How Do Amino Acids Work? And Can You Take Them In Supplement Form?
Lose It!|Volume 37
We all need amino acids, not just the gym bunnies, even though they’re usually associated with body building products. Here’s why – plus, how to get them into your diet and whether to supplement.
Ruth Marcus

Amino acids are known as the ‘building blocks’ of protein in both plants and animals.

Because protein is crucial to almost all biological processes, it’s considered an essential macronutrient. A large proportion of our cells, muscles and tissue is made up of amino acids. They carry out many important bodily functions, such as giving cells their structure, transporting and storing nutrients, healing wounds and repairing tissue, especially in the muscles, bones, skin and hair.

There are 20 amino acids, grouped into three categories: Essential, Nonessential, and Conditional. (The group to which a specific amino acid belongs depends on where your body gets it from).

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

As the name suggests, these are the most important to us. They include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Because your body can’t produce essential amino acids itself, you need to get them through food or supplementation. Most of us are able to get enough essential amino acids through our diets.

NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

Your body can produce nonessential amino acids. These include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine. Don’t be distracted by the ‘non-essential’ label: they play a role in important bodily functions such as tissue growth and repair, immune function, red blood cell formation and hormone synthesis.

CONDITIONAL AMINO ACIDS

Conditional amino acids become essential for individuals in certain situations. They’re produced only under specific circumstances, typically when your body is fighting off an illness or dealing with stress. The conditional amino acids are arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

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