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Diet & Nutrition

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs): Benefits, Food Sources, List & Ultimate Guide

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byNick

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17 Minutes

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essential amino acids guide ftd
essential amino acids guide ftd

Essential amino acids impact your brain power, athleticism, health, and virtually every facet of human performance. Including:

  • Neurotransmitter production
  • Sleep
  • Digestion and absorption
  • Metabolism
  • Immune system
  • Blood sugar
  • Sexual health
  • Hormone production
  • Body weight
  • Mood regulation
  • Suppressing cravings
  • Physical and mental energy
  • Muscle building
You build 280,000 different proteins from ~20 amino acids. 9 of which must come from your diet Click To Tweet

Amino acids are the raw materials used to create, grow, and sustain life.

Most of us don’t get enough of certain ones, and too much of others. Our biology works with the resources available and throttles mental and physical performance as necessary.

Supplementation is a way to even the ratio of imbalanced aminos, orchestrating and harmonizing the body’s many systems.

Long-term amino deficiencies can result in degeneration and eventual disease. Whether world-class athlete, wellness enthusiast, or hard-charging executive, consuming more essential amino acids can give you an edge. This ultimate guide explains why amino acids are a top supplement virtually everyone needs more of, and how to get started.

What are Amino Acids?

What Are Amino Acids

Amino acids are natural substances that combine to form proteins. You’ll see them called “the building blocks of life” because proteins determine the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.

In fact, human genes are merely blueprints to build proteins. None of this building can occur without amino acids Click To Tweet

Depending on your information source, there are 20-23 amino acids in total. Only some of which are “essential”, meaning we must get them from diet or supplements.

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) are this special class of nine vital nutrients our bodies require for most functions. Some of these roles include producing, repairing, and/or improving:

  • Muscle
  • Organ tissue
  • Enzymes
  • Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters)
  • Hormones
  • Energy, physical and mental energy
  • Blood chemistry and flow
  • Sleep
  • Digestion and absorption
  • Metabolism
  • Immunity
  • Blood sugar
  • Sexual health
  • Body weight
  • Mood
  • Satiety

Unlike other amino acids, our bodies can’t make EAAs themselves, so we must get them from diet (or supplements). And most humans today don’t get nearly enough [R].

The more protein within a food, the greater the levels of amino acids. As you’ll see later, the best sources are meat, dairy, and other animal products.

At one point plants may have provided enough. Historically, plant microbes always built the necessary amino acids. Collateral damage from pesticides and insecticides has decimated beneficial plant microbes (by interfering with the Shikimate pathway). Now, plants no longer contain the same levels of medicinal, alkaloid compounds. For more information on how this works, check out any of Dr. Zach Bush’s guest podcast appearances.

I think of amino acids through two lenses:

  1. Quantity — When constructing a house, builders use large amounts of raw materials: stone, wood, brick, metal, glass, and plastic. Each structure in the house requires multiple of these materials. Here, aminos are the materials, and together they make a structure (protein).
  2. Quality — For another analogy, think of Scrabble. Aminos are the letters in your hand. Combine multiple, and you have a word (corresponding to a protein). The best hands include various letters. Such is the case with amino acids. You need specific amounts of each to build different proteins and perform your best.

The amount of EAAs we need depends on factors like age, gender, genetics, and activity level. But adding quality EAA supplements to our routine improves our health, sports performance, post-exercise recovery, and even helps bulletproof us against stress.

I advocate getting most aminos from your food. Then fill in any gaps with smart supplementation.

Now, let’s briefly explore each of the different aminos.

Background & Dosage of Each Amino Acid

If you’re already eating lots of protein, you may wonder whether you should also supplement with amino acids.

After all, proteins are made up of a bunch of different aminos.

Generally, supplementing is still a good idea. Because you must consume a wide variety of protein sources to get the right ratios of each. Not too many muscle meats either.

The amino acids work together as a team to provide the most benefits and reduce any potential side effects.

