Amino acids are critically important to all aspects of human physiology -- they are indeed the building blocks of life!
There are twenty amino acids that can be differentiated by three groups: essential amino acids, conditionally essential amino acids, and non-essential amino acids. To learn more about conditionally essential and essential amino acids click here.
Eleven of the twenty amino acids are considered non-essential, meaning they are not required in your diet to survive. Though you can consume these amino acids, non-essential amino acids are also produced within the body from other amino acids. The amino acids included in the non-essential group are: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Alanine is a small non-essential amino acid used widely within the body. Alanine improves athletic performance through assisting in building lean muscle mass. Furthermore, alanine can reduce fatigue, increase endurance, and boost performance in high-intensity exercise. Moreover, it can also improve physical functioning in the elderly.
Unlike many of the other amino acids, alanine does not synthesize proteins in your body. Instead alanine works with histidine to produce carnosine. Carnosine helps your body reduce acid levels during exercise leading to reduced fatigue -- allowing an athlete to perform high intensity exercise for longer.
Alanine can be naturally found in beef, chicken, turkey, fish, and soybeans.
Arginine is involved in several biological processes -- it has an effect on hormone secretion, immune modulation, and ammonia detoxification.
The reason athletes find arginine especially important for their lifestyle is due to the fact that arginine is essential for muscle protein synthesis as well as wound healing. It also has an effect on the vascular system as arginine allows blood vessels to relax -- this is known as vasodilation which offers many benefits for cardiovascular health.
With vasodilation from arginine, blood flow is elevated to the exercising muscle and allows for an enhancing metabolic response for the athlete. Furthermore, arginine has also been found to decrease the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during exercise -- which can improve an athlete’s stamina.
Arginine can be found naturally in red meat, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, whole wheat, and dairy products.
Asparagine is essential for protein production, neuronal development, and signalling and transmission across nerve endings. Asparagine is necessary for the transformation of an amino acid into another one.
The human central nervous system requires asparagine to maintain equilibrium. It also decreases fatigue and thus increases athletic stamina.
Furthermore, asparagine improves the smooth functioning of your liver. If you had a lack of asparagine, it would result in a poor metabolism as your body would be unable to rid itself of waste product from any excess dietary protein.
Asparagine can be naturally found in beef, chicken, dairy products, seafood, eggs, asparagus, soy, and whole grains.
Aspartic Acid is the amino acid that stimulates the neural receptor that plays a major role in memory and cognition -- this receptor is termed N-methyl-D-aspartate, more commonly known as NMDA. Aspartic acid also plays a key role in making glucose (blood sugar) when your supply is low.
There is no shortage of foods when looking to increase aspartic acid. This amino acid can naturally be found in: eggs, chicken, pork, beef, fish (especially salmon, halibut, and sardines), beans, soy, nuts (especially peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and chestnuts), cereals, seeds (especially pumpkin, sunflower, and pine nuts), dairy products (especially milk and cheese), and a variety of fruits and vegetables including but not limited to pumpkins, carrots, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, and apples.
Cysteine has several valuable abilities within your body. It has the ability to break up mucus allowing you to easily cough up phlegm caused my respiratory/pulmonary conditions. Cysteine also participates in the regulation of glutamate levels and influencing neurons in the central nervous system.
Cysteine works hard in your body to search for free radicals that may cause cellular damage. Cysteine along with two other non-essential amino acids -- glutamine and glycine, make a master antioxidant known as glutathione. Glutathione takes part in making chemicals and proteins needed in your body, especially for the immune system, and also takes part in building and repairing tissues.
Cysteine is found naturally in egg yolk, red peppers, garlic, onions, yogurt, wheat germ, oats, poultry, and dark leafy vegetables such as broccoli.
Glutamic acid is known for its ability to detoxify muscle cells. This is important as a lack of glutamic acid will result in increasing levels of ammonia which slows down recovery.
When glutamic acid is attached with a mineral ion it is known as glutamate, which is the most common excitatory neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. Glutamate supports brain function and is seen as essential ‘brain food’.
To learn more about neurotransmitters and glutamate click here.
Glutamic acid is found naturally in soy protein, mushrooms, broccoli, peas, walnuts, and fish sauce.
Glutamine is found to be an essential part of intestinal health and the immune system. It is the most abundant amino acid found in the blood and other body fluids.
