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Amino Acids Explained

You may have heard the term “amino acids” tossed around while reading workout forums or by the big guys at the gym, and rightfully so – amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are involved in the function, formation, maintenance, and repair of several organs and tissues in the body like hair, skin, bones, and muscles.

Knowing your amino acids will help you take your workouts and health to the next level, allowing you to take control of your diet and attain better results.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids are amino acids that can’t be synthesized in the body. Consequently, they must come from food.

There are 9 essential amino acids that the body needs, 3 of which are classified as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) – receiving their name from their chemical structure. These amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Methionine
  • Lysine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Valine
  • These essential amino acids help protect and care for the body through various stages. They help protect the liver and nerves, aid in healing wounds, and offer mood support – among many other benefits.

    The three BCAAs are used as supplements to improve muscle recovery post-exercise, and leucine in particular is known for its ability to influence protein synthesis.1

    Non-essential Amino Acids

    Don’t let the name fool you. Non-essential amino acids aren’t less important. They are given this name because they are produced within the body and do not need to be obtained from an outside source. These non-essential amino acids are:

  • Alanine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Depending on your body’s needs, these non-essential amino acids can be converted into proteins and used as necessary to support various functions throughout the body like sugar and acid metabolism, energy for muscle tissues and the brain, and cell functions in the nerve and brain tissue.2,3

    Conditional Amino Acids

    As the name implies, conditional amino acids are generally not essential except during certain conditions like times of extreme stress and illness. The conditional amino acids are:

  • Glycine
  • Ornithine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Arginine
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamine
  • Tyrosine

  • Many of these conditional amino acids, like arginine and glutamine, are found in workout supplements due to their ability to increase the natural growth hormone response and support post-workout recovery.4,5

    Final Thoughts

    Amino acids are involved in numerous processes throughout the body. Consequently, being deficient in the amino acids you need to obtain from outside sources (essential amino acids) can lead to several health conditions.

    Essential amino acids can be found in animal derived proteins like meats, fish, milk, eggs, and even through some plant-based foods like legumes, vegetables, and grains. Bodybuilding and fitness supplements in the form of amino powders, packed with additional hydration and energy boosting ingredients are also becoming increasingly more popular to help gym goers get the amino acids they need to continue their progress in and outside of the gym.

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    Stefan R. Wilson
    Stefan R. Wilson is a marketing professional, as well as a freelance author for nutritional supplements. He is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and holds a BS from Brigham Young University. Stefan's expertise resides in the field of supplements to be used by athletes and bodybuilders while training.


    1. Layne E. Norton and Donald K. Layman. Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise. J. Nutr. February 2006 vol. 136 no. 2 533S-537S.
    2. L-Asparagine. PubChem. Open Chemistry Database.
    3. L-Alanine. PubChem. Open Chemistry Database.
    4. Collier SR, Casey DP, Kanaley JA. Growth hormone response to varying doses of oral arginine. Growth Horm IGF Res. 2005 Apr;15(2):136-9. Epub 2005 Jan 26.
    5. Glutamine. WebMD.


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