acids it needs for proper growth and development.

The 20 Standard Amino Acids Are:
Glycine, Alanine, Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Proline, Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Tryptophan, Serine, Threonine, Cysteine, Methionine, Asparagine, Glutamine, Lysine, Arginine, Histidine, Aspartate, and Glutamate.

The 9 Essential Amino Acids Are:
Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Histidine.

The 3 Branched Chain Amino Acids Are:
Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.

Branched Chain Amino Acids

Branched Chain Amino Acids fall into the category of essential amino acids. But unlike most other amino acids, BCAA’s are metabolized within muscle tissue, allowing them to be oxidized and used as energy by muscle cells.

An advanced supplement trick that’s common in bodybuilding circles is to keep a bottle of Branched Chain Amino Acids in your gym bag. And take a serving of BCAA’s right before you start lifting and another serving 1/2 way through your workout.

The benefit to taking pure branched chain amino acids like this is that they are rapidly absorbed and utilized by your working muscles. By consuming BCAA’s when you need them most (i.e. during a hard workout) your body will get the amino acids it needs from the BCAA supplement, rather than catabolizing your lean muscle tissue.

The body is constantly turning over protein. It is always balancing back and forth between being in an anabolic state (i.e. building muscle) and being in a catabolic state (i.e. losing muscle). One of the best ways to increase your lean muscle tissue is to take preventative measures to reduce the rate at which your body breaks down muscle tissue. (Such as taking BCAA’s during your workouts.)

BCAA’s taken during your workouts will also enhance your performance in the gym through their ability to spare glycogen. Glycogen is stored carbohydrates within the muscles and liver. Studies have shown that ingesting BCAA’s during your training like this can spare glycogen levels by 25%. This glycogen sparing effect of BCAA’s will not only allow for longer more intense training sessions, but also allow for faster recovery leading to a better workout the following day.

Advanced Supplement Trick:

To keep your body in an anabolic state during your workouts. Take a serving of Branched Chain Amino Acids right before you start lifting. And then take another serving 1/2 way through your workout. This help prevent your body from breaking down muscle tissue (i.e. anti-catabolic) and help speed up the post workout recovery process.

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Should You Take BCAA’s?

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About The Author


Lee Hayward is a former competitive bodybuilder and muscle building coach who has been online coaching people since 1997. His work has been featured in several international magazines such as: FLEX, Muscle Insider, Muscle Mag International, Testosterone, Ironmag, and Forbes. Lee's main focus right now is with helping men over 40 - who don't want to be fat anymore - lose the gut, build muscle, and get back in shape. If you're ready to "Start Again" for the last time and finally build a lean healthy body that you can be proud of, just e-mail Lee to discuss a realistic action plan that's right for you... lee@leehayward.com



    Always great info from Lee! There’s lots of confusing information in the bodybuilding Mecca’s of muscledom,its information from sites and blogs like this that aid bodybuilder’s in understanding the finer nuances of this exhilirating game.Keep going!!!!

  • Oreste Lombardi

    I submit that Norvaline should be part of the BCAA formulation. it is similar to Valine, but is synthesized by the body; however, body synthesis may nor be able to keep up with muscle needs during a workout. The non essential amino acids are non essential in name only. Failure of the body to synthesize them in adequate amounts is part of the downhill process of aging. Athletic activity can also put a strain on body resources. Beta alanine is a prime example of such an amino acid. Without it both muscle and brain atrophy.

  • Per Lovgren

    First of all : Thank you for great training-videos and loads of free tips !!!

    Insuline-response when taking whey and BCAA:s ?
    Some studies indicate that whey protein-powders triggers a high insuline-response which suppresses testosteron and do not recomend taking whey immediately before training.
    Is this true and is it the same with BCAA:s ??
    A portion of good whey protein powder containes approx 6 grams BCAA:s wich is sligthly more than the recomended dose of BCAA.
    I take BCCAA:s before sprint-training, weight training and also endurance training.
    I have heard that a some of these help-supplements can be counter-productive and lower the bodys own anabolic response and release of natural growth-hormone since the supplements in some cases takes away the “survival-state” that should trigger the nervous-system to resond with muscle-growth.
    Especially supplements that are taken IMMEDIATELY after training. New studies even say that it is better to wait about one hour before eating fast carbs after training to maximize the effects of the bodies horomone-response.
    (All these years science have tolds us to take fast carbs and proteins as soon as posssible directly after work-out so it is a bit contradictive.)
    How ever I havenĀ“t seen any scientific studies confirming these theories.
    Any thoughts ?


  • Thank you for differentiating amino acid and the difference between the essential and the ones the body cannot make up without food.

  • jay d

    just a ? to u should u take more amino acids the older u get or whole foods r good enuff ?