What exactly are amino acids?

Proteins consist of chains of different amino acids. These small building blocks are needed for countless metabolic processes in our body. They can be used as direct energy carriers, build enzymes, help the liver detoxify, support the immune system, serve partly as precursors of hormones and support the muscles, tissue and skin, hair and nails. These are only the most important examples that provide a rough overview of the complex and far-reaching functions of amino acids.

 

What exactly are amino acids?

The last article was about proteins. The topic of amino acids was already briefly mentioned there. In order to have a rough overview, here is a short digression into the topic of protein: protein is one of the three macronutrients that our body needs, along with carbohydrates and fats. We must absorb protein primarily through food and since we need this nutrient for vital metabolic processes, a protein-containing diet is of great benefit. However, these proteins are ultimately nothing more than amino acids chained together. Depending on the amino acid composition and ratio, different proteins are formed.

There are numerous amino acids in nature, only 20 of them are relevant for human metabolism. Of these 20 different ones, our body can produce 12 itself, provided that the necessary substances are available. One speaks of non-essential amino acids. The remaining 8, the essential amino acids, have to be taken in regularly with food. From this it can be concluded that food must be eaten whose proteins consist at least of these 8 essential amino acids. The individual 20 amino acids will be discussed in a later section. The proteins that we take in from food are broken down into their building blocks by various enzymes during digestion, because only these can be absorbed by our intestines and thus enter the bloodstream. This is also described in more detail in the previous blog article. Now that the amino acids are in our bloodstream, they can reach the cells, organs and tissue. There they are partially reassembled into proteins for various processes or serve as smaller building blocks for the formation of other substances.

 

What are the amino acids used by our body?

Amino acids have various functions in the body. As individual building blocks, they form enzymes, for example, which our digestive organs produce. Our DNA synthesis is also done with specific amino acid sequences that are chained together. Thus, amino acids are carriers of our genetic information. Amino acids play an important role in hormone formation and neurotransmitter signals. Since proteins are built from them, they are the basis for a wide variety of body components: Muscles, vision, ligaments, skin, hair and nails consist of thread-like structures proteins such as collagen, elastin, keratin, fibrinogen and myosin. The other type of protein, which is important for our organism, plays a role in our immune system, blood proteins and the protection of our cell membranes.

Amino acids are indispensable in the detoxification and filtration of foreign substances and toxins, which takes place mainly in the liver and kidneys. Even in the case of external wounds on the skin, proteins from the bloodstream come out immediately after the injury to stop bleeding.
Certain proteins are signal substances that, for example, attract scavenger cells when a cell is infected by a pathogen so that the damaged cell can be disposed of.

 

How many amino acids are there?

As mentioned above, 20 different amino acids are important for the human metabolism.
The 12 non-essential amino acids are composed as follows1

  • L-Alanine
  • L-Arginine
  • L-Aspartic acid
  • L-Asparagine
  • L-Cysteine
  • L-Glutamine
  • L-Glutamic acid
  • L-Glycine
  • L-Histidine
  • L-Proline
  • L-Serine
  • L-Tyrosine

 

The 8 essential amino acids...

...which our body cannot form itself, can be found in the following list1:

  • L-Isoleucine
  • L-Leucine
  • L-Lysine
  • L-Methionine
  • L-Phenylalanine
  • L-Threonine
  • L-Tryptophan
  • L-Valine

 

Amino acids and muscle building

Proteins play an important role in muscle building, but body fat reduction and regeneration also depend on sufficient protein. The amino acids split from the protein have different tasks in the field of muscle building and sports.

Amino acids support the maintenance and regeneration of muscle tissue and serve as an energy source during sports activities. They are also involved in healing processes of muscle tissue. As a result, the body needs amino acids after training sessions in which the muscles have been exhausted, such as in a strength training session in which you go to the point of muscular failure. This always causes small cracks in the muscles, which then have to be repaired. This process is desirable and nothing negative, because during the repair the muscle grows and becomes stronger and bigger.