Whenever your body wants to create something it does so through proteins. Proteins are made from different combinations and ratios of aminos. Amino acids are the foundation of life Click To Tweet

The basic role of each amino acid and the ideal dosages are as follows [R, R, R].

Amino Acid Name 🏷️Essential 💥Minimum Dosage (Adults) ⚖️Code 🔑Roles ✅Best Food Sources 🍽️
PhenylalanineYes14mg /kgPheProduction of neurotransmitters (dopamine & norepinephrine), mood regulation, alertness, cognitive functionBeef, chicken breast, pork, tofu, cottage cheese
HistidineYes10mg /kgHisTissue growth and repair, regulates pH balance, immune response, production of red and white blood cells, a precursor to histamine (immune response, gastric secretion, neurotransmission)Turkey, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
LeucineYes39mg /kgLeuThe chief BCAA that helps regulate blood sugar levels, promote muscle/bone growth, stimulate wound healing and energy productionBeef, chicken breast, salmon, tuna, cottage cheese
IsoleucineYes20mg /kgIleBCAA that helps hemoglobin production, muscle repair and metabolism, immune function, regulate blood sugar and energy levelsChicken breast, turkey, salmon, tuna, eggs
ValineYes26mg /kgValBCAA that helps stimulate muscle growth and regeneration, energy production, tissue repair, and nitrogen balanceChicken breast, turkey, salmon, tuna, cottage cheese
LysineYes30mg /kgLysKey to protein synthesis, hormone and enzyme production, calcium absorption and collagen formation, and immune functionChicken breast, turkey, pork, tofu, cottage cheese
MethionineYes20mg /kg (combined with Cysteine)MetContains sulfur, helps protein synthesis, and is key to many metabolic processes, heavy metal detox, precursor for other vital molecules like SAM-e and glutathioneBeef, chicken breast, salmon, tuna, eggs
ThreonineYes15mg /kgThrImproves fat metabolism and immune function, protein synthesis, and aids the production of NEAAs like glycine, serine, and collagenChicken breast, turkey, salmon, tuna, cottage cheese
TryptophanYes4mg /kgTrpPrecursor to serotonin and melatonin, influences mood, sleep, and appetiteTurkey, chicken breast, salmon, tofu, cottage cheese
ProlineNoUnknownProHelps protein folding efficiency, skin collagen formation, joint health, muscle tissue healthBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
SerineNoUnknownSerEssential for cellular health and growth, metabolizes fatty acids, helps synthesize purines and pyrimidinesChicken breast, turkey, salmon, tofu, cottage cheese
AlanineNoUnknownAlaGlucose metabolism support that provides energy for muscle tissue, brain, and central nervous systemBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
ArginineNoUnknownArgImmune system function, hormone secretion, wound healing, nitric oxide production, and metabolic waste detoxification (ammonia)Turkey, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
AsparagineNoUnknownAsnBrain development and function, metabolic control mechanism for cells’ nervous system functionsChicken breast, turkey, salmon, tofu, cottage cheese
Aspartic acidNoUnknownAspHelps synthesize other amino acids (citric acid cycle) and functions as a neurotransmitterBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
CysteineNo20mg /kg (combined with Methionine)CysForms healthy skin, hair, bones, and connective tissue; important for metabolism, protein structure, glutathione synthesis, and antioxidant protectionBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, eggs
GlutamineNoUnknownGlnGastrointestinal health support, immune function, nitrogen metabolism, and amino acid balance during times of stressBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
Glutamic acidNoUnknownGluExcitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that helps synthesize other amino acids and is critical for proper cellular functionBeef, chicken breast, pork, salmon, tofu
TyrosineNoUnknownTyrPrecursor to vital hormones like thyroid hormones, melanin (the pigment that causes skin coloration), and neurotransmitters like dopamine and epinephrineChicken breast, turkey, pork, salmon, tofu
GlycineNoUnknownGlyRequired to synthesize proteins, generate energy (via creatine), create collagen, produce glutathione (a powerful antioxidant), and transmit chemical signals in the brain. Essential for the central nervous system and for digestive health. It also plays a role in the quality of sleep and in maintaining healthy skin and connective tissues.Organ meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, gelatin, legumes, spinach
Essential Amino Acids and their roles

