Why the protein shake is no longer enough
Among other things, proteins contribute to the increase in bone and muscle mass. Amino acids transport nutrients and are involved in many metabolic processes. They are also needed to maintain muscles and for wound healing after injuries, so that tissues such as bone or skin can be restored. Organs such as the heart, the skin and the thyroid gland, are dependent on an adequate supply of amino acids.
Here's what you should know:
• Amino acids are the smallest building blocks of proteins and are also called "the building blocks of life
• A distinction is made between essential and non-essential amino acids
• Hormones and neurotransmitters, for example, are also made up of amino acids
• Amino acids, along with water, make up the main substance of the human organism
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Table of contents
• What are amino acids?
• Protein synthesis, briefly and simply explained
• Essential amino acids
• Non-essential amino acids
• Non-proteinogenic amino acids
• Amino acids supplement - but how?
• Our recommendation
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are the smallest building blocks of proteins and are also known as "the building blocks of life". They form proteins for tissue structure and, along with water, make up the main substance of the human organism. Chemically, they consist of a central carbon atom (C), an amino group (-NH2), a carboxyl group (-COOH), a hydrogen atom (H), and a side chain (R) of varying degree, which makes up the respective amino acid. Amino acids are nitrogenous building blocks from which, for example, proteins, hormones and neurotransmitters (messenger substances) are built. Cells and tissues are also largely made up of amino acids.
A distinction is made between essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body itself, so they must be supplied with food. There are a total of eight (or 9) essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body itself, either from carbohydrates or other amino acids. There are twelve (or 11) of these. During digestion, the body breaks down proteins from food into the 20 proteinogenic amino acids. These are the amino acids found in proteins. In addition to these, there are many others that the body builds from the proteinogenic amino acids and uses in metabolism. The absorption, i.e. the uptake of amino acids, takes place in the small intestine. Before this, the proteins are cleaved by enzymes in the digestive tract so that individual amino acids or small groups enter the small intestine.
Let's move on to the qualitative classification of proteins: There are complete and incomplete proteins. A complete protein contains all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities, while incomplete proteins do not. Thus, one should either pay attention to a combination of different incomplete proteins or to the intake of complete proteins.
Protein biosynthesis, briefly and simply explained
Protein biosynthesis is a process for the formation of proteins in cells. In this central process, a protein is produced from amino acids from the blueprints of the DNA. This process consists of two parts: transcription and translation. During transcription, which takes place in the cell nucleus, the DNA is converted into a kind of intermediate product, mRNA. This mRNA then contains only the information for a specific protein. In the translation that follows, this intermediate is then converted into a real protein. This second part of protein synthesis happens in the cytosol at ribosomes. These are special molecules that also consist of proteins and RNA.
Essential amino acids
As already written above, there are essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body itself, so they must be supplied through food. Of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids, there are eight, or nine, that are considered essential. The eight essential amino acids are: Isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine and histidine as a semi-essential amino acid. If one of these amino acids is missing, significant problems can occur in the body.
Essential amino acids perform important functions in the human body. For example, they are involved in building muscle proteins and other types of protein and contribute to normal muscle function. Essential amino acids have other important functions in the human body.
Here are a few examples:
• Amino acids also play a role in gene regulation
• They play a central role in protein building and in the formation of collagen, which is responsible for healthy nails, hair and skin and is considered the supporting substance for tissue, bones and teeth
• They are important for a strong immune system and are involved, among other things, in the production of the hormone adrenaline (formed from phenylalanine or tyrosine)
• The detoxification of the body is stimulated by sulfur-containing amino acids (cysteine, methionine)
• They are important for the regulation of uric acid metabolism and for growth in childhood (especially during a growth spurt) • During long physical exertion they serve as a source of energy and during prolonged fasting ketone bodies are formed from them
• The amino acid tryptophan is the starting material for serotonin, a messenger substance that has a mood-lifting effect and is converted into melatonin, the sleep hormone, in the evening.
• Methionine is important for methyl metabolism, as SAMe is formed from this amino acid
• Cysteine is part of glutathione, an important antioxidant
• Histidine is important in the center of enzymes for their function
For the optimal effect of some amino acids, magnesium, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 must also be present in sufficient quantities.
Essential amino acids in the diet
All essential amino acids can be taken in with food. Both animal and plant-based, vegan diets, are suitable for providing the body with sufficient essential amino acids. Here are a few examples of particularly good amino acid sources:
• Nuts and seeds
• Green vegetables
• Cheese, such as Gouda, Emmental, or Edam cheese
• Beef, pork, chicken
• Salmon, tuna, cod
In a vegan or vegetarian diet, there are often several incomplete protein sources. Here it is advisable to combine different vegetable protein sources with each other so that all amino acids are taken in overall. When we speak of a complete amino acid profile in foods, we mean that the vital (essential) amino acids are made available to the body in sufficient quantities.