However, since in sports and muscle building not only the amino acids are important, which have a direct effect or task in relation to muscles, all 20 building blocks should always be considered. The human metabolism is complex, and the processes are all interrelated.

 

How do we absorb enough amino acids?

First and foremost, you should eat a protein-rich diet, regardless of your sport. If you use versatile and animal protein sources, you will automatically absorb all essential and non-essential amino acids. Fish, meat, eggs, nuts, seafood, quinoa are optimal sources of protein, with which the human amino acid profile is well covered. Whoever eats a plant-based diet should fall back on fermented amino acids and vegetable protein powders. Rice, hemp or pea protein are very well tolerated sources and can be mixed in shakes, vegetable yoghurts or smoothies.

Pure amino acids dissolved in water are ideally suited as support during sports: Because they are dissolved in water and, in contrast to protein chains, already exist as small particles, they are very quickly absorbed by the intestine and then serve directly as an energy source that cannot lead to a drop in performance. On the other hand, they directly support muscle building and the regeneration of muscle cells. Thus, even potential muscle soreness can be prophylactically counteracted during the training session.

 

 

1 Doccheck Flexikon: Aminosäuren. [https://flexikon.doccheck.com/de/Aminos%C3%A4ure; 23.08.2020].
2 Bütikofer, Markus; Hopf, Zensi; Rutz, Guido; Stach, Silke und Grigoleit, Andrea (2015): Humanbiologie 1: Grundlagen, Stoffwechsel und Abwehrsysteme. Zürich: Compendio Bildungsmedien.

 

Häufig gestellte Fragen

What are amino acids?
Amino acids are in principle split protein parts. Protein or albumin is found in various foods. However, they are ultimately nothing more than amino acids chained together. Depending on the amino acid composition and ratio, different proteins are formed.
How many different amino acids are there?
There are numerous amino acids in nature, but only 20 of them are relevant for human metabolism. Of these 20 different ones, our body can produce 12 itself, provided that the necessary substances are available. These are called non-essential amino acids. The remaining 8, the essential amino acids, must be taken in regularly with food. This means that we must eat food whose proteins consist at least of these 8 essential amino acids.
What do amino acids do in the human body?
Amino acids have various functions in the body. As individual building blocks they form enzymes, for example, which our digestive organs produce. Our DNA synthesis also involves specific amino acid sequences that are chained together. Thus amino acids are carriers of our genetic information. Amino acids play an important role in hormone formation and neurotransmitter signals. Since proteins are built from them, they are the basis for a wide variety of body components: Muscles, vision, ligaments, skin, hair and nails consist of thread-like structures Proteins such as collagen, elastin, keratin, fibrinogen and myosin. The other type of protein, which is important for our organism, plays a role in our immune system, blood proteins and the protection of our cell membranes.
What are the essential amino acids?
Essential means that the body cannot produce them itself and must absorb them in sufficient quantities through food. These 8 amino acids are called L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, L-Lysine, L-Methionine, L-Phenylalanine, L-Threonine, L-Tryptophan and L-Valine.
Amino acids - when is the best time to take them?
It is best to eat enough fish, meat, eggs, nuts and pseudocereals such as quinoa protein. From these foods the body can extract the amino acids. If you are on a vegan diet, you should take amino acids as a supplement to one or two meals a day. Athletes drink them in dissolved powder form, preferably before training, and possibly before and after.
Which foods contain amino acids?
Fish, meat, eggs, nuts, seafood, quinoa are optimal sources of protein, with which the human amino acid profile is well covered. Those who follow a plant-based diet should make use of fermented amino acids and vegetable protein powders. Rice-hemp or pea protein are very well tolerated sources and can be mixed in shakes, vegetable yoghurts or smoothies.
Which amino acids are the best and most important?
They are all important for our body to function. The 8 essential ones should definitely be taken in through food or supplements: L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, L-Lysine, L-Methionine, L-Phenylalanine, L-Threonine, L-Tryptophan and L-Valine.

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