What Are Amino Acids?
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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.
To cover this we need to know what amino acids are and what their purposes are. I will do my research on this subject and give you the information you may require.
They’re needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. Some may also be taken in supplement form as a natural way to boost athletic performance or improve mood.
They’re categorized as essential, conditionally essential, or nonessential depending on several factors.
This article tells you everything you need to know about essential amino acids, including how they function, possible food sources, and the benefits of taking a supplement.
Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group.
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Though all 20 of these are important for your health, only nine amino acids are classified as essential.
Unlike nonessential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet.
The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins like meat, eggs, and poultry.
When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids, which are then used to help your body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function.
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
There are several nonessential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential.
These are considered to be essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress.
For example, although arginine is considered nonessential, your body can’t meet demands when fighting certain diseases like cancer.
That’s why arginine must be supplemented through diet in order to meet your body’s needs in certain situations.
There Are 9 Essential Amino Acids
- Phenylalanine: Phenylalanine is a precursor for the neurotransmitters tyrosine, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It plays an integral role in the structure and function of proteins and enzymes and the production of other amino acids.
- Valine: Valine is one of three branched-chain amino acids, meaning it has a chain branching off to one side of its molecular structure. Valine helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration and is involved in energy production.
- Threonine: Threonine is a principal part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin, which are important components of the skin and connective tissue. It also plays a role in fat metabolism and immune function.
- Tryptophan: Though often associated with causing drowsiness, tryptophan has many other functions. It’s needed to maintain proper nitrogen balance and is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your appetite, sleep, and mood.
- Methionine: Methionine plays an important role in metabolism and detoxification. It’s also necessary for tissue growth and the absorption of zinc and selenium, minerals that are vital to your health.
- Leucine: Like valine, leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is critical for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, stimulates wound healing, and produces growth hormones.
- Isoleucine: The last of the three branched-chain amino acids, isoleucine is involved in muscle metabolism and is heavily concentrated in muscle tissue. It’s also important for immune function, hemoglobin production, and energy regulation.
- Lysine: Lysine plays major roles in protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production, and the absorption of calcium. It’s also important for energy production, immune function, and the production of collagen and elastin.
- Histidine: Histidine is used to produce histamine, a neurotransmitter that is vital to immune response, digestion, sexual function, and sleep-wake cycles. It’s critical for maintaining the myelin sheath, a protective barrier that surrounds your nerve cells.
Though amino acids are most recognized for their role in muscle development and repair, the body depends on them for so much more.
That’s why essential amino acid deficiencies can negatively impact your entire body including your nervous, reproductive, immune, and digestive systems.
Amino Acids In Foods
The foods in the following list are the most common sources of essential amino acids:
- Lysine is in meat, eggs, soy, black beans, quinoa, and pumpkin seeds.
- Meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain large amounts of histidine.
- Cottage cheese and wheat germ contain high quantities of threonine.
- Methionine is in eggs, grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Valine is in soy, cheese, peanuts, mushrooms, whole grains, and vegetables.
- Isoleucine is plentiful in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
- Dairy, soy, beans, and legumes are sources of leucine.
- Phenylalanine is in dairy, meat, poultry, soy, fish, beans, and nuts.
- Tryptophan is in most high-protein foods, including wheat germ, cottage cheese, chicken, and turkey.
Seafood provides another healthy way to get amino acids. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most fish, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut contain 7 to 8 grams of protein per ounce. Crustaceans, such as shrimp and crab, contain slightly less protein with about 6 grams per ounce. Seafood also contains all the essential amino acids, making it a “complete protein.” As a bonus- certain fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain essential fatty acids called omega-3 fatty acids that may help to prevent chronic disease.
2 Legumes, Nuts, and Seeds
Vegetarian proteins contain amino acids but in different ratios than animal proteins. They often lack adequate amounts of certain essential amino acids. For this reason, most vegetarian proteins are referred to as “incomplete proteins.” However, eating combinations of legumes, nuts, and whole grains throughout the day provides you with all the amino acids you need. Soybeans are one of the few vegetarian foods that contain all the essential amino acids. Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans, contain anywhere from 11 to 18 grams of protein per cup. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, give you about 6 to 8 grams of protein per ounce.
3 Whole Grains
Whole grains provide small amounts of vegetarian protein and amino acids as well. A cup of whole-grain pasta or long-grain rice gives you 6 to 7 grams of protein. Quinoa, a small seed grain, contains all the essential amino acids, making it a “complete protein.” You’ll get about 8 grams of protein from eating 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Focus on whole grains foods, such as whole-wheat bread, instead of processed grains, such as white flour, to get the most amino acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals per serving.
They’re great for building muscle and if you’ve ever seen Rocky you know he downed some raw eggs to keep his strength up. As much as we don’t recommend doing this, you can also poach them, boil them, scramble them, or throw them in a more complicated recipe. One single large egg has about six grams of protein – make sure to note how much you’re eating!
Beef has all the essential amino acids and you can really use it for anything. It has a lot of iron as well, but depending on the place of the animal where it was cut from, it can have a lot of calories because of all the fat. When it comes to beef, the rule is – the more white you see, the more fat it has. You are looking for the leaner cuts, with as little fat as possible – it’s still going to have enough fat, but it will also have a lot more protein.
It has a lot of amino acids, as well as selenium and niacin. Arguably the most popular food choice in the bodybuilding and fitness industries.
Lamb, especially grass-fed lamb has a lot of CLA, which is a healthy omega-6 fatty acid, but it also has selenium and zinc. Grill it, baste it, bake it, it’ll always be awesome.
Scallops contain a lot of protein, but also they have omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin B12. They’re a great source of minerals such as magnesium and potassium which is why a lot of people enjoy them a lot – plus, they’re delicious!
If you’re just starting your diet now, you can use branch-chain amino acids as a supplement which will help you keep your muscle loss to a minimum when you cut your calories. When you diet, your body will be in a catabolic state almost always. This means that it will be breaking down fat to use as energy, but it will also be breaking down some of your muscle tissue to compensate. You don’t want that, so to keep it to a minimum you will need to maintain a healthy metabolic strength which will make dieting a little less hard.
This is because when resting, fat will burn fewer calories than lean muscle tissue. Also, branch-chain amino acids will help you boost your intensity because when you train, your serotonin levels increase and more serotonin means you’re going to be more tired. Branch chain amino acids reduce the quantity of tryptophan that goes to your brain, which then lessens the amount of serotonin that your body produces, which means you won’t feel as tired. All in all, make sure that you’re eating the right amount of protein and you’ll be fine.
Prawns have practically no fat, but they have a lot of protein. If you’re counting your calories and you want to have a protein addition to your meal, prawns will get the job done.
There are other foods that contain amino acids. Salmon, tuna, and sardines but I feel they fall into the seafood category. You can do this by eating foods high in protein, such as animal-based foods, which contain all the amino acids. You can also obtain them from plant-based foods, but these will always lack one or a few of the essential amino acids, making them the worst choice.
When it comes to your health, it doesn’t matter if you eat plant-based or animal-based foods – they both have equal health benefits. Of course, they have their distinctive characteristics such as plant-based sources having more fiber and animal-based sources having more iron (especially red meat!), but when it comes to amino acids, they are pretty much equal. Nevertheless, essential or not, all amino acids are vital to the functioning of your system and you should strive to have them all in your diet.
You also may purchase amino acid supplements, but I do feel the best way to maintain a healthy life is through a proper diet.
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