Histidine stands out because some researchers consider it non-essential. They reason that the body immediately creates it (de novo synthesis) after the introduction of the other eight essential aminos. This was based on flawed decades-old research. More modern testing technologies show that including histidine matters [R]. Plus, it has its own health benefits (as described above).

Leucine is virtually always the dominant amino acid in supplements, as it’s also the key to muscle growth, tissue repair, and general healing. You’ll usually see anywhere between a 2-4:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine.

Methionine has a number of key roles, but meat eaters often already get sufficient through diet. Muscle meat (most things you find in the grocery store) has particularly high levels of this amino.

The Types of Aminos: EAAs vs BCAAs vs NEAAs vs LEAAs

When you begin researching amino acids, you quickly notice several major distinctions.

Here are the main categories:

  • BCAAs: three of the nine essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine)
  • EAAs: all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own and must be obtained through diet or supplementation
  • LEAAs: a subset of EAAs with higher levels of the amino acid leucine, considered potentially superior for certain use cases like building muscle
  • NEAAs: non-essential amino acids, meaning the body can make these irrespective of diet

For general health and performance, essential amino acids work best. To address particular goals, some people like to use individual amino acids.

Using single aminos is an advanced tactic and can backfire if not done appropriately.

Here’s what you should know about each.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

The three BCAAs get their name from their uniquely branched molecular configuration.

This lets them bypass breakdown in the liver (as with proteins) and instead immediately fuel muscle tissue [R]. This rapid digestion and assimilation has made them a long-time favorite of old-school bodybuilders.

Old-school bodybuilders used BCAAs, but they’re behind the latest research. Branched-chain amino acids don’t work and may cause health complications:

  • A study of young athletes found no improvement over the supplement-free control group.
  • In 2003, researchers found that the muscle growth and recovery effects of aminos come primarily from essential aminos.
  • Then in 2016, more research confirmed that EAAs activate the anabolic anti-aging protein mTOR better than BCAAs.
  • High doses of BCAA’s can deplete B vitamins via consuming their cofactors [R].
  • It’s also been found to start stomach problems, including nausea, diarrhea, and bloating [R]
  • It can also get in the way of recovery as it causes reduced serotonin levels via competition with the amino acid tryptophan [R]
  • Some cases have also observed obesity and overeating [R, R]
  • BCAAs may also affect insulin resistance and cause dysregulated blood sugar metabolism [R, R]
  • At some point, too much use has also been seen to impair motor coordination [R]

Researchers hypothesize that many of these side effects are driven by an imbalance of amino acids (particularly the other essential aminos).

What made them so popular?

First of all, amazing profit margins for manufacturers. So the marketing claims began sprouting up everywhere. Some research does suggest they can help reduce muscle damage, support athletic recovery, lower post-exercise soreness (DOMS), and even make workouts feel easier.

So what can you do?

We actually have a simple solution that helps protect against amino acid imbalances, and thus makes everything work better.

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)

EAAs are a larger subsect of nine of the 20 amino acids. Your body can’t make them so you must get them from diet or supplementation.

Without enough EAAs, you’ll eventually die.

The nine essential aminos are:

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine

Often remembered via the mnemonic “PVT TIM HLL”.

EAAs are especially powerful in stimulating protein synthesis. This is the chief process responsible for muscle growth, maintenance, and repair. When comparing gram to gram, EAAs stimulate this process over four times better than whey protein. And orders of magnitude better than other proteins.

They’re also involved in virtually all of our psychological and physiological processes.

Doses of under four grams show beneficial effects [R].

The main drawback?

Price. These cost a ton more to produce, and thus are more expensive than BCAA supplements.

At the same time…

Lacking adequate levels of just one single essential amino acid can drive health complications and eventual disease Click To Tweet

So supplementation is a great idea to cover your nutritional bases.

Depending on your goals, you may want to consider a slight tweaking of the normal composition of your EAAs.

Leucine-Enriched Essential Amino Acids (LEAAs)

Leucine-enhanced essential amino acids are normal EAAs with extra leucine added. Hence the extra “L” in the name.

Leucine specifically is thought to improve hormone production [R], stimulate the mTOR cell growth pathway [R], regulate blood sugar [R], promote weight loss [R], and of course, increase muscle protein synthesis [R].

This is an emerging subfield of amino research showing potentially even greater benefits for activating protein synthesis, enhancing muscle growth, and accelerating workout recovery.

As of today, PubMed has 71 articles on “Leucine-enriched essential amino acids”. Most of the studies used animal models. A few recent ones found benefits to exercise-induced muscle damage and recovery [R], faster fitness progress for post-stroke patients [R], and powerfully increases protein synthesis even at low doses [R].

Interestingly, that last study found that the presence of leucine, not necessarily the dose, matters most to activate MPS.

Generally, LEAAs have between a 3-4:1:1 ratio of leucine to the other branch chain amino acids. Compared to the usual EAA ratio of 2:1:1. Note that they still must contain appreciable quantities of all the other (six) non-BCAA amino acids.

If you’re specifically targeting the athletic performance-enhancing benefits of amino acids, you may want to choose one of these top leucine-enhanced essential amino acid supplements with a 3-4:1:1 ratio of BCAAs.

Non-Essential Amino Acids (NEAAs)

Unlike EAAs, the body can synthesize non-essential amino acids itself.

In most circumstances, you don’t need to worry much about consuming them from diet or supplementation.

Having a high NEAA content generally decreases scores of protein quality. The more of these you have, the less nutrient-dense your protein source.

They’re not useless, as the body uses NEAAs as precursors for neurotransmitters, hormones, among other biomolecules. Plus, they contribute to overall protein balance, tissue repair, immunity, and other bodily processes.

Examples of NEAAs include: alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

Conditional Amino Acids

Like NEAAs, Conditional Amino Acids are also non-essential. Your body usually produces enough.

They’re actually a subset of NEAAs and are involved in many of the same processes.

The main difference is that they can become essential. During bouts of illness, injury, stress, or metabolic challenges, the body may not be able to produce enough of these.

In order to function optimally, under those conditions, you should get more from diet or supplementation.

Some examples of conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.

The Top Benefits of Supplementing Complete Amino Acids

Essential Amino Acid EAA Benefits

Clinical research clearly shows that EAAs have a plethora of benefits. In fact, they make up the most important macronutrient for human survival.

Our bodies absorb, assimilate, and use EAAs very quickly. This means that the EAAs get to our muscles and other tissues fast. Much faster than proteins. They also have stronger effects at lower dosages.

These supplements have all nine essential amino acids, in the right ratios.

Aminos aren’t just for sports. They improve body composition (aiding fat loss and muscle gain) and support optimal immunity and mental health. And that’s just the beginning. Some of the many benefits of essential amino acids include improved:

  • Muscle recovery
  • Muscle growth
  • Exercise performance
  • Mood regulation
  • Cognition
  • Post-workout recovery
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Body composition (less body fat and more lean muscle)
  • Bone density [R]
  • Metabolic health
  • Energy production
  • Endurance
  • Immune function
  • Tissue repair and wound healing
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Healthy skin, hair, and nails
  • Enzymes, hormones, and antibodies support
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Longevity and aging
  • Sleep quality

And overall health and wellbeing.

Let’s dig into the specific benefits and use cases of amino acid supplements.

