In this sense, an amino acid is understood to be an organic molecule formed by an amino group, which can be formulated as NH2, and a carboxyl group, that can be represented with COOH. When combined with each other, a reaction occurs which liberates a molecule of water (H2O) and gives rise to a peptide bond.
Amino acids are usually crystalline substances with a sweet taste and, that in chemical terms, are considered carbonic acids. Furthermore, the bond between them that we have already referred to, and that gives rise to the formation of proteins occurs in the ribosomes of the cells.
It should also be noted that the chemical behaviour of the amino acids will be determined according to the alpha carbon atom, which is responsible for keeping the amino and carboxylic groups together.
Characteristics of Amino Acids
Amino acids are nitrogenous molecules that bond to form a bigger molecule structure called protein. Currently there are 20 known amino acids that are divided into two groups: Essential and non-essential.
Generally, these molecules are hydrophilic when they are submerged in water and their structure is not modified, and hydrophobic when they are virtually undetectable in water, preferring to place themselves in fats and other types of oily substances.
Why are Amino Acids so important for our body?
Firstly, amino acids play a key role within the human organism because, fundamentally, they are the essential component of proteins. Therefore, they are vital for the process of protein synthesis that, later and as dictated by DNA, will modulate other structures such as hormones, enzymes or antibodies, essential for life.
To briefly summarizing the synthesis of proteins, which is a really complex process and to which we have devoted several articles, the body takes the essential amino acids from the foods that are ingested through our diet, as well as non-essential amino acids, whether the body has to synthesize them or not. Subsequently, once they are absorbed, in the stomach or intestine, they reach the cells, in whose ribosomes this sophisticated mechanism will take place.
The DNA that is concentrated in the nucleus is the molecule that has the structure that the proteins must have encoded in it, and therefore, the way in which the amino acids have to be distributed in the protein. In this sense, so the information is able to pass through the membrane of said nucleus, it is synthesized into a RNA molecule, which is the one that is in charge of reaching the ribosome.
Once in the ribosome and with the appropriate information to constitute the particular type of protein, the amino acids are arranged in such a way that the first one donates a part of its carboxylic acid to join to the amino group of the following amino acid, forming the peptide bond. This process happens successively until the protein is fished.
In this sense, it is possible to know which is the first amino acid of the chain, as its amino group will be intact, and the last, which will have its carboxylic group unaltered.
What are the functions of Amino Acids?
Naturally, the main function of the amino acids is to participate in the Protein Synthesis process and give rise to complex protein structures that contribute with the performance of vital organ processes. However, they also specialize in performing a number of very important functions by themselves, in a different section to the creation of new protein structures.
It should taken into account, first of all, that most illnesses that affect the human being are due, in a large extent, to an unhealthy lifestyle. In this sense, obesity, diabetes, insomnia, arthritis, excess of cholesterol, hypertension or erectile dysfunction are great examples. In fact, most of the bad habits that derive in the outbreak of these conditions have a close relationship with our diet.
Beyond the excessive consumption of fats or harmful substances, the reality is that a deficiency of certain amino acids helps to generate the problem and to maintain it over time. And, in general, amino acids are responsible for properly transporting all nutrients and optimize their storage.
We could focus, at this point, in a general explanation of the functions of amino acids. However, as we are going to dedicate the following epigraph to explain the types of existing amino acids, we will take the opportunity to outline the main functions that each one of these amino acids performs in your body.
What are Essential Amino Acids?
Essential amino acids are, in short, those amino acids contained in proteins that the body can not synthesize by itself and, therefore, must be obtained through the diet. In general, animal origin food contains them all and in the exact proportions that the human body needs to create its own structures. Vegetable sources are usually deficient in some amino acids, and therefore a combination of them is recommended.
For this reason a large number of customers have resorted to buying branched-chain amino acids during low-calorie diets, fasting workouts, or even for people whose protein intake is not adequate, such as the elderly or people with liver problems.
Which are the Essential Amino Acids?
It is considered that there are a total of 20 types of amino acids, of which 9 are essential, although 2 of them can be so in a conditional manner. Explained below:
Histidine is a vital amino acid for tissue repair and for bone and muscle growth. In addition, it has a strong presence in hemoglobin and, in the medical field, it is used to fight anemia, ulcers, allergies and rheumatoid arthritis. It also plays a key role in the protection of nerve cells thanks to the fact that it keeps the myelin sheaths, that cover these cells, in good conditions.
