by Will Grumke June 11, 2021 7 min read
When it comes to health and fitness, we hear a lot about Amino Acids.
But what are Amino Acids?
Where do they come from?
What do Amino Acids do?
Those are all great questions, and little do most people know … amino acids come from protein.
Understanding amino acids and when to use amino acid supplements effectively can help you make sure your body has all the amino acids it needs every day for muscle growth and repair, digestion, and metabolism.
Amino Acids are compounds that play many important roles in our body.
They're needed for processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones, can be used for energy, and more.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Any and all protein that you eat is simply a variety of amino acids connected together.
When humans consume protein, their digestive systems break that protein source down into its various amino acids.
Amino acids are classified into three groups:
Non-Essential - Our bodies can produce these amino acids.
Essential - Our bodies don't produce these, so we must get them through food.
Conditionally Essential - These are nonessential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress, because your body will need more of them.
There are 20 amino acids that make up a complete protein.
As an adult, we can make 11 of the 20 amino acids in our bodies.
They are the Non-Essential amino acids.
Which means we need them, but since we can produce them within our bodies it is not essential to get them through food, protein shakes, or amino acids supplements.
That leaves us with nine more, the essential amino acids, or better known as EAAs.
Which means we must obtain these through food or supplementation … hence the name, essential amino acids.
Now, three of those Essential Amino Acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
These three Amino Acids help with energy production and kick-starting muscle protein synthesis. They are called Branched Chain Amino Acids.
Currently, in the Health and Fitness Industry, the big buzz is about Branched Chain Amino Acids.
Many supplement companies have come out with a BCAA product and market them in many different ways.
For weight loss, for muscle growth, to be sipped on during the day, post-workout, intra-workout, and the list goes on and on.
The simple answer, yes.
But no matter what your goals are, there are certain things you need to know and understand to get the best results.
When it comes to where you are getting amino acids from and earning the best results, whole food protein sources are best … complete protein supplements (Phormula-1 and Level-1) are second best … then typically the next most effective choice would be Essential Amino Acid products like Anabolic Bridge, Intra-Formance and EAA's … and lastly, Branched Chain Amino Acid products like BCAA's.
Now, even though EAA's and BCAA's are third and fourth on the list, they can still help you reach your fat loss or muscle growth goal when used properly.
In this blog, I want to cover the two popular times for amino acid supplementation … in-between meals and around your workout.
This way you can have a better idea on whether or not it will be beneficial for you to supplement with amino acids.
For supplementing in-between meals or use during the day, an Essential Amino Acid (EAA) product is usually a superior choice to a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) product.
By ingesting Essential Amino Acids through food, shakes, or an EAA product, you are giving your body the Amino Acids it needs to stay in the anabolic state (primarily burning fat and carbs for fuel and preserving lean muscle).
This will help you build/preserve lean muscle, burn more fat, and recover more quickly.
The current trend, however, is for people to sip on BCAA's during the day to stay in the anabolic state between meals.
This is typically not as beneficial as an EAA product (Reminder: BCAA's are in EAA's) for multiple reasons. The biggest reason being you are simply missing 6 essential amino acids.
Think of it like this … BCAA's are bricklayers and the other EAA's and amino acids are bricks.
It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to send bricklayers to the job site if they aren’t accompanied with or closely followed by a supply of bricks to start doing work.
Once again, this is why ingesting complete protein sources through whole foods, or drinking Level-1, is always the best option for getting amino acids into your body, since you will be giving your body all the amino acids it needs.
This is why I choose and recommend Anabolic Bridge or the Essential Amino Acid powder over BCAA's for use in-between meals and shakes.
Personally, I always keep a bottle of Anabolic Bridge in my truck and a few servings in my backpack.
If you have a good nutrition plan and stay consistent to it, you most likely won’t use Anabolic Bridge every day. I know I don’t, but it is great to have on hand for when you do need it!
Something that many people have been enjoying is mixing their Opti-Greens 50 and Opti-Reds 50 with EAAs throughout the day. I can personally say the Orange Pineapple Banana is phenomenal with the Opti-Health Stack!