Muscle Growth & Sports Performance

Muscle is integral to athletic performance. The process of building muscles (anabolism) is called muscle protein synthesis, and the process of breaking down muscle (catabolism) is called muscle protein breakdown.

Between meals, the body breaks down muscle tissue to get enough aminos. Muscle acts as the body’s main reservoir of amino acids.

Amino acids, particularly the BCAAs leucine and isoleucine are excellent to accomplish exactly this. To provide a new reservoir of aminos, aiding muscle growth, repair, and preventing breakdown [R]. Keeping you in a growth state.

Thus, amino acids can help:

  • Reduce muscle loss [R]
  • Boost muscle protein synthesis [R]
  • Increase muscle mass and strength [R, R]

Muscle protein turnover describes the muscle-building and breakdown process.

During this process, older, damaged fibers get replaced with newer, healthier muscle fibers.

So even if you don’t increase your total muscle mass, faster muscle protein turnover should improve your athletic training.

Muscle Repair & Injury Recovery & Workout Recovery

Every tissue throughout the body is made up of amino acids and minerals. Including the skin, organs, glands, connective tissue, hair, and muscles.

Supplementing with essential amino can help accelerate the growth, repair, and regeneration of muscle and other tissues.

In fact, some research suggests that aminos can improve athletic recovery better than passive rest.

They can even accelerate recovery from injury [R].

They also can dramatically reduce soreness and the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) [R, R]. A meta-analysis of the available research found that whey protein, EAAs, and BCAAs all improve muscle recovery [R].

That’s why athletes and fitness enthusiasts now rely on high-quality EAA supplements.

But it’s not just to repair muscle. EAAs help other tissues recover and rebuild more effectively too.

Fat Loss and Weight Management

Although not one of their primary benefits, amino acids are a helpful weight loss tool. They work in a variety of ways.

First, EAAs make adhering to a clean diet much easier due to the appetite-balancing effects (more on that below).

Some of the aminos also are key to optimal metabolic functioning, and although one serving has very few calories, the body must use burn some of those to digest protein. Helping increase metabolic rate.

Then, there’s the anabolic state caused by the MPS. This causes the body to hold onto more lean muscle mass and reduces muscle breakdown. Muscle consumes a ton of energy and thus burns more calories.

Finally, some of the aminos regulate hormones and brain chemicals that control appetite, reward, and metabolism.

All in all, helping burn body fat [R].

It appears to work especially well for men also engaging in resistance training [R].

Blunts Hunger & Food Cravings

Anyone who’s used a good amino product will have experienced their hunger-alleviating effects.

EAAs powerfully blunt appetite and cravings. Within about 15 minutes of a dose, my hunger dissipates. I feel satiated and no longer want food. Likely due to the effect on the hunger and fullness hormones, ghrelin and leptin.

They promote a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes that often lead to cravings.

By balancing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, EAAs can stop emotionally driven eating.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that aminos influence the release of hormones like cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Signaling satiety to the brain

This feeling of fullness lasts a few hours. Like a weak version of GLP-1 agonists such as Ozempic.

Improved Immune Function

Certain amino acids, including glutamine and arginine, play a crucial role in supporting immune function and promoting a healthy immune response.

Aminos benefit various facets of immune health and function.

They help produce antibodies which are important proteins that help you fight off pathogens. Including, helping prevent infection in the elderly [R].

Cytokines and signaling proteins control immunity and inflammation. Aminos increase their production. As well as for key immune cells like lymphocytes, including T-cells and B-cells.

EAAs regulate the immune response, delicately modulating overactivity and underactivity.

Basically, aminos provide the immune system with the necessary raw materials. As well as promoting balance.

Wound Healing & Tissue Repair

Just like improved muscle regeneration, aminos also promote general tissue repair and wound healing.

Aminos like lysine, proline, and arginine improve collagen production. Collagen is the main structural protein providing strength and structure to healing tissues.