If this were not enough, it is essential for the production of white and red blood cells, as our body will produce histamine from the histidine, and that product will intervene in the formation of red and white blood cells. On the other hand, histidine will also help reduce blood pressure, eliminate heavy metals, prevent damage from harmful radiation and increase libido. It is considered an essential amino acid in children, but not essential in adulthood.
Leucine lowers blood glucose levels and stimulates the production of growth hormone - leucine prevents the loss of muscle mass. Likewise, in collaboration with isoleucine and valine, it helps the muscle, bone and skin tissue to heal faster.
It also is associated to a physiological activation mechanism, known as "mTOR pathway", and through which, the protein synthesis processes are initiated.
Like histidine, it is critical for the production of hemoglobin, as well as for the regulation of energy levels and blood glucose. In addition, this amino acid is especially advisable for sportspeople as it plays a key role in repairing muscle tissues that have suffered heavy wear after a hard training session.
Together with Leucine and Isoleucine, it forms the trio known as "Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs" due to their molecular structure, and they perform important functions for the maintenance of muscle mass. It is essential in coordination, muscle metabolism and tissue repair. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the liver and gallbladder, in addition to promoting greater vigour and mental agility.
Lysine ensures that calcium is properly absorbed and distributed, and that hydrogen levels remain stable. It is also an essential part of collagen that constitutes a part of the connective tissue and cartilage. Likewise it participates in the production of antibodies and its consumption is especially recommended for the treatment of herpes. Another important function of this amino acid is that it cooperates with vitamin C and prevents the formation of blood clots.
Without this amino acid the brain would be unable to produce norepinephrine, a catecholamine - hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter - that is responsible for transmitting the signals between the different cells that make up the nervous system.
Additionally, it has a very positive effect on mood, decreases pain levels and stimulates learning. In medicine it is used to combat depression, Parkinson's and schizophrenia, among other diseases.
A magnificent source of sulphur, which promotes the maintenance of skin, nails and hair tissues, as well as being an excellent antioxidant that also prevents the accumulation of fat in arteries and liver.
Helps detoxify the body from heavy metals. Also, as it promotes the excretion of estrogens, it is advisable for women taking oral contraceptives.
Interestingly, this is the amino acid that is responsible for maintaining adequate levels of proteins within the body. In addition to collaborating in the production of collagen, which helps keep connective tissues in good conditions, such as the skin and tooth enamel and elastin (improves tissue elasticity), it also helps to eliminate liver fat when combined with methionine and aspartic acid.
An amino acid with a powerful relaxing effect perfect for people with sleep problems as well as anxiety and/or depression. It also works great for migraines and reduces appetite, so its consumption is recommended for people trying to lose weight.
What are Non-Essential Amino Acids?
On the other hand, Non-essential amino acids can be provided through food or be synthesized by our body from other amino acids.
Which are the Non-Essential Amino Acids?
Like histidine, this amino acid is considered essential or non-essential depending on the circumstance. In any case, it strengthens the immune system and delays the onset and growth of tumors in people suffering from cancer. It also detoxifies the liver by neutralizing ammonia and reduces the chronic effects of alcohol.
Arginine is responsible for the blood flow to the virile member during male arousal. It participates in the urea cycle, a detoxifying process by which metabolic waste, consequence of the catabolism of the amino acids, is eliminated. Among these products is ammonium.
Vital for the correct transfer of nitrogen from the surrounding liver-tissues, to metabolize glucose, to detoxify the body and for the correct and adequate production of antibodies by the immune system.
One of its main functions is related to the processes of excretion and purification of the organism. Perfect for endurance athletes as it increases endurance and reduces chronic fatigue. Aspartic acid also has potent effects against depression, protects the liver and helps the metabolism and formation of cellular structures.
Due to its powerful antioxidant nature it is very effective in order to detoxify the organism as a whole. It protects the organs from the harmful action of substances contained in alcohol, tobacco and drugs in general, as well as preventing the hardening of arteries and rheumatoid arthritis.
It is a precursor of Glutathione, one of the major antioxidants available in our body, in addition to enhancing the action of vitamins E and C.
It is a conditionally essential amino acid, because although our body generates it, in certain circumstances this production may not satisfy the body’s requirements, such as when we go through a period of heavy workload or stress.
Glutamine is the amino acid with greatest presence in the muscle tissues of humans. Therefore, it also has a very positive effect for athletes and sportspeople. Likewise, it is considered to work as brain fuel and contributes to achieving an acid-alkaline balance in the body which, as has been shown, can impair the onset of certain diseases such as cancer.
