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Amino acids: the power source of proteins

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Amino acids are organic compounds which combine to form proteins, the biological molecules fundamental to our body’s existence.

Amino acids can be divided into three main groups:

1. Essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body so must be ingested via food.

2. Nonessential amino acids, which can be produced by the body if not acquired through diet.

3. Conditional amino acids, which are usually needed only in times of illness and stress.

The Nutrition Expert editorial team compiles articles with the help of Healthspan's experts to answer key questions from our community as well as researching common health topics and news.

 More from this expert.

  • What is the role of amino acids?

    “Amino acids combine together to make protein, but we’re not just talking about proteins used to make muscle tissue,” explains nutritionist Kesh Patel. “We’re talking about enzymes, hormones and even chromosomes. The hormone insulin, for example, is made up of approximately 50 amino acids linked together. In short, they are essential for life and play a vital role in every chemical process in the body.”These include tissue growth, tissue repair and the breaking down of food.

    In the development of muscle tissue, for instance, proteins formed by amino acids help build the myosin and actin filaments in muscle fibres. In particular, research has shown the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine (which make up over one third of the essential amino acids in muscle protein) play an important role in building muscle both after exercise and while resting.(i) “These ‘branched-chain amino acids’ help make much of your muscle tissue,” Kesh says.

  • How do we get amino acids?

    “When we eat protein such as meat or fish, it gets broken down in the stomach and the small intestine into amino acids,” Kesh explains. “Those amino acids get absorbed through the gut wall into your blood stream. They can then kind of float around in your circulatory system in something called the ‘amino acid pool’. If your muscle tissue needs some for growth, they get shunted towards your muscle, or if you need some in your liver they go there.”

  • Sources of amino acid

    All the amino acids the body needs can be acquired through a balanced diet. “You don’t need to eat lots of protein to get the amino acids you need,” says Kesh. “It’s more about the quality and by that I mean having varied and diverse sources of protein.” Good sources of amino acids include red meat, fish, eggs, soybeans and poultry.

    Those wanting to ensure they have enough muscle-building branched-chain amino acids, may also wish to take a supplement. HMB (Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methyl butyrate) is a by-product of the normal breakdown of the branched-chain amino acid leucine. A study by scientists at the Institute of Sport and Physical Education and Academy of Physical Education in Poland found HMB could help increase lean body mass and strength in humans undergoing progressive resistance-exercise training.(ii)

  • References and Links

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Nutrition Expert sources the latest information and advice from a range of qualified doctors, nutritionists and coaches. We always endeavour to have the most up to date information possible and publish new content weekly. However with the constant research in this field sometimes some of our older articles can become out of date. If you see anything that you believe needs to be updated please let us know via our Contact Us page