Improved immune function means less infection risk and faster wound healing [R].

Certain aminos like histidine and methionine protect cells from further free radical damage and promote blood flow at the wound site.

EAAs also encourage the production of tissue-regenerating substances growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), mTOR pathway activation, and ideal inflammatory levels.

Cognitive Function & Mental Health

Did you know that certain amino acids have nootropic effects? They can actually alter your brain chemistry to help you achieve particular goals.

Some of them are direct precursors too.

The body requires tryptophan, for example, to create the mood neurotransmitter serotonin. Tyrosine and phenylalanine to create dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (which influence mood, alertness, and focus).

Research suggests that EAAs may act as neuroprotectants, helping antioxidant production which protects against free radical damage [R].

Then you have the amino acid threonine, which is involved in brain energy production as well.

Finally, leucine influences processes that underlie learning and memory by modulating synaptic plasticity.

Overall, making amino acids a worthwhile supplement for neurohackers (just take them apart from your nootropics!).

Hormone Regulation

Amino acids, such as tyrosine and phenylalanine, are involved in the synthesis of hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormones, which play a role in mood, energy, and metabolism.

Just as they have many effects in the brain, aminos also impact the hormonal (endocrine) system.

Certain hormones are actually just strings of amino acids chained together. Like insulin for example.

Other conversions like from the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin ultimately result in a hormone. In this case, melatonin.

Phenylalanine and tyrosine are precursors for thyroid hormones as well as catecholamines.

Aminos also affect hormone function. Leucine, for example, stimulates insulin secretion.

Other bodily mechanisms, like the cortisol-induced stress response require amino acids to function proeprly.

Ultimately, aminos help the body keep hormones in balance.

Detoxification & Liver Health

The body has natural, built-in cellular detoxification protocols, some of which amino acids improve.

Aminos like methionine and cysteine contain sulfur, a crucial cofactor required to create glutathione—one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants.

The liver has a special affinity for amino acids. Not only do they help it regenerate and repair after injury, but the liver also uses them to produce many proteins involved in blood clotting and regulation of hormones and medications.

Plus, they catalyze detoxification reactions that occur within the liver.

Finally, the amino methionine helps your liver detoxify ammonia by producing S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).

Boosts Energy Levels

While not as energy-boosting as a stimulant like caffeine, getting enough EAAs can help you optimize your energy production and maintain stable all-day energy levels.

Users often notice an uptick in their energy. Although there’s less human research on the link between aminos and energy, this mouse study showed that EAAs influence energy levels [R].

Aminos form the structure and function of your mitochondria, where energy generation occurs. Plus, the many enzymes involved in energy production are made from essential amino acids.

Some aminos, like isoleucine and lysine, can be used directly to generate ATP. ATP is the primary energy currency of the cell.

Less directly, aminos influence factors involved in energy availability and metabolism [R]. Such as insulin, growth hormone, glucagon, and blood sugar levels.

A small study of 12 athletes found that amino acids alleviated central nervous system fatigue and boosted their energy levels [R].

I notice the biggest energy boost during workouts.

Longevity

Essential amino acids can contribute to longevity by supporting various aspects of health and well-being:

  1. Muscle Preservation: As we age, maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important for overall health, and essential amino acids are crucial for muscle maintenance and repair.
  2. Cellular Health: Amino acids are vital for the synthesis of proteins that maintain the health and function of cells throughout the body.
  3. Immune Function: Proper intake of essential amino acids supports immune function, which is essential for overall health and longevity.
  4. Hormonal Balance: Amino acids are involved in the regulation of various hormones, which play a role in overall health and aging.
  5. Tissue Repair and Wound Healing: Essential amino acids support the body’s ability to repair and regenerate tissues, which is crucial for long-term health.
  6. Brain Health: Amino acids contribute to cognitive function and mental well-being, which are important aspects of maintaining a high quality of life as we age.

