So what is an Amino Acid, and why do we need them in our diet? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Around 20% of the human body is made up of protein, and it is vital in almost all biological processes. They play a crucial role in the transport and the storage of nutrients, influencing the function of organs, glands, tendons and arteries. Amino acids are also essential for healing wounds and repairing tissue, especially in muscles, bones, skin and hair, as well as being needed for the removal of all kinds of waste deposits produced in connection with the metabolism. There are considered to be 20 standard amino acids that are selectively put together for different uses. The proteins that are formed are what make up the structural components of the body – skin, eyes, heart, intestines, bones and, of course, muscle. If one or more amino acids are not available in sufficient quantities, the production of protein is weakened and limited. For optimum health 9 of these amino acids are classified as essential amino acids, this is because they must be supplied by your diet,  because the body does not have the ability to make (synthesize) them. The 9 essential amino acids are

  • histidine
  • isoleucine
  • leucine
  • lysineProtein Building Blocks
  • methionine
  • phenylalanine
  • threonine
  • tryptophan
  • valine

Are you familiar with the most talked about amino acids?

L-Glutamine – Glutamine is not one of the essential amino acids, but it is the most abundant single amino acid in the body, especially in the brain, blood and skeletal muscle. Glutamine can be produced by the body, but the levels of production often slows down with age. Our demand for Glutamine increases during times of physical and mental stress. Supplementing with Glutamine before exercise can help to retain levels at times of endurance, as levels  are greatly depleted in your body during the physical stress of intense training. Glutamine has been found to play a key role in maintaining a healthy digestive system as the small intestines require the most Glutamine in your body. It is also important as an energy source for processes that strengthen our immune system.

L-Proline – Proline is essential to the synthesis of collagen, which is the main structural protein in the body that acts as a shock absorber. It works in conjunction with Vitamin C to promote healthy connective tissue, including skin, tendons, ligaments, joints, bone, and veins and arteries. Collagen is made up of around 15% Proline, and stimulates wound healing, therefore after a soft tissue injury, you might want to supplement with Proline to promote adequate collagen production and sufficient wound healing, such as in cases of muscle or tendon recovery, burns and after surgery.

Cysteine – This is a Sulphur containing amino acid that is used by the body to sustain our levels of the free radical fighter Glutathione. Since Cysteine is a key building block needed in order to make Glutathione, the level of Cysteine in our body is the limiting factor in how fast it can be produced, and how much can be made. Glutathione is a powerful detoxifier of immune suppressors such as alcohol, tobacco smoke and other environmental pollutants that can lead to the accumulation of toxins.  It is therefore said to boost the immune system, and help to maintain healthy hair, skin and nails. It is used by the liver and lymphocytes to detoxify chemicals and poisons from the body to protect tissues and organs, which can slow down the natural ageing process. One form of the amino acid L-Cysteine that people take, is called NAC, also known as n-acetyl-l-cysteine. It is a variant of L-cysteine with an acetyl molecule attached to it. This variation in molecular structure enables cysteine to survive the digestive tract and get into our cells, thus increasing cysteine’s bioavailability for building Glutathione.

L-Lysine – Lysine is one of the essential amino acids. It is important in growth and development as it helps in the formation of collagen which is important for bones and connective tissues, including skin, tendons and cartilage. It is necessary for tissue repair and growth, and for producing antibodies, enzymes and hormones. It also helps the absorption of Calcium to ensure good bone growth. For bodybuilders it is important in helping the body to build protein to sustain muscle tissue, and for athletes it is particularly beneficial during times of recovery, combating fatigue and over training.

The body’s requirements for essential amino acids vary, depending on factors such as age/stage in life for growth and development, injury or illness. In our diets the food that we consume from animals and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) usually score highly on their amino acid profile and are regarded as “high-quality proteins”. Proteins from these food sources supply all of the essential amino acids. However you can obtain good amino acid profiles from combining a wide range of vegetarian sources such as whole grains, nuts and seeds. To maintain optimum health, vitality and energy, for strength and endurance you need to feed your body with the correct nutrients. Getting all the nutrient requirements you need from your diet alone is almost impossible, and is why supplements play an important role in helping to boost the immune system, support normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs. Proteins are large, complex molecules that are critical for the normal functioning of the human body, meaning Amino acids have a vital part to play.