Should You Take Amino Acid Supplements? What the Research Says

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    Amino acid supplements can be beneficial for your health. Read on to learn more.

    All living things use amino acids to make proteins – they’re sometimes called the building blocks of proteins. To function at an optimal level, your body needs 20 – nine of which you have to get through dietary means. Some people take amino acid supplements to bridge gaps between their dietary intake and the needs of their body.

    What are amino acids?

    Amino acids can be thought of as the building blocks of protein; they’re what remain in your body after breaking down protein from foods, and they play many vital roles in the health of your body. When amino acids are combined in different ways, they create various different proteins.

    Our bodies need them for building proteins, providing energy, breaking down food, growing and repairing body tissue, boosting your immune system producing hormones and neurotransmitters, and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. There are 20 total amino acids.

    What are the different types of amino acids?

    Of the 20 amino acids, nine are what are known as essential amino acids, which means they’re not produced naturally in the body and must be obtained from food sources. (And sometimes from supplements – more on that later.) The nine essential amino acids are: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, lysine, leucine. The remaining eleven, non-essential amino acids are: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

    Some of the non-essential amino acids are considered conditionally essential, because the body can struggle to make them during times of stress. These include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

    You can boost your intake of amino acids by consuming complete protein sources which includes animal protein like meat, fish, eggs, and poultry, and also by consuming some plant-based foods, including quinoa, soy, and buckwheat.

    What are amino acid supplements?

    Even though amino acids are available in many foods, you may still benefit from taking an amino acid supplement. Amino acid supplements are concentrated doses of amino acids, usually as pills or powders. Powder amino acid supplements can be mixed into healthy, tasty drinks. These supplements are available as single amino acids or in combined form.

    What do amino acid supplements do?

    While most people typically get the amino acids they need from a balanced diet, some take amino acid supplements to improve their mood, improve their sleep, and enhance their athletic performance. Let’s take a look at what some of the research shows.

    Health benefits of taking amino acid supplements

    Studies suggest that taking amino acid supplements can aid in wound healing, enhance exercise performance, and contribute to better moodsin healthy individuals.

    This study shows that supplementation with branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) in older adults can improve quality of life by enhancing muscle strength and nutritional status. Another study found that administering amino acids through an IV can help preterm infants achieve adequate nutrition.

    As with other supplements, amino acid supplements are not meant to be a substitute for a healthy diet. Instead, they can act as a bridge between what’s missing in your diet and what your body needs.

    Are amino acid supplements safe?

    Yes, amino acid supplements are generally safe. Like any supplement, however, they have the potential for some side effects. It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements, including amino acid supplements. Amino acid supplements also tend not to be necessary for people who get enough protein in their diet.

    Best amino acid supplements

    Protein powder

    Protein powder is a popular amino acid supplement. Protein powder can be important for people who aren’t getting enough protein, and it supports muscle growth and healthy weight management. Your protein needs can vary based on your health goals and unique needs. Some popular forms of protein powder include:

    • Whey. Whey is milk-derived and supports muscle maintenance, muscle recovery, and weight management. You may want to check out Care/of’s whey protein – creamy and just sweet enough!
    • Plant Protein. Certain plant protein combinations have complete amino acid profiles. Care/of’s plant protein includes organic pea, pumpkin seed, and hemp proteins.
    • Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and taking collagen regularly can help reinforce your skin’s natural moisture barrier – supporting elasticity and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Care/of’s collagen seamlessly blends in coffee, tea, and smoothies.

    Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

    BCAAs are another popular form of amino acid supplement. The BCAAs consist of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – and they represent between 35% and 40% of all the essential amino acids in your body. They also constitute between 14% and 18% of the amino acids in your muscles.
    When used before or during exercise, BCAAs can help manage muscle damage and promote muscle synthesis. This study examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on young people engaged in high intensity exercise and found that such supplementation can manage muscle damage.

    Some research shows that BCAAs, in addition to supporting your muscles, can promote liver health, support weight management, and manage blood sugar levels already within normal range.

    Who shouldn’t use amino acid supplements?

    Studies on the side effects of amino acid supplements on particular populations are sparse. Some reported side effects include nausea and headaches.

    Because of the lack of available research, it’s wise to avoid taking amino acid supplements until you’ve discussed them with a doctor. This is especially so for people who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant. Furthermore, you should be sure to tell your doctor of any medications you’re taking, since amino acid supplements may interact negatively with them.

    Final takeaways

    Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and perform many important functions in your body. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are essential, which means you have to obtain them through your diet because your body won’t naturally produce them. These amino acids are necessary for tissue repair, protein synthesis, nutrient absorption, and more. They can also aid wound healing, improve mood, and enhance athletic performance. These crucial building blocks are available in many foods – both animal- and plant-based – so you can typically get the necessary amount through a varied diet. In some cases, you may consider taking amino acid supplements, which can help bridge any gaps.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.