Non-essential amino acids
Non-essential amino acids are not essential for life and can be produced by the body itself - from other amino acids or other molecules. They therefore only need to be taken in with food to a limited extent. The extent of their production depends only on the intake of macronutrients. If the body lacks an amino acid or if, as a result, a substance formed from it, such as a hormone, is no longer sufficiently produced, important bodily functions are no longer optimally guaranteed.
Non-proteinogenic amino acids
We know of over 100 amino acids, but only 20 are found in proteins. How does that work?
In addition to the synthesis of proteins, amino acids have other functions. Non-proteinogenic amino acids are not found in proteins, but can still have an effect - either through uptake in the diet or conversion in the body. Examples are:
• Carnitine, an amino acid necessary for the transport of fatty acids for breakdown in the mitochondria
• Homocysteine, formed from methionine; elevated levels of homocysteine may increase the risk of vascular disease
• Taurine, an antioxidant with function in the nervous system and metabolism
• Thyroxine, the thyroid hormone T4
• GABA, a neurotransmitter
• L-DOPA, as a precursor of dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline
Supplement amino acids - but how?
"Thanks to MITOcare Amino Acids Sport, I can make my training even more effective. My muscles are optimally supplied with all essential amino acids. Since I integrated them into my daily routine, I have more energy even during strong training phases."
- Quirin Moll, professional soccer player
Supplementing amino acids can make perfect sense, for example in vegetarian or vegan diets, as a competitive or recreational athlete, in times of greater exertion (growth phases, illness). A comprehensive protein-rich diet can be difficult to implement in some phases of life, or for some diets. With supplementation, the body is relieved in its own synthesis and the sufficient supply is ensured. However, one or two things must be taken into account when taking supplements.
Is protein powder the same as amino acids?
Here the answer is: quite clearly no. Protein powders contain isolated proteins from a food. The body splits these proteins just like normal food proteins in the stomach and small intestine and then absorbs short pieces and individual amino acids. The use of the amino acids can take place much later than with the intake of free amino acids. Here, nothing more has to be split, but the amino acids can be absorbed directly. So if the focus is on amino acids, free amino acids have the nose in front in any case.
The purpose of protein powders in the first place is actually not the supply of amino acids, but mostly the use as a food source with better saturation, for muscle building or similar. In this area, an intake of protein powders can be quite helpful. When it comes to amino acids, however, a product with free amino acids is clearly the better choice. Both in combination is of course also possible, but at separate times.
When it comes to amino acid supplementation, you'll find a whole lot of different options. Two fundamentally different supplements are EAA's and BCAA's. Which of these two options makes more sense?
EAA vs. BCAA
BCAA means Branched-Chain Amino Acids. EAA, on the other hand, means Essential Amino Acids. BCAAs were the talk of the town for a while, especially in the sports sector. They contain only 3 of the 8 essential amino acids, but special amino acids that are branched in their structure. These three amino acids are valine, leucine and isoleucine and are metabolized less in the liver, but more in other tissues. This includes muscle tissue, for example. The hoped-for effects are to prevent muscle breakdown and to delay muscle fatigue. To what extent the 3 amino acids achieve this is controversial.
EAA's contain all 8 essential amino acids in an amino acid complex and thus also the BCAA's with 5 additional amino acids. Thus, above all, a balance of amino acids is promoted. The answer to the question of what to recommend is clear: EAA's. These contain more amino acids and are therefore more effective and balancing.
Cofactors of amino acid metabolism
The topic of EAA vs BCAA has been clarified, but questions still remain about cofactors of amino acid metabolism. Here we dive a little bit into biochemistry, that is, into the metabolism of cells: When an amino acid needs to be converted into another amino acid, a transaminase does it, which is a special enzyme. Each transaminase uses a special cofactor: vitamin B6.
Not just any form of B6 is used, but pyridoxal phosphate. This form of vitamin B6 is also important in the conversion to biogenic amines (for example, adrenaline and dopamine). You can also find this on the back of some supplements. It is the bioactive form of vitamin B6 that acts in metabolism. So vitamin B6 is an important vitamin for the conversion of amino acids into each other. We need this conversion, for example, when we produce non-essential amino acids from essential amino acids.
Although other vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12 are also needed for individual further functions of the amino acids, vitamin B6 is the basic cofactor that should be included in every EAA product.
When taking essential amino acids, it is best to pay attention to the completeness and the use of bioactive vitamin B6 as pyridoxal-5-phosphate. Here you can usually recognize a good dietary supplement - by the quality of the raw materials.
Directly before, during, or after strength training, the intake of amino acids is most beneficial, especially for athletes. Otherwise, we recommend not to take the products with meals, because the protein in the food can reduce the absorption. With this you can get started. We wish you much success!
: Wu G. (2009). Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition. Amino acids, 37(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-009-0269-0
: Minich D. M., Brown B. I. (2019). A Review of Dietary (Phyto)Nutrients for Glutathione Support. Nutrients, 11(9), 2073. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11092073