Within the organism it acts as a neurotransmitter that excites the cells of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system as a whole. It also participates in the metabolization of fats and sugars and helps to transport potassium.
Facilitates the storage of glycogen, protects the prostate and slows down the degeneration of muscles, as well as strengthening the nervous and immune system. It constitutes a part of the collagen structure, and supplies support to improve the healing function.
Helps to produce collagen and prevents its loss, so the results it produces can be observed, for example, in a better state of the skin. It usually works in combination with vitamin C to maintain healthy connective tissues. Also involved in the maintenance of the bone and cartilaginous system.
Fundamental for the metabolism of body fat, reducing its absorption, and to produce growth hormone. It is vital to obtain a strong and healthy immune system.
Essential for the correct use of fatty acids and fats, as well as for the maintenance of the immune system and muscle growth. It also protects nerve fibers and is vital for the proper functioning of RNA and DNA.
Its action focuses on general metabolism. In addition, as it is the precursor of dopamine and adrenaline, it plays a crucial role in regulating mood. It also helps in thinning.
Amino Acids Properties
Amino acids have multiple functions because they are used by our body to synthesize proteins, although in exceptional cases they can be used to synthesize glucose, such as during a very low carbohydrate diet or prolonged fasting.
Although the functions of the amino acids tend to be simplified, the reality is quite different, participating in most of our body processes. This way, they are found at a brain level (GABA, Tryptophan), as a vasodilator (Citrulline, Arginine or Ornithine, among others), as a precursor of glucose (Alanine) or of substances related to allergy (Histidine), with structural functions (Methionine) and even as an adjuvant to eliminate toxins (Cysteine).
Even then, we can find derivatives of amino acids that have other functions, such as:
Tissues repair (mainly muscular)
Mediators in the metabolism of fats and sugars
Blood glucose regulators
Synthesis of neurotransmitters related to sleep/wakefulness
Synthesis of catecholamines
Synthesis of hormones
Amino Acids Supplements
The amino acid supplements deserve a special mention. On the one hand, are those focused on alleviating a determined deficit that exists in a particular individual.
On the other hand, are those related to sports. In both cases, they usually have large amounts of certain amino acids. In this sense, you just have to take a look at the functions they exert in the body to understand why.
How to take amino acids?
The way in which we take amino acids, whether they are essential or non-essential, will depend on our training. Normally, the amino acids can be taken during the workout if it lasts more than 90 minutes or if exercise intensity is very high.
Taking branched-chain amino acids is crucial for endurance athletes, as they should take around 6 - 15 g of BCAA’s in a long-distance run to improve performance, as they allow to reduce muscle glycogen usage, delaying fatigue.
In strength athletes, muscle contraction can easily increase protein degradation, thus the intake of BCAA’s during the workout may also have a positive effect. As we can see, the intake of amino acids in peri-workout (before, during and after) can result very interesting!
For people who want to improve their body composition, amino acid intake (especially BCAA’s) helps you achieve your goal. It has been shown that leucine supplementation reduces the organism protein requirements. In this case, taking a little amount of BCAA’s between meals or adding it to the least proteic meal is the ideal thing to do.
Where to buy amino acids?
There are several online stores where you can buy essential amino acids, being HSNstore.com the best quality-to-price and service.
You may find a wide range of amino acid supplements: isolated amino acids, BCAA’s (also very common is BCAA’s + Glutamine), blend of essential and non-essential amino-acids, hydrolyzed, amino acids in powder, tablets or capsules, neutral or with different flavours, etc.
Price of Amino Acids
The price of the amino acid supplements is very variable as it will depend on various factors such as the type of raw material used, the amount of product, the processing procedure, the brand, the format, etc.
In addition to having an extensive list of the best brands of Sports Nutrition, at HSN we have a special series called HSN Raw Series where you may find a wide range of high quality amino acid products at very affordable prices.
Unlike other brands, we do not skimp on the quality of the raw material to save costs. Our policy of "Offering the highest quality at the lowest prices" is mainly due to the fact that we avoid middle-men or intermediaries. The products go directly from the factory to your home.
You have the opportunity of buying essential and non-essential amino acids in isolation (glutamine, leucine peptides, l-tyrosine, citrulline, branched-chain amino acids, beta-alanine, arginine, etc.) as powder without flavour that are perfect to create your own personal combinations.
This option, in addition to being more economical in the long run, allows you to adjust the amount of amino acids according to your individual nutritional needs to create your perfect pre/intra/post workout drink.