We all know the important role protein plays in our muscle-building plans – it’s why we all have a tub of Primal Nutrition Whey Protein in our cupboards for those post-workout recovery shake
But did you know that the complete proteins found in your favourite tub of whey are made up of many amino acids?
The interesting part of this process is that we digest complete proteins into amino acids. The body then combines them again in different ways to meet a range of specific needs.
In our case, the main aim is to repair muscles after our intense gym sessions so that they grow back bigger and stronger after training, but amino acids also fulfil other vital roles in the body, acting as neurotransmitters and hormone regulators, and also make up other tissues.
You’re probably wondering, then, if it wouldn’t be better to skip the protein digestion process and rather deliver an effective dose of amino acids from a suitable supplement. Well, yes and no.
One of the most beneficial characteristics of amino acid supplements like Primal Nutrition Amino Force or Amino 8:1:1 is the muscle-sparing effect they deliver when consumed before and/or during intense training.
This happens because your body is able to metabolise amino acids for energy, particularly when there is a lack of carb-derived energy from the foods you eat or from the glycogen stored in your muscle cells and liver.
In the absence of a suitable energy source, your body will tap into muscle tissue to break down proteins into amino acids, which are then converted into glucose (the process is known as gluconeogenesis for those interested in the exercise science stuff).
But by sipping on a suitable supplement, we deliver a readily-available supply of amino acids which circulate throughout the body during a session. The body, therefore, has no need to break down muscle tissue to meet any shortfall in its energy demands due to a lack of glycogen or fat.
It is this ability to be metabolised for energy during intense training that makes amino acids so beneficial to those of us who want to train intensely without losing muscle tissue.
When we use amino acids as a fuel source, muscles appear to preferentially metabolise the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) leucine, isoleucine and valine, which is the exact composition of the free form amino acids found in Primal Nutrition Amino 8:1:1.
Amino acid timing
Free form amino acid supplements are best because they do not require any digestion and are free of chemical bonds to other molecules. This means that they can move quickly through the digestive system and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
The most reliable way to deliver amino acids to working muscles is to sip on an amino acid drink before and/or during intense exercise.
When using supplemental amino acids, stick to L-form, for example L-glutamine, which refers to the structure of the amino acid. It indicates that the amino acid is in a human form and is, therefore, easier to digest and use.
Not only does this help to limit the amount of damage caused by the mechanical stress of weight training, but supplementing with amino acids during a session also gets the muscle-building process started sooner.
A final word
Based on this information you might be tempted to just stick with free form amino acids throughout the day as they appear to be more efficiently absorbed than complete proteins, but it’s important not to oversimplify the concept.
While numerous studies support the muscle-sparing effects of free form amino acid supplementation, there is also additional research available that shows complete proteins are superior for optimal post-workout recovery.
As such, a combination of amino acids taken before and during training, and a tasty whey shake after your session has ended seems to be the most effective supplement approach.