Consistently consuming adequate EAAs in the ideal ratio is vital to your longevity, quality of life, and healthspan.

Without ample aminos, you’ll struggle to harness your DNA’s full potential.

As you age, maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important (yet also increasingly difficult) for your overall health. There’s no better tool than aminos combined with resistance training.

Here’s what one study concluded [R],

“[Aminos] can positively affect muscle mass, muscle strength, muscle power and VAT, counterbalancing more than one year of age-related loss of muscle mass and strength”

But it’s not just muscle. Amino acids are the substrate your body uses to create proteins responsible for your cellular health.

If you’ve seen the recent craze around immunomodulating drugs like rapamycin, you’ll recognize that immune health and function matter for longevity. Well, EAAs support not only optimal immunity, but hormonal balance, brain health, and ideal body weight management.

Plus, they’re key to tissue repair and regeneration.

Quickly Used & No Metabolic Waste

Extracting amino acids from foods requires digestion. It takes a while and results in nitrogen waste. Nitrogen is a byproduct of protein breakdown, yet unfortunately, it can burden the kidneys.

Plus, many people have digestive issues (often unrecognized) caused by lifestyle factors like stress, age, sedentary living, poor diet, and certain drugs. These inhibit the absorption and assimilation of dietary amino acids.

Supplementing EAAs bypasses each of these issues. Within 30 minutes, you’ll have absorbed the aminos straight into your bloodstream.

Convenient & Universal

One of my favorite parts about essential aminos is their versatility.

Each container is small enough to easily pack into my travel bags. I can take it any time of the day, and enjoy all kinds of benefits for whatever task I happen to be doing.

I could give it to my friends going into surgery. Use it myself for better workout performance and to recover faster. To aid weight loss goals.

They’re safe and effective for just about everyone.

Optimizing Your Amino Acid Intake

Optimizing Amino Acid Use Dose

So, you’re interested in using aminos.

If you’re like me, you may be wondering… how do I best use amino acid supplements?

Well, here’s some good news.

You can’t really do it wrong. But you can certainly do a few things to get better results.

Whey, Dietary Protein & Amino Acid Requirements

The lower your protein intake (and especially of high-quality protein), the more essential aminos you’ll want to supplement.

Getting the maximum benefits depends multiple factors. The following groups need extra amino acids to thrive:

  • Vegans
  • Vegetarians
  • Middle-aged and elderly
  • Sick
  • Injured
  • Athletes and hard-charging Type-A personalities

Some plants do contain all nine EAAs, but not in the right ratios or quantities. You’ll need to become a pro at stacking protein sources together. The only plant-based exception is a form of highly bioavailable amino acids called spirulina (see my post on the best chlorella and spirulina supplements).

Even with the perfect high-protein diet, you’ll still lose significant quantities of aminos through digestion, absorption, and assimilation. As well as via common gut microbiome dysregulations and metabolic factors. So supplementation usually makes sense.

The three most popular forms of getting your aminos are essential amino acids, branched-chain amino acids, and whey protein.

Each has different uses, but the amino content differs wildly:

  • BCAAs: 3/~22 amino acids
  • EAAs: 9/~22 amino acids
  • Whey: 18/~22 amino acids, but in uneven and sub-optimal ratios

We’ve already discussed the many pitfalls and downsides of BCAAs.

What does the research say about essential aminos and whey?

  • EAAs more effectively stimulate growth and repair than whey [R]
  • Whey and EAAs stimulate muscle growth comparably, at least in older women [R]
  • Combining EAAs with whey protein is optimal for building muscle [R]

You can get the best of both worlds by combining quality grass-fed whey protein and essential amino acids.

Finding Your Ideal Amino Acid Dose

Although supplementing with essential amino acids benefits everyone—from low-protein vegans to high-protein bodybuilders, your lifestyle and diet determine your ideal dosage.

