Amino acids are critical to life, and have many functions. One particularly important function is to serve as the building blocks of proteins. Amino acids can be linked together in varying sequences to form a vast variety of proteins. There are 20 amino acids in nature out of which 8 are essential (human body cannot synthesize them) and rest are non-essential (human body can synthesize them). Thus a person needs to include all the essential amino acids in their diet to prevent their deficiencies. In case of a disease or malabsorption these should be included as amino acid supplements. Essential amino acids include methionine, arginine, tryptophan, valine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, and lysine. Histidine is an essential amino acid (also called as conditional amino acid) only in infants because as an infant grows into a child he develops the ability to synthesize this amino acid.

Based on their structures amino acids are of two types: branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and aromatic amino acids. Both are BCAA and aromatic amino acids are essential for life. BCAA are required in higher amounts if a person is doing rigorous physical activity e.g. an athlete, a weightlifter or a body builder needs a higher amount of BCAA. These amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, valine, glutamine, methionine, threonine to name a few. BCAA make up 1/3rd or 33% of the muscle protein. They reduce muscle breakdown during exercise, increase protein synthesis, regulate blood sugar levels and aid in fat loss.

Glutamine (a conditionally essential amino acid) is the most abundant amino acid found in human muscle and is one of the most commonly used amino acid supplements. It is available as a micronized, instantly soluble powder or capsules. Body’s natural glutamine stores are depleted during exercise because glutamine present in our blood is used by the body during exercise. In order to replenish this loss the body breaks glutamine which is present in muscle. Ingestion of glutamine by this population in diet or as amino acid supplements may therefore help ensure a ready supply for the muscles.

There are a few factors which should be considered while taking amino acid supplements. Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C are needed for amino acid metabolism and to help with the absorption of amino acids so include these vitamins with your amino acid supplements. If you are taking amino acid supplements, L-Forms are recommended as they are more acceptable to the body. Taking amino acid supplements on an empty stomach may help in its absorption.

Apart from their usage as building blocks of proteins there are other important non-protein roles of amino acids. Many amino acids are used to synthesize other molecules, for example: Tryptophan is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin; Arginine is a precursor of nitric oxide, glutamic acid is used as a flavor enhancer, Aspartame is used as a low-calorie artificial sweetener. Amino acids also contribute to the health of nervous system, muscular structure, hormone production, cellular structure, etc. Deficiency of amino acids may result in hormonal imbalances, irritability, low concentration and depression.

Amino acids are the bricks in the wall of our body. To make the wall strong include the right mix of amino acids either through diet or inclusion of amino acid supplements.

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