Muscle-sparing benefits of amino acids during training help limit damage and boost muscle growth. Most of us understand the vital role that protein – specifically the constituent amino acids that combine to form protein molecules – plays after exercise in the repair of muscle tissue damaged during intense training.
However, there is another benefit that informed gym-goers have cottoned on to, namely the muscle-sparing effects that amino acid supplements offer during intense weight training in the gym. 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.
Amino Acids Defined
Accordingly, by understanding the role that amino acids play in the body and how to manipulate your intake, particularly during exercise, you can take your muscle development to a whole new level.
Amino acids are organic compounds that are biologically significant to the anabolic process as they aid muscle protein synthesis. They also fulfill other vital roles in the body as they act as neurotransmitters, signal hormone release, and are components of haemoglobin, cell membranes, fibrin (for clotting) and contractile elements.
There are about 500 known amino acids, which can be classified in various ways. Of relevance to gym-goers and athletes, amino acids are the second largest constituent of human muscle tissue (water is the largest constituent). Twenty-two amino acids are naturally incorporated into protein molecules, and are called natural amino acids. Of the 20 standard amino acids that are most relevant to muscle gain, nine are considered essential amino acids (EAA) because they cannot be created from other compounds within the human body. As such, they must be supplied through our diets, either from whole food and/or supplements.
Other amino acids may be considered conditionally essential in certain instances, like during times of illness, stress or excessive exercise. Conditionally essential amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline and serine. There are also non-essential amino acids (NEAA) that are provided by the liver.
|Essential Amino Acids||Non-essential Amino Acids|
Role In Protein Synthesis
Amino acids build muscle by forming the structural units of proteins. They achieve this by joining together to form short chains (called peptides), which then form longer chains of 10 or more peptides called polypeptides. A polypeptide that contains more than 50 amino acids is generally considered to be a protein molecule, depending on how they are bound together. These are the building blocks of muscle tissue.
For protein synthesis to occur, an adequate supply of both essential and non-essential amino acids is vital. If one of the essential amino acids is missing then protein synthesis can stop. When we consume amino acid supplements, the 20 standard amino acids are either used to synthesise proteins and other biomolecules, or are oxidised as a source of energy, depending on the needs of the body at the time.
Protein Sparing Effect
It is this ability to be metabolised for energy during intense training that makes amino acids so beneficial to individuals looking to preserve muscle tissue. With adequate amounts of amino acids circulating throughout the body during a session – usually achieved by sipping on a suitable supplement – the body has no need to break down muscle tissue to meet any shortfall in its energy requirements due to a lack of glycogen or fatty acids.
If there is an energy deficit, glucogenic amino acids are converted into glucose, through a process known as gluconeogenesis. However, when amino acids are used as a fuel source, muscles appear to preferentially utilise the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) leucine, isoleucine and valine. As such, supplementing with a suitable amino acid product ensures that amino acids are immediately available for energy, or to aid the repair of damaged muscle cells if they are not metabolised.
Amino Acid Timing
The most reliable way to deliver amino acids to working muscles is to ingest specific amino acids in free form, before and/or during intense exercise. Free form amino acid supplements do not require any digestion and are free of chemical bonds to other molecules. This means that they can move quickly through the stomach and into the small intestine, where they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
What To Use
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 assimilate.