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Amino Acids Information

Amino acids are critical to life, and have a variety of roles in metabolism. They are the chemical units or “building blocks” that make up proteins. A typical chemistry class would refer to many of these linked together as linear chains, peptide bonds, or just simply polypeptides. The chemical properties of these amino acids determine the biological activity of the protein that they make up. The protein is further defined by it’s own unique sequence, structure, and stability of it’s amino acids. All of these variables are what control the function of each individual protein. Protein is what makes up the muscles, tendons, organs, glands, nails, and hair of the body. All growth, repair and maintenance of the body’s cells are dependant upon them. Next to water, protein makes up the greatest portion of our body weight. There are two types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. The essential ones must be obtained from the diet and cannot be made or processed by the body alone. The non-essential ones are made, as needed, by the body. (There is also a semi-essential group unique to children. A child’s metabolic pathway is not fully developed, keeping them from synthesizing certain non-essential amino acids.)

Essential amino acids
Included in this group are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids must be supplied by our diet. A deficiency in even one could result in catabolism of the body’s proteins (muscle, tissue, ect.) to obtain the one needed amino acid. The body does not keep extra essential amino acids on stand-by for times of shortage or emergency, as it does with body fat and carbohydrates for calories and energy. Histidine is found in hemoglobin, the oxygen in the blood. It is essential for the growth and repair of tissues, is involved in the maintenance of the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and aids in sexual arousal, to name some of it’s functions. Leucine works with isoleucine and valine to promote the healing of muscle tissue, skin, and bones; is recommended when recovering from surgery; lowers blood sugar levels; and aids in increasing growth hormone production. These three essential amino acids are also known as the “branched-chain amino acids” (BCAA), or branched amino acids, having aliphatic side chains that are non-linear. This powerful threesome, when taken along with a strategic workout and diet plan, helps it’s consumer gain muscle, lose weight, and speed metabolism, making it three of the best amino acids to work synergistically together.

Non-essential amino acids
Included in this group are alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, cysieine & cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. These amino acids can be supplemented if a deficiency is found; but under normal circumstances, the body makes them naturally. For example, the body will manufacture and use it’s own glutamine in times of stress; but it can also be supplemented by athletes to aid in and speed up recovery time between training, because of its ability to repair and heal muscle tissue. Arginine (sometimes mistaken as L-Arginine) is considered the Natural Viagra from its ability to increase blood flow to the penis, increase sperm count, aid in weight loss by increasing muscle mass and reducing body fat, and is a major component of collagen which is good for arthritis and connective tissue disorders. Taurine strengthens the heart muscle, boosts vision, controls hypoglycemia by regulating blood sugar, and has been used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, hyperactivity, poor brain function, and seizures.

Semi-essential amino acids
Included in this group are arginine, histidine, tyrosine, and cysteine. These amino acids must be consumed since they are unable to be metabolized by the young. Essential only for children, not for adults.

Now that we have brushed the surface about amino acids, it is important to remember that one of the more important reasons to understand amino acid structure and properties is to be able to understand protein structure and properties. You can now see that the vastly complex characteristics of even a small, relatively simple, protein are a composite of the properties of the amino acids that make up the protein. What a miraculous, chemically perfected machine our body is to be able to perform these functions, figure out what we need and when, and maintain life as we know it; all the while keeping our uniqueness and individuality that’s found in every cell of our body, the very dna that we were given at birth.

Julie Riggs

Julie Riggs Med. RD LD
Registered and Licensed Dietician


Julie Riggs has been teaching fitness and nutrition skills to every population, from NFL players to the elderly, pre and post-natal moms to professional bodybuilders for her entire career. As a writer and consultant for www.Superhealthcenter.com and as a registered dietician, personal trainer, and mom of three Julie brings real life perspective to the every day person's fitness and nutritional concerns.