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Aminos and Their Many Essential Uses-Yes, amino acids are beneficial to strength athletes. But they are also important additions to a dietary supplement program for other reasons as well.
By Carol Radice

How important are amino acids? Amino acids are considered the building blocks that comprise protein, Protein, it follows, cannot exist without the correct combination of amino acids. If any essential amino is low or missing, the effectiveness of all others will be equally reduced.

In the body, adequate protein intake is vital for virtually everything from healthy muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, and most body fluids. Besides water, protein comprises the largest portion of our body weight, and as such, the body's requirement for protein is directly related to good health. Additionally the central nervous system cannot function property without amino acids, which are necessary for the brain to both send and receive information.

In fact, not only does every cell in the body contain protein, but protein makes up half of the body's dry weight. Protein is found in muscle, bone, cartilage, and blood, as well as enzymes and hormones. Protein essentially allows muscles to contract and hold water, gives hair and skin a protective coating, and provides the rigid framework of bones and teeth. Protein also helps tissue form, regulates the body's water and acid-base balance, and stimulates the production of antibodies.

Unlike fat and carbohydrates, the body cannot store large quantities of protein. Therefore, protein must be consumed daily. However, protein cannot be used directly by the body and must be digested and catabolized from its food source into isolated singular amino acids. The body must then recombine or anabolize these amino acids into protein.

The body's protein metabolism uses a base of essential amino acids to create 150 or more others inside the body, which on an ongoing basis recombine and produce some 40,000 protein types on an as needed-basis.

If the body is allowed to deplete itself of any of the essential amino acids, it cannot produce those proteins requiring such amino acids. The end result will be that the body will break down its own protein structure, including healthy muscle, to meet its need for isolated singular amino acids. These shortages can also lead to a number of health disorders, because under these conditions vitamins and minerals are left unable to fulfill their health roles in the body.

The Essential Aminos

The majority of amino acids can appear in two forms, known as the L- and D- series. Amino acids in the L-series are in the same natural form as those found in living plants or animals, and are the form most compatible to the biochemistry of humans.

There are nearly 30 known amino acids that make up the various forms of proteins found in living things. In humans, the liver is responsible for the production of some 80% of the amino acids we need. The remaining 20% cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained from other sources such as food and/or supplements. This portion is commonly referred to as the essential amino acids.

Many studies have shown that amino acids possess health-enhancing properties, from improving the immune system to reducing dependence on drugs. Each has been shown to have specific function and is needed to prevent various symptoms from developing. For adults, this group includes Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Here is a closer look at a few of these amino acids and the important roles they play:

  • Lysine: Considered to be an essential building block for protein, Lysine is necessary for growth and proper bone development in children. Lysine helps in calcium absorption, maintains nitrogen balance in adults, aids in the production of antibodies, hormones and enzymes, fights recurrent attacks of type one herpes or cold sores, and helps repair tissue. Deficiencies can result in a loss of energy, inability to concentrate, irritability, bloodshot eyes, hair loss, anemia, and reproductive disorders.

Lysine is found in foods such as fish, milk, beans, cheeses, meat, yeast, soy, and eggs. As a supplement, Lysine is available in 500 mg capsules or tablets. It is generally best taken one or two times a day, 30 minutes before meals.

  • Phenylalanine: Known primarily for its pain-controlling abilities, Phenylalanine is one of the building blocks of amino acids and can increase mental alertness, suppress the appetite, and has a positive, effect in reducing the symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease. It can also increase sexual interest, improve memory, and alleviate depression. It is generally not appropriate, unless advised by a physician, for those suffering from high blood pressure, heart conditions, skin cancer, anxiety attacks, diabetes, or for pregnant women to take this amino acid.

Phenylalanine is found naturally in soy products, almonds, lima beans, pumpkin and sesame seeds. It is available in 250-500 mg tablets. For appetite control, it is best taken one hour before meals with juice and water. For general alertness, tablets are best taken between meals with water or juice.

Many Uses

American consumers are taking amino acid supplements for a variety of reasons.

"The myriad of uses of amino acids are only now, in the 90's, beginning to be examined publicly as an alternative to drug therapy," notes JoAnne Brown, Vice President of J.M. Pharmacal. Brown pointed out that "pure form amino acids directly address specific ailments such as depression, addiction, allergies, weight loss, immune system disorders, impotency, prostate and heart problems."

Michael Carruba, Vice President of IcoPro, says while these products play a primary role in the athlete's diet because of the stress that often accompanies strenuous and prolonged training, anyone whose protein intake is low due to illness or caloric restrictions may also need to supplement their diets with amino acids.

Gene Daoust, President of Integrated Health, agrees. "Any individual who is mentally or physically stressed out can also benefit from amino acid products," he says. Included in this segment, Daoust said, are busy executives and people on the go who find themselves faced with stress; those concerned with improving the quality of their hair, nails, and skin; people living in cities who are routinely exposed to air pollution and contamination; and anyone in a detoxification program like smokers or drinkers.

The following are a few other amino acids said to have beneficial effects with athletes:

  • Carnitine:   Aside from this amino acid's ability to transport fatty acids and prevent fatty build-up, L-Carnitine aids in weight loss, decreases the risk for heart disease, and has been shown to improve athletic abilities.

  • Lysine: Among the many functions of the amino acid lysine is its ability to help form collagen and repair tissue in the body. Because it plays a vital role in maintaining energy and building muscle protein, lysine is also important for those with muscle injuries.