Can Amino Acids Help Aid Weight Loss?
You may have heard some people at the gym talking about amino acids, particularly with hypertrophy (increasing muscle size). What are they, and how can you utilize them for fat loss? Are they safe and effective?
While there are over 250 amino acids within the human genome, amino acids are typically categorized as essential and non-essential, and only eight are considered “essential” for humans. These are the eight amino acids considered in a fitness and health setting. To be an amino acid, an organic compound must have a minimum of one amino group and one carboxy group.
Twenty amino acids within the human body are suited for building proteins—these amino acids are called “proteinogen.” The vast majority of amino acids do not build protein. The 20 which do build protein include the eight essential amino acids, as well as “semi-essential” and “non-essential” acids.
What Makes An Amino Acid Essential?
Essential amino acids are those which the body can’t produce by itself. They must be externally supplied, through either a food, beverage or supplement. The essential amino acids are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Semi-essential amino acids arginine and histidine may or may not be available naturally in the body depending on numerous factors. In some cases, they also need to be ingested from an external source.
This might sound like a lot of jargon, but for those who start shopping around for amino acid supplements to help in their journey of fat loss and muscle building, these terms will pop up. It’s important to understand the difference between “weight loss” and “fat loss.”
The vast majority of people who say they want to achieve weight loss actually mean fat loss. Weight loss can, and does, include muscle and even bone mineral density.
Not everyone is interested in increasing muscle size, or hypertrophy. However, everyone will benefit from strengthening muscles (even if that doesn’t necessarily increase size) in order to better their health and protect their body. Muscles equate to movement. The stronger they are, the more a person can do, and the better protected the bones and internal organs are.
Amino Acids Can Help On A Fat Loss And Muscle-Building Journey. Here’s How.
Amino acids and proteins are peas in a pod: Twenty percent of the human body is comprised of protein. It’s absolutely vital for survival, and amino acids are protein’s building blocks.
Amino acids are charged with a variety of bodily functions, from giving cells structure to storing nutrients and moving them around the body as needed. Amino acids play a role in healthy organ, artery, gland and tendon function, help you heal faster from an injury, and are paramount with tissue (i.e. muscle) repair.
However, amino acids haven’t received much attention in the mainstream media. They’ve largely been sequestered to the most serious of fitness enthusiasts, and bodybuilders in particular. According to BBC journalist Meirion Jones, author of The Amino Revolution, amino acid knowledge is finally on the rise.
Jones says that doctors are more often reporting the positive effects of amino acids, but it will still take a while for that to trickle down to the general population—or even the moderate gym-goer.
One of the most popular amino acid-based supplements in the fitness world is BCAA, or branch-chain amino acids. The BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine, three of the essential amino acids that are the real power houses of protein building blocks. BCAAs in particular help safeguard muscles against the natural “catabolic” effects of calorie restriction (or “dieting,” though that’s a dangerous word) and “straight cardio.”
Every workout either has a catabolic or anabolic effect. Catabolic means the breaking down of muscle, and anabolic means muscle building. Muscle breakdown is going to happen when a person is on a fitness and/or calorie-conscious program—even though the ultimate goal is the breakdown of fat, not muscle.
It’s very difficult to only lose fat, not muscle, on any program (though some are better than others). Fortunately, amino acids can help.
Amino acids, and especially BCAAs, are a type of ergogenic aid (supplementary product) that is 100 percent natural. Amino acids are supposed to be in your body, even though some are essential and require your helping getting there.
There are some murmurings in the gym locker room that BCAAs are only for building muscle, which can scare some people away (particularly some women). While BCAAs can certainly help achieve maximum hypertrophy by minimizing muscle breakdown if that’s your goal, you need to be on a muscle-building diet and program for that element to come into play.
BCAAs can do a lot more for a person than “just” helping with muscle growth. They can also help with streamlining fat loss and reducing muscle soreness.
Amino Acids And Fat Loss
The BCAAs are a fantastic, natural, safe and healthy supplement for those who simply want to maintain muscle mass while on a caloric deficiency in order to lose fat—not muscle. Even if you don’t want to gain muscle mass, it’s never a good idea to consciously lose muscle mass.
It’s why bodybuilders love BCAAs when they’re getting ready for a competition. At this stage, right before a big show, they’re working on maintaining their current muscle mass but seriously leaning down or “shredding” to drop as much fat as possible to show off those muscles.
You may not have bodybuilding dreams, but this is what “looking toned” means. (In actuality, there’s no such thing as “toning” muscles. There’s simply the size of a muscle paired with the amount of fat a person has. Usually, when someone says they want to get toned, they mean they want to increase or maintain muscle size while decreasing fat).
A calorie deficiency and/or straight cardio with minimal strength training (such as running) is catabolic. Plus, the leaner a person becomes, the faster they lose muscle mass because the body goes into a mode to cling to body fat.
This is starvation mode, regardless of a person’s actual size or percentage of body fat. When in a catabolic state, the body depends on muscle for energy instead of fat. Muscle loss happens molecular-ly in catabolism by freeing the amino acids in the muscle for fuel.
However, with amino acids and BCAAs in particular, you can help keep the body fueled with the amino acids necessary to maintain muscle while still losing fat. Ideally, sipping on BCAA-infused water (which is available with zero calories) before, during and after a workout gives your body and muscle what it needs to avoid protein breakdown.