What can amino acids do for you?  In order to answer this question, one must realize that different amino acids have different functions.  For instance, there are 20 amino acids that are used to make all of the body proteins, including those that make up your musculature.  Yet many of these amino acids have other functions besides being used in the manufacturing of body proteins.  For example, certain amino acids, such as L-tyrosine and L-tryptophan, are utilized to make neurotransmitters (substances that allow brain function).  L-arginine is utilized in detoxifying ammonia, converting this very toxic byproduct of amino acid and protein metabolism into a non-toxic substance known as urea, where is excreted as urine.  But I don‘t want to get too off track.  Our focus is not on the multitude of functions that amino acids have in our bodies.  We want to talk about fitness and bodybuilding.  Let’s take a closer look at the amino acids that influence muscle protein retention, fat loss, and mental function.  

Muscle Protein Retention

The reason that branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are so popular in the bodybuilding world is because research studies have shown that the BCAAs, especially L-leucine, are potent stimulators of muscle protein retention -- they inhibit protein breakdown.  In fact, of all the BCAAs that enter the mouth, approximately 85-90% end up as proteins, which is not surprising since protein retention is the primary function of BCAAs.
More evidence, though, has raised doubts about the role of BCAAs in regulating protein, demonstrating that the focus should not ONLY be on BCAAs, but on L-glutamine, too.  Many studies have shown that when BCAA levels were reduced in the muscles to only 25% of normal, protein retention was dependent upon L-glutamine levels.  As L-glutamine levels increased, so did protein retention.  Consequently, human studies were done with surgical patients since these individuals typically lose a significant amount of muscle mass (5-10 lbs) within the first five days after their surgery despite being given amino acids intravenously.  These studies found that when the patients were given L-glutamine in addition to their intravenous amino acids, they lost very little, if any, muscle mass.  The stress of surgery, or any stress for that matter, decreases muscle L-glutamine levels which, based on animal studies, will decrease muscle protein levels.
Periods of intense metabolic stress such as exercise training easily outstrip the body’s synthesis capabilities for this amino acid. Research still hasn’t been able to determine an amount that will optimize results from intense exercise.  I always recommend that most bodybuilders would benefit from at least 10-20 combined daily grams of BCAAs and L-Glutamine each day, taken in divided doses. Larger athletes or athletes that train twice a day will benefit from a higher dose.  

Or do what I do....take your BCAAs twice a day and ingest a high potency Protein Powder and/or Meal Replacement that is Glutamine enhanced two or more times a day.

BCAAs and L-Glutamine, are you getting enough of these amazing amino acids?

Fat Utilization

Amidst the numerous substances purported to increase fat utilization, one particular substance stands out, and that substance is L-carnitine.  Often referred to as an amino acid, L-carnitine is actually an amino acid derivative made from two of the nine essentials, L-tyrosine and L-methionine.  L-carnitine carries fatty acids into the mitochondria, the part of the cell where the vast majority of calories (food energy) is converted into useable energy (ATP or adenosine tri-phosphate).  Under normal conditions, the body seems to make all the L-carnitine it needs.  Yet when the body is utilizing fat at a greater rate, sucha s when someone is trying to reduce their body fat, the body may not be able to make enough.  If there isn’t enough L-carnitine available, less fat is going to be utilized since the fatty acids will not get into the mitochondria where they are broken down into energy.  The end result?  Less fat is lost.  Consequently, supplementing with L-carnitine may increase fat loss in people with L-carnitine deficiencies.  Although some people respond to smaller doses, most individuals need to ingest at least 1000mg of L-carnitine (500mg twice daily).

Mental Performance

Every athlete knows the importance the mind plays in training.  Some days you’re ready to train like an animal, while other days you’d rather be sleeping.  Amino acids can help keep your mind ready for training two different ways:  1) by increasing catecholamine levels and 2) by maintaining blood glucose levels.
Catecholamines are neurotransmitters associated with attentiveness and alertness.  Stress, whether it be psychological stress (such as work, school, or relationships) or physiological stress (such as training), reduces not only catecholamine levels in the brain but the amino acid used by the brain to make these neurotransmitters, L-tyrosine.  Consequently, supplementing with this amino acid at least one hour prior to eating can increase the amount of L-tyrosine in the brain.  This can then increase catecholamine levels, the effects of which include greater alertness and less fatigue.  The amount of L-tyrosine  required for a beneficial effect is between 2 and 4 grams a day, usually divided into two equal doses.  The first dose I take is one hour before lunch (about mid-morning).  The nice thing about L-tyrosine is that the greater the stress, the greater the benefit provided by this amino acid.
Amino acids can also help maintain blood glucose levels which are very important to brain functions since the brain normally uses glucose as its sole source of energy.  Consequently, any reduction in this precious fuel (a condition know as hypoglycemia or low blood sugar) results in fatigue and sleepiness.  The reason for this fatigue along with difficulty concentrating, is that the brain is trying to keep the body from using up any more of its energy source.  It tries to keep the body from being physically active.
With respect to amino acids, L-leucine is the only one that can NOT be converted to glucose.  Ingesting these glycogenic amino acids, such as L-alanine or L-glutamine, can keep blood glucose levels elevated, thereby reducing the fatigue and lack of concentration that occurs when there is too little glucose in the blood.  The result is you are better prepared for an intense workout than if your blood sugar were too low.
In summary, amino acids have other functions besides being used to make proteins.  What those functions are depends on the specific amino acid.  
Until next month…Train hard and supplement wisely!

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About the Author
James Cipriani has his degree in Health/Fitness with a specialization in Exercise Science and is multi-certified by some of the leading training organizations including ISSA and NSCA. 

He is a champion power-lifter as well as being one of the country’s top drug-free competitors for over a decade.

Jim has trained numerous elite athletes from various sports ranging from pros and top level amateurs right down to young teenage athletes.

Over the last few years he has specialized in body transformations including preparing/training bodybuilders and physiques athletes, helping them reach their all time best shape.

In addition to his work as a coach/trainer, Jim is a popular speaker, giving seminars in both Fitness and Nutrition. He has also published a top-selling e-book: The Rx-CHANGE Total Body Transformation System available here.

Coach Cipriani is available for online training consultations which include an individualized training program, nutrition plan and unlimited email/phone support. Yet he can only take on a limited number of clients at any given time. So if you’re interested in having Jim as you own personal coach, email him at Jim@JamesCipriani.com now and see if there are openings available.
James Cipriani
Cutting Edge Personal Training
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