Once again, BCAA’s are heavily marketed to be taken pre-, intra-, and post-workout. So let’s dive into this a bit.
When it comes to BCAA's before your workout, you do not need to take them...
But depending on your goals and your lifestyle, there can be situations where amino acid supplementation before your workout is beneficial.
For example, if you have not eaten in the last two hours and are headed to the gym, using Essential Amino Acids or a quick digesting complete protein source like Phormula-1 is a good idea.
This way you are giving your body the full spectrum of amino acids it needs, which includes BCAA's.
This answer, like many when it comes to health and fitness, is "it depends". “Workout” is a generic term that can mean very different things to different people.
A workout can mean weight lifting, functional style of training, boot camp, bodyweight movements at home, yoga, running and the list goes on and on.
Plus, workouts can vary a lot in duration.
Then, if you start looking at the intensity of your workout, and your nutrition before the workout ... the answer can get more and more complicated.
So, in an attempt to keep it simple … here is my rule of thumb.
If you are doing cardio, lifting weights, or training in any way for less than an hour, you do not need to supplement with amino acids during training.
Now, is there anything wrong with drinking BCAA's during your training? No, not at all.
You can pretty much drink BCAA's anytime, as they won’t hurt your results and can give you some benefit … I just don’t consider it as beneficial in this situation.
There are most likely other supplements that would have a bigger impact on your results, like making sure to take proper post-workout, or investing your money on foundational health products like Opti-Greens 50 than to supplement with amino acids during training.
If you are doing post-workout properly with Phormula-1 and Ignition, you do not need to take EAA's or BCAA's post-workout.
Phormula-1 and Ignition will already give your body what it needs to initiate proper recovery from training.
In each scoop of Phormula-1, you will get 5 grams of naturally occurring BCAA’s, plus all the essential and non-essential amino acids.
Therefore, you do not need to supplement with additional amino acids.
Great question and once again, on an individual level ... it depends on the person, their goals, and their lifestyle.
But the good news is that there is not a “wrong” or bad time to take BCAA’s … you just might not be getting the maximum benefits of them.
This is why I educate on nutrition first, then make sure foundational supplements (the ones that will have the biggest impact on their results) are in place, and THEN we can look at adding in BCAA’s or Intra-Formance.
Otherwise, just using a BCAA supplement alone without the other more important things in place first is a waste of money.
As a general rule of thumb though, a great time to add in BCAA’s would be if you’re training for longer than an hour.
They are great to take during your workout to help prevent excessive muscle tissue breakdown, can help with sustaining better performance throughout longer workouts, and even prime your body for recovery after a long, hard training session.
At this point, Branched Chain Amino Acids become a useful supplement to add to your regiment!
Personally, if I am going to train for longer than an hour, here is how I use Amino Acid Supplements and what I recommend to my clients as well.
Mix 1 scoop of BCAA's or 1 scoop of Intra-Formance (has EAA's in it) into 12-16oz of water and sip on it from roughly the 30-minute mark until about 10 to 15 minutes until I finish my workout.
Then, when I finish my workout, I drink my Phormula-1 and Ignition and move on with life!
Amino Acids play a big role in helping you reach your goals.
Therefore, you want to make sure you understand Amino Acids, what they are, where they come from, and how you’re getting them into your body through nutrition and supplements.
Currently, we hear and see so much information about BCAA's, making it the “hottest” amino acid supplement.
But when it comes down to it, if you don’t have a good nutrition plan and foundational supplements in place, the benefits you will receive from BCAA’s will be less than what you desire.
In order of importance and achieving the best results, you want to focus on whole food protein sources, Phormula-1 and Ignition post-workout, Level-1 when you can’t eat, and then look at adding in an amino acid supplement.
Now, I know I covered a good amount of info and a lot of the answers are dependent on the goal, lifestyle, and routine of the person asking the question ... so, if you have any questions about how to use amino acids as part of your routine, reach out to us here at 1st Phorm!
We have a team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialists who can help you for free!
Whether you need help with your nutrition, workouts, supplements, or all the above … we’ve always got your back!
Will Grumke is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer.