All about amino acids

Amino acids are essential for our bodies' metabolic processes, but not many people know much about them. Find out all about the building blocks of our bodies.

All about amino acids

We pay close attention to protein, fat and carbohydrate content when explaining how to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But the right balance of these macronutrients alone isn't going to keep us healthy. The other thing we need to do to meet our daily dietary needs is to get the right amount of the smaller elements that these macronutrients are made from. Amino acids are one of these smaller elements, and play a major role in keeping our bodies working. If you're feeling confused, read on to learn all about amino acids!

What is an amino acid?

Amino acids are carbon compounds that make up proteins. Imagine that a protein is a necklace made of different-coloured pearls. An amino acid is a pearl of a specific colour. Each of the pearls is linked to the others by peptides.

The necklace is made up of 20 pearls in different colours, each with a particular function. A complete protein is therefore composed of 20 specific amino acids.

These 20 amino acids are made up of:
8 essential amino acids: our bodies can't make these amino acids. We therefore need to eat them as part of our diets;
12 non-essential amino acids: our bodies can produce these if needed.

What do amino acids do?

Amino acids are precursors of enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters. This means that they're involved in their production and in numerous metabolic processes, from the hormone cycle to digestion, our immune response and even our emotional balance (our state of well-being). These little pearls are essential for our health. We absolutely mustn't overlook their importance or be deficient in them.

What are the sources of amino acids? 

The sources of amino acids can vary depending on whether they're essential or non-essential but, as you'll see, you don't need to fill your cupboards with too many different foods to get everything you need. 

Essential amino acids:

Leucine: it builds muscle and maintains blood sugar levels. It's found in oily fish (mainly salmon), eggs, walnuts, poultry, peas and whole wheat;

Valine: it aids physical recovery. It's found in seeds (chia, pumpkin, sunflower), chickpeas, pistachios, dairy products, chicken, and wholemeal flour;

Isoleucine: it maintains and regenerates tissue. It's found in meat, fish, eggs, walnuts, seeds and whole wheat.

Lysine: it forms collagen and antibodies, and helps our bones grow. It's found in meat, fish, dairy products, legumes, maize and fermented products;

Threonine: it actively participates in digestion and in particular in the absorption of nutrients by the blood. It's found in meat, fish, nuts and seafood;

Tryptophan: it helps fight depression and promotes good-quality sleep. It's found in cereals, fruit, nuts and seeds, walnuts and peanuts, fish, dairy products, meat and eggs;

Phenylalanine: it helps release adrenaline and dopamine. It's found mainly in meat and dairy products, as well as in spirulina (green algae), tofu, walnuts, vegetables (peppers, leeks, peas) and eggs. It's also hiding in lentils!

Methionine: it protects our livers. It's found in eggs, meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, and in walnuts and sesame seeds.

Non-essential amino acids:

We can eat these amino acids as part of our diets, but they're also synthesised naturally by our bodies. We're therefore less likely to be deficient in them.
Here are their names:
Alanine
Arginine
Asparagine
Aspartic acid
Cysteine
Glutamic acid
Glutamine
Glycine
Glycine
Histidine
Proline
Serine
Tyrosine

Like with the essential amino acids, they're found in protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as certain vegetables such as asparagus, cabbage, mushroom, spinach, wholemeal cereal products, and even seeds.

As you'll have noticed, many foods have several amino acids in common. You therefore don't necessarily have to eat 20 different foods to get all the amino acids you need!

How can you boost your amino acid intake?

BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), which are well known among athletes, are concentrations of amino acids that reduce muscle loss during exercise.
This type of dietary supplement gives the body three of the eight essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The aim is to provide additional energy and optimise training sessions by improving performances and muscle recovery.

BCAAs come in the form of a supplement that you take during your workout, and aren't a substitute for a healthy, varied diet.

BCAA 2.1.1 + GLUTAMINE CHEWABLE TABLETS - MIXED BERRY X 90

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Each dose of BCAA 2.1.1 + GLUTAMINE (6 chewable tablets) taken before or after your training session provides 6.3 g of amino acids. Mixed berry flavour

All about amino acids

Amino acids hold no secrets from you any more! You now know that they play a central role in how our bodies work, both physically and mentally.
Some of them, known as essential amino acids, can only be found in the food we eat. It's therefore important to adopt a healthy diet that's as varied as possible.

All about amino acids

alexandra

Naturopath & Yoga Teacher - Diet and Sport Consultant

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