Amino acids for muscle building

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Discover how amino acids help muscle building

If you would like to improve your athletic fitness and performance or repair muscle lost from an injury, find out how amino acids can build muscles.

Exercise and nutrients build muscles

Exercise is an important part of muscle building. However exercise alone cannot build muscles without adequate nutrition and the balance of hormones in your body.

Consuming a diet with adequate amounts of protein (especially essential amino acids) and carbohydrates helps your muscles to grow.

If you stop exercising, fast or skip meals over a period of time, your muscle filaments may start to breakdown faster than they can grow causing you to lose muscle mass.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are chains of compounds made from elements carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen.

Amino acids are considered the building blocks of proteins in your body. They are a source of energy and also help grow tissues, organs, muscles, skin and hair. Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, is one of the many bodily processes that are linked to amino acids in your body.

Imagine a protein as a group of linked-chains. Each link in the chain is an amino acid, which form into peptide chains (polypeptides). The more links in the chain, the bigger the polypeptide. Proteins are made up many polypeptide chains.

Amino acids can be divided into two groups:

  • Essential (or dietary) amino acids – derived from the food you eat and primarily responsible for building proteins in your body
  • Non-essential amino acids – are synthesised by the body from other amino acids and are available as fuel

How does protein help muscle growth?

Muscles are made up of two types of filaments (actin and myosin), which are both proteins. To grow your muscles, the two protein filaments need to be built and strengthened beyond their existing size.

When challenging your muscles to work harder during resistance exercise, the protein cells in your muscle filaments send messages to activate their cells to grow. The cells can draw on available proteins to build damaged muscle fibres to form new and more muscle.

Cell growth is regulated by the balance between available proteins in your body and the amount of protein needed to build muscle mass to build muscles.

Research supports amino acids for muscle growth

Proteins are too large to enter muscle cells. Smaller amino acid components that can easily cross cell membranes to form polypeptides incorporated into protein in your muscles.

It is important your body has adequate levels of essential amino acids to help form muscles. A review of all the current research on muscle growth has shown elevated concentrations of circulating amino acids in your blood stream following exercise stimulates the growth of muscles in healthy adults, compared to only increasing the availability of amino acids.

Sources of essential amino acids

You can increase the availability of amino acids in your body through the food you eat. Your diet is a vital source of amino acids by making sure your meals contain adequate amounts of protein, such as meat, fish or eggs.

Research also shows supplementing your normal nutrient intake with essential dietary amino acids from protein supplements or powders can help maintain a large reservoir of amino acids to build muscle mass over time.

Having a dietary supplement that includes amino acids will increase the availability of amino acids to the muscle. Gelatin supplements, for example, contain essential amino acids glycine, lysine and proline in higher concentration than proteins in the food you eat.

Want to learn more about the benefits of protein supplements?

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Tipton, K.D. & Wolfe, R.R. Exercise, protein metabolism and muscle growth International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2001; 11:109-132

Dioguardi, F.S. Clinical use of amino acids as dietary supplement: pros and cons Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle 2011; 2(2):75-80