Protein has been an important word around the fitness and athletic world. I strongly believe that many who use the word protein do not understand that the structural makeup of proteins are amino acids. To put it in the simplest way possible, when we speak about protein and its necessity for the training individual, we are basically talking about amino acids. The core reason that both words mean one in the same, at least in this circumstance, is because proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. Amino acids have a few important roles in our bodies. They can be used as structural components to create new protein molecules. They can also be used in various metabolic cycles.
For Athletes, The Importance of Amino Acids and Protein are as Follows:
- Recovery and muscular growth.
- BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids) are a necessity in order to spare muscles from breakdown during exercise.
- Individual amino acid intake may contribute to targeted effects, such as increased growth hormone.
- Collagen, which is a connective tissue, and protein, makes up a third of the body’s protein. This makes it one of the most important proteins in the body.
Also, note that recent research has led scientists, as well as sport nutrition companies to push the development of proteins jam packed with amino acids, especially in regards to the athlete. Individual amino acids can make up various amino combinations. Some of these combinations can be used for blood ammonia detoxification, growth hormone increase, added mental alertness, and mental relaxation. This list alone should send you running to your nearest supplement store, tearing open the first jug of amino acids you see and start shoveling it in.
What are Amino Acids Made of?
Proteins are large molecules called polypeptides. These proteins are made up of repeating units of amino acids. These amino acids link up together using a peptide bond and forms varieties of protein. A list of 22 amino acids are considered to be important biologically, although many more exist within our bodies and as supplements. Proteins are essential to the diet and mandatory for muscle growth.
What Kind of Amino Acids Should I Take?
In the human body, there are 20 amino acids. These amino acids are broken down into two types: essential and non-essential. There are nine essential amino acids. These amino acids are necessary to maintain health and cannot be produced by the body. These nine amino acids include BCAA’s (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan. Because these amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body, it is essential that your diet provides these aminos. Complete proteins include all of the essential amino acids, and are higher quality proteins. Incomplete proteins are lacking one or more of these essential amino acids, and are considered low grade proteins.
The other nonessential amino acids are just as important, but our bodies are capable of producing them at a rate that equals our demand. This factor makes supplementation not as crucial, so long as nitrogen is readily available.
More crucial than looking at the profile of certain amino acid, are the basic principles used to measure a protein’s bio-availabilty. A variety of processes are used to measure the digestibility, amino acid profile, absorption, and the impact on muscle growth. Although no single study gives the whole picture of the effectiveness of a protein, the following method can be a way to asses protein quality.
Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER)
The information in the chart below is based upon the evaluation of the growth of animals consuming a designated amount of dietary protein from one single source. As the PER increases, the quality of the protein does as well. The protein efficiency ratio is the method to determine the quality of protein. The PER refers to the amount of weight gained against the amount of protein ingested. For example, if casein has a PER of 2.86, then 2.86 of body weight was gained per 1 gram of casein eaten.
Below, I have included a list of proteins and their PER (protein efficiency ratio). Remember, adequate protein intake will translate to adequate amino acid intake. There are some individuals that may call for added amino acid supplementation, but making sure you feed yourself good sources of protein can keep your supplement bill down significantly.
|Food||Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER)|
Below you will find a list of amino acids (this is not a complete list). The list is in order of what I like taking. The lower down the list, the less likely it is to be in my cabinet. Supplement at your own discretion. Study and research the subject. Understand the pros and cons and if it is worth it to you monetarily and physically:
- BCAA (L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, L-Valine)
As well as being a part of proteins, amino acids have specific metabolic functions. For example, arginine can stimulate the release of growth hormone. It should be noted that when taking amino acid formulations, it is best to take them on an empty stomach.
There are risks in not consuming enough amino acids (or proteins) in your diet. This is especially true for the intense trainer or athlete. The lack of amino acids or protein can cause you to start breaking down your body’s own protein (muscles, bones and vital organs) in order to provide your system with the adequate amount of amino acids needed. Furthermore, inadequate protein intake has been linked with depressed immune function and fatigue. Low protein intake can also make you susceptible to greater injury risks during exercise, and cause you to take longer to heal. It also has been learned that low protein intake lowers the absorption of important minerals like calcium, zinc and iron.
All of that being said, it does not mean to go crazy with your protein so you have the amino acids (building blocks) swimming through your system. Large amounts of protein have adverse effects as well.
Unlike carbs or fat, protein produces nitrogen waste products (ammonia, urea and so on) when it is used for energy. These waste products must run through and be excreted by the kidneys. When too much of this waste builds up, the kidneys become overworked and could start to fail.
Another thing you may want to note, is that too much protein can cause dehydration. This is due to the fact that extra water is needed to excrete the extra urea.
These are not the only problems that can arise from excess protein. If your curiosity has gotten the best of you, or you feel you may be ingesting too much protein, I would strongly recommend you take the time to learn more about what the many side effects may be. As you can see, eating not enough protein is bad, but eating too much is also bad. What does that mean? MODERATION!
CAUTION: Amino acids have been used for years by medical professionals and taken by many exercise enthusiasts and athletes. However, this article is not intended to prescribe or recommend the use of any supplement mentioned.