The Role of Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids in Sports Performance and Muscle Growth
In the wide spectrum of amino acids found in nature, the human body requires just around two dozen. These are categorized into two groups: essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by our bodies and must, therefore, be obtained through our diet. Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, are produced by our bodies. Proteins, whether of animal or plant origin, are the exclusive sources of these amino acids, making them an indispensable part of our dietary intake. The lack of essential amino acids can inhibit athletic performance and contribute to the onset of various health conditions.
Non-essential amino acids are produced from secondary amino acids, which enter our system through protein consumption. A low-protein diet may lead to a deficiency of these non-essential amino acids, resulting in adverse effects. Medical experts generally advise a daily protein intake not exceeding 2g per kilogram of body weight. However, many professional athletes have found that muscle tissue growth is optimally stimulated when the daily protein intake is 1.5-2, or even 3 times higher than the recommended dose.
Scientific studies on protein metabolism in athletes suggest that intensive training can increase the demand for certain amino acids. These include essential amino acids like valine, leucine, isoleucine (BCAA), tryptophan, and methionine, as well as non-essential ones such as glutamine, arginine, tyrosine, and alanine.
Even high-quality proteins, however, may contain limited amounts of these amino acids. A bodybuilder, for instance, requires 10g of glutamine per day. It's virtually impossible to meet this requirement solely through dietary protein intake, even if exceeding the daily recommended dose. Consequently, these crucial amino acids need to be supplemented through other sources, such as powders, capsules, or caplets.
Nutritional experts have specific recommendations for these supplements.
Glutamine: Consume 5g of this amino acid both before and after your workout. Only at this level can glutamine exhibit its muscle-building properties. Glutamine promotes muscle growth by increasing cell volume and inhibiting muscle breakdown. Even though glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in your muscles, a significant amount is consumed during strength training. It's unlikely you'll replenish your glutamine stores before your next workout with diet alone.
Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine: The body burns these amino acids as emergency fuel when energy demand is high. Post-workout, you'll need to replenish these amino acids, which may be challenging due to their limited presence in food. Take 5-10g each of leucine, isoleucine, and valine (BCAA) before and after your workout to prevent muscle growth inhibition.
Arginine: Consume 3-5g of arginine in free form before and after your workout. Arginine stimulates nitric oxide synthesis, promoting muscle volume increase and post-workout recovery. Moreover, arginine enhances growth hormone secretion. Note that the daily diet typically contains a minimal amount of arginine.
The other essential amino acids can be taken at any time of the day. For optimal results, however, it's recommended to consume these amino acids before and after your workout.