Although it happens to be the most abundantly found amino acid in the blood, there are times when your body cannot produce enough glutamine and it then becomes a conditionally essential amino acid. A situation like this can occur during major injuries such as a burn or surgery.
Glutamine prevents harmful bacteria and toxins moving from your intestines into any other part of your body.
Glutamine can be naturally found in staple food items such as eggs, beef, white rice, corn, and even tofu.
Glycine is recognized to be the smallest amino acid, yet it provides a wide variety of benefits to your body. Your body requires glycine for your metabolism, digestive system, and nervous system. From your head to your toes, glycine helps regulate blood and sugar levels, balances acid-base ratio in your digestive tract, and helps to produce neurotransmitters.
Glycine is an important component for the construction of healthy DNA and RNA strands. This amino acid is also a main component in collagen which makes up most of you skin, and connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments. Glycine is also one of the three amino acids that make creatine, which facilitates the replenishment of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to promote muscle growth and energy during exercise.
Glycine can be naturally found in animal meat, dairy products, gelatin, and legumes.
Proline is a vital amino acid for proper functioning of your joints and tendons. Proline is another amino acid responsible for creating collagen, therefore a lack of it can be very dangerous to soft tissues and joints. Without a sufficient amount of proline, you will be at a greater risk of injury and will have a much slower healing process than you would with a sufficient amount of the amino acid.
Proline is also known for supporting the heart. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque is built up on the walls of the arteries -- proline works in your body to help diminish this buildup so your arteries can effectively expand and contract without blockage.
Proline can be naturally found in beef, chicken, pork, cabbage, soy, chives, asparagus, peanuts, mustard seeds, wheat, beans, cucumber, chickpeas, and buckwheat.
Serine is responsible for helping to form phospholipids which are then responsible for making every cell in you body. It is also required for the functioning of DNA and RNA, muscle formation, and the maintenance of a proper immune system.
Serine is found to assist the production of immunoglobulins and antibodies which are essential for a healthy immune system. Furthermore, serine is known to support the absorption of creatine which then helps to build and maintain muscles.
Serine can naturally be found in animal meet, milk and dairy products, eggs, asparagus, water spinach, soy, peanuts, lentils, cauliflower, white mustard seeds, whole grains, sesame seeds, spinach, and cabbage.
Tyrosine is a very popular amino acid that is well known as a supplement to improve alertness, attention, and focus. Not only does tyrosine produce chemicals in your brain to help nerve cells communicate, but it has also been found to help regulate mood.
Some brain chemicals tyrosine is essential for include dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline, thyroid hormones, and melanin.
Tyrosine can be naturally found in peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Breaking Down Amino Acids in the Body
So how do these amino acids break down in the body?
If you were eating a piece of chicken there is a protein unfolding process in the stomach, which breaks down the protein’s polypeptide chains into smaller peptides, and from there into amino acid chains, and finally into single amino acids. This process starts in the stomach over a period of time and continues in the small intestine. The length of this process depends on the type of food that was consumed and what else was consumed with it.
Once the unfolding process is complete, digestion continues, breaking down the polypeptide chains into amino acids. This processes is completed in the first part of the small intestine known as the duodenum. It is at this point the amino acids start to be absorbed as they continue throughout the rest of the small intestine (including the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum). Depending on each food, this process occurs over a minimum of three hours.
Amino Acids in your Diet
Animal proteins are complete proteins -- meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids (amino acids we cannot produce in our bodies and must consume through food), so all you need to do is have a variety of them! Don’t just eat chicken as your protein source - add in eggs, fish, red meat, etc.
In terms of plant-based sources, with the exception of a few sources such as pumpkin seeds, plants that are high in protein are typically incomplete sources (they do not contain all nine essential amino acids). Therefore, you must ensure you have a varied diet of plant-based proteins daily.
If you follow a omnivorous diet be sure to eat a wide variety of whole foods from both animal and plant sources. You are not going to get the beneficial amount of arginine you would receive from plant-based protein foods in any animal-based food. Balancing both is ideal for optimal amino acid levels.
Whether you are following a omnivorous, vegetarian, or vegan diet, it is always recommended to consume the highest quality NSF Certified for Sport protein supplement that you can find.