Ideally, you’ll use an app like Cronometer to track your meal intake for a day or two. This will show you how much of each EAA you’re getting.

cronometer essential amino acid levels grassfed beef

In general, research suggests that you need less than four grams to gain the benefits [R]. Four grams of aminos comes in at 16 calories, and actually effectively blunts your appetite too!

Most of the research I’ve come across suggests doses between 4-20 grams of EAAs per day. Depending on your use case, diet, and lifestyle. However, they’re safe in large doses, and competitive athletes often take more to stay anabolic during grueling events.

When to Take EAAs for Max Benefits

Once I picked up an amino product (not BCAAs), I began wondering when I should take it:

  • First thing in the morning?
  • Before a run or workout?
  • Intra-workout?
  • Post-workout?
  • Mid-day?
  • Before bed?

Luckily, aminos fit anywhere into a schedule. For the physically active, the best time window to take essential amino acids is from 30 minutes before exercise all the way until an hour post-workout.

Unlike protein shakes, amino acids rapidly enter your bloodstream where they protect against the ravages of intense exercise:

  • 10-30 minutes before short exercise sessions
  • 15 minutes before endurance events, and slowly sip on another dose over the course of the next hours

If you follow a fasting routine, amino acids partially break a fast. Specifically, activating mTOR inhibits the cellular recycling process called autophagy.

But EAAs don’t cause the same insulin spike that BCAAs do and thus are a better choice [R]. Generally, a moderate dose of aminos will not detract at all from a fast and may enhance it.

Simple Overview of Using Amino Acid Supplements

Well, that was a whole lot of information! Let’s summarize your key takeaways for using amino acid supplements.

You must begin with the right choice. Choose any one of these best essential amino acid supplements based on your goals and lifestyle.

Your diet and activity level will determine your ideal dosage. Those that are physically active, vegans, vegetarians, or past the age of about forty have increased needs.

Many people do great with a routine of:

  • 3-5 grams of pure EAAs
  • 1-3 times per day
  • Ideally taken in the morning and around workouts

I recommend not taking them too close to bed, as certain aminos like tyrosine and phenylalanine increase the production of stimulating brain chemicals.

This supplement is quite safe, and you can play around with dosing to find your sweet spot.

Essential Amino Acids: The Human Health & Performance Super Supplement

You wouldn’t live long without essential amino acids.

Your body cannot make them, so you must consume them in food and supplement. That’s where the “essential” part in the name comes from.

I began taking aminos for sports performance and continued when I realized they made me feel cognitively sharper and more energetic

Today, most of us live with insufficient levels of one or more key amino acids [R]. We’re artificially limiting our brains and bodies by starving them of the nutrients needed to repair, regenerate, and grow.

Don’t fall for the BCAA scam. Remember, the hierarchy of amino supplement sources looks like this:

  • EAAs > Whey > BCAAs (avoid)

If you’re wondering about supplements, check out my review of all the top essential amino acid supplements on the market.

Not long ago, we could get many of our essential amino acids through plants. Not anymore:

“Widespread use of pesticides kills the Shikimate pathway in plants, preventing them from producing biologically critical amino acids. Even supermarket produce is becoming devoid of protein.”— Dr. Zach Bush

Plus, plant sources tend to lack sufficient levels of the (arguably most important) amino acid leucine to drive growth and repair [R].

If you found this helpful, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing it with someone who could use this info. Or if you feel compelled, go ahead and share it on social media.

Have you tried essential aminos? If you’re a BCAA fan, give these broad-spectrum EAAs a try and report back. I’m eager to hear your results.

Post Tags: Athletes, Brain & Cognition, Diet, Fitness, Gear, Supplements

2 thoughts on “Essential Amino Acids (EAAs): Benefits, Food Sources, List & Ultimate Guide”

  1. Excellent high quality article as always!
    I am so thankfully having found your site!
    Your infos is always precision, deep work and passion!
    Many thanks for your work and effort in sharing with us !

    Reply

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