Each and every day muscle tissue is being broken down and simultaneously being built up by amino acids, so what are amino acid supplement benefits? Since the goal is to get fitter and stronger while still feeling on top of your game, knowing which nutrients promote optimal muscle development is critical to improving WOD performance. Feeling sluggish as hell, getting sick more than twice a year, slow healing injuries or reaching plateaus in your PRs could be signs your body is not getting the healthful boost from the right amino acid building blocks it needs to keep up and that amino acid supplement benefits might be exactly what your body needs.
DO CROSSFITTERS NEED SUPPLEMENTATION?
Long gone are the days where supplementing with amino acids are for muscle bound meat headsDaily stress, work, family and on top of that CrossFit training demands mean that requirements of amino acids can be high. Dieting, digestive problems or undereating even on a seemingly good whole food diet can leave you depleted, after all amino acids are required for virtually everything from growing strong eyelashes to repairing that papercut to cardiovascular health and eyesight. Amino acids are in every cell of your body and are critical for both maintenance and regeneration. Our bodies depend on them for energy production, getting oxygen to the cells, developing bones, skin and muscles, amino acids also help the body produce hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and even defensive antibodies.
So vital is the role of amino acids that they are being added to all sorts of products, take Taurine for example in Red Bull or Arginine in fat loss nutritional bars. Long gone are the days where supplementing with amino acids are for muscle bound meat heads, they are widely recognized as healthful and getting enough amino acids should be part of any healthy nutritional plan to support CrossFit workouts.
THE BASICS TO KNOW
Confused about essential vs non-essential, complete, branched-chained, conditional and even non-dispensable? Don’t worry, what you do need to know is that our bodies are made up of combinations of amino acids in the form of proteins. We get some of the amino acids from what protein we eat and others are made by the body from combinations of compounds. Different amino acid supplement benefits can alter the bodies response and importantly, muscle performance because each protein has different physical and chemical properties. Different ingested proteins are broken down into amino acids and used at different rates and in different ways. After protein is digested, some amino acids go to the liver to be processed before being used as energy and others fast track to the muscles. Knowing all of this, the health benefits of amino acid supplements can be optimized if we take the right amino acid supplements, at the right times. So what are the benefits that can be achieved?
IMPROVED MUSCLE BUILDING
CrossFit both builds and breaks down protein stores in the muscles. The resistance based and high intensity training workouts increase the bodies signaling systems for muscle protein synthesis – building strong muscle tissue, that’s exactly what we right? And, the more strenuous workouts promote muscle breakdown during training and for hours afterwards. The building of strong muscle only happens if the building blocks are there in the system ready to be put to use. Amino acid supplement benefits include being able to strategically counteract all this breakdown of lean tissue by taking a good quality amino acid. Of course eating right is hugely important for any CrossFitter and a well rounded whole foods diet is definitely the way to go, but supplementing with amino acids give your body the fuel to cope with the increased demands of CrossFit if timed correctly.
Amino acid supplement benefits your training by ensuring all that hard work is translated into improved performance. Studies have shown that people consuming amino acid supplements during exercise retain more lean muscle mass than control groups. BCAAs enhance muscle growth and strength in several ways by stimulating muscle protein synthesis, boosting insulin sensitivity and increasing levels of growth hormone.
REDUCED ABDOMINAL FAT
By blunting levels of cortisol, and since cortisol typically increases muscle breakdown and inhibits testosterone this is exactly what we want to avoid. If you are struggling to get a great nights sleep, this will benefit you. Think about those corporates you know who work hard and work out harder but can’t shake that belly fat. They are thick around the waist no matter how much they diet and exercise from high cortisol. An increase of cortisol can manifest as fat around the belly– not sexy!
Amino acid supplements will help your endurance by enhancing your energy levels during workouts. How? They help to reduce fatigue during exercise meaning you can workout harder for longer. When we CrossFit without the right nutrition it’s exhausting right? We feel fatigue not just because it’s a glycolitically demanding workout, but also because during a hard CrossFit session the demand on the bodies stores of amino acids is really high so brain signals tell the body to reduce strength though serotonin signaling. This is called central fatigue syndrome, the proportion of some particular BCAAs is low compared to tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precusor to seratonin and the protein found in foods like turkey and your cup of warm milk which we are told will promote sleepiness and relaxation. Specifically valine competes with tryptophan for the precious limited pathways into the brain, and where valine hogs the pathways, the reduced tryptophan means enhanced energy.
Luecine has been really well researched and found to blunt hunger, increase metabolic rate in turn burning calories and fat. One theory of the mechanism causing this is that leucine tells the brain what the total amount of amino acids are in the bloodstream. Because we know servings of protein keep us satiated better and for longer, the brain is being told by the leucine level that we are already satisfied, that there is no need to feel hungry great more.
