Amino Acids 101

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for

Amino Acids are an essential part of a good diet, and are found either already in the body, or in the foods we eat. They are defined as an organic compound containing an amino group, a carboxylic acid group, and any of various side groups that link together by peptide bonds to form proteins or that function as chemical messengers and as intermediates in metabolism.

Amino Acids carry out a slew of functions within the human body. Some are used for muscle building and repairing cells and tissues, others aid in brain function and immune system function, and others boost energy levels (great for pre-workout in lieu of a Monster). The human body produces 10 of the 20 essential amino acids, meaning you must eat or supplement the other 10 into your system. The 10 that the body produces on its own are called the “non-essential” amino acids.

Below is a list of the 10 essential amino acids that are taken in via food or supplement, along with their role in the body:

Phenylalanine – Changed into Tyrosine and used to create epinephrine, and other thyroid hormones within the body.

Valine – Helps prevent breakdown of muscle tissues by supplying them with glucose for energy production.

Tryptophan – Used to create niacin and serotonin.

Threonine – Helps promote growth by maintaining a proper protein balance in the body. Also assists with central nervous and immune system function.

Isoleucine – Helps heal the body the site of a wound via blood clotting, also increases endurance and repairs muscle tissue.

Methionine – Assists in processing fat and elimination thereof.

Histidine – Develops and maintains healthy tissues in the body, particularly, coating the myelin sheaths of the nerve cells.

Arginine – Helps strengthen the immune system, and keeping the liver, skin, joints, and muscle tissues healthy and operating properly.

Leucine – Works in conjunction with isoleucine and valine to repair muscles, regulate blood sugar, and provide you with energy.

Lysine – Helps prevent outbreaks of herpes, and used for hormone production and growth of bones.

It’s important to remember that these are not produced within the body, and are either consumed through food or supplements. I don’t know of anyone truly “lacking” of these in first world countries (except vegans/vegetarians), however you could supplement if need be. I’m aware certain protein powders contain amino acids (“You don’t say?” *cue Nicholas Cage face*), and that is a fine way to ensure you’re getting enough of the muscle building properties of a few of these.

Regardless of being non-essential (again, your body produces these naturally) or essential (your body doesn’t produce these), it’s imperative to have amino acids in effort to sustain a healthy vessel and make sure your immune, muscular, and central nervous system is up to par.

Sources: “Alternative Medicine, Nutrition, and Health in the News.” VITAMINSTUFF. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>. “Tryptophan: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>. “Disclaimer.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>. ESSENTIAL AND NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS FOR HUMANS. UIC, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>. “Amino Acids.” Amino Acids. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>. Berrett, Megan. “Amino Acids Functions.” Epic Nutrition. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <>.

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