SHORTENED RECOVERY TIMES
Feeling sore after CrossFit? You can reduce recovery times by taking further BCAAs first thing in the morning after the previous days hard workout. On waking the body is in fasting mode, a dose of BCAAs at that time will halt the breakdown of muscle and put you into muscle building mode again. Want more? If you also take BCAAs with your last meal of the day you will reap the benefits of preparing the body for the morning ahead, keeping cortisol low ready for a good nights restful sleep, enabling more efficient repair while you rest by maintaining growth hormone.
WHEN AND HOW TO TAKE AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTS FOR THE GREATEST BENEFITS
Timing is everything, when you take your amino acid supplements will affect the benefits achieved. The timing during your daily routine really does matter. Intensive workouts increase the demand on the body for energy production and there are many good opportunities to up our intake throughout the day to achieve your goals.
For optimal muscle strength, growth and repair BC amino acids should be taken at the times your body most needs to utilize those building blocks and that is most important around workouts. We know that the basic premise of taking amino acid supplement benefits around CrossFit is that preworkout they will help to increase endurance and strength, after a CrossFit session, they will promote repair and growth. During training, having an amino acid powder in your water is a popular way of getting more and keeping the body signaling in an anabolic state, staving off that fatigued catabolic state. Another way amino acid supplement benefits have been shown is in supporting the bodies processes for maximum efficiency and optimal feelings of health at other times such as first thing in the morning and also before bed.
Generally the best times to take your amino acid supplements for the most benefit is around a CrossFit workout is half an hour before CrossFit along with your pre-workout shake and half an hour after with your post workout protein shake and carbs. The net result of this timing is to keep cortisol levels throughout low, encouraging muscle growth. Taking amino acids around workout times reduces the day 1 and day 2 muscle pain and stiffness from a hard intense workout aka delayed muscle soreness or DOMS.
For increased fat loss and to stave off hunger is to dose up on BCAAs between meals, remember how amino acids help satiate your hunger? By taking them between meals you can be sure you won’t be tempted by unhealthy unbalanced snacks by regulating your blood sugar.
Do I need to take them with anything? Depending on your goals, to be the most effective amino acids should be loaded along with the right proportions of whole foods. Taken with protein and carbs the amino acids are fast tracked into the muscle belly most effectively and have the added benefit of producing a boost of insulin. If your goal is to loose fat and so your carbs are restricted, don’t panic. The luecine in BCAAs will still boost your insulin levels, or you can supplement with 300-600 mg of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) which will further enhance insulin levels at the cellular level and help your body utilize glucose efficiently.
So, we can improve the way our body strengthens builds and repairs muscle by taking amino acid supplements. So, why don’t we just take them all day in huge amounts? Is there any downside?
HOW TO KEEP THE RIGHT BALANCE
Current research shows examples where amino acid supplementation gives healthful benefits; even if you are not deficient, they can give you a competitive edge. You would be hard-pressed to find any sports or workout drink that doesn’t contain amino acids in them these days because studies show them to improve lean muscle mass and much more. And further research has demonstrated wide-ranging benefits such as increased fertility and reduced male hair loss, amino acids can even help reduce recovery time post surgery. You could be forgiven in thinking that there are no downsides to taking amino acids, that there are huge benefits with no downside, but are there also risks? And, what about if you are already on current prescribed medications? And is there a chance of over supplementing?
Short courses of amino acids when you are not deficient can be extremely helpful. Glutamine can improve your immune system function, arginine can up your sex drive and reduce high blood pressure, taurine might improve some heart problems while reducing anxiety. These studies all show improvements focusing on isolated amino acids or very limited amino acid profiles. The risk here is for an otherwise healthy system to become out of balance.
So while a short course might give health benefits, going overboard on one amino acid for extended periods can overload the transport systems which take all of the amino acids from the gut to the liver. For prolonged use, overloading the transport system with one type could come at the expense of the other types of amino acids, forcing the body to break down other parts of the existing muscle protein to maintain basic functioning, this is called negative nitrogen balance. Signs that you could be in a negative nitrogen balance state in the early stages are weight loss and muscle wasting, and in the later stages depression, digestive ills and growth problems.
To avoid amino acid imbalances it is important to also eat a well balanced whole foods diet, don’t skip the real food stuff by solely taking capsules and powders. Cycling your supplemental amino acids is important, for example alternate two month on followed by two months off to really ensure you avoid imbalances. Like almost everything healthy, some amino acids such as aspartic acid, glutamic acid and homocysteine can be toxic in large doses so always follow recommended dosages unless your doctor has advice specific to your health situation.
Because amino acid supplementation shows benefits to CrossFit athletes by means of regulating blood sugar, it makes sense that diabetes medications could be affected by supplementation. Because of this overlap in effect, taking amino acid supplements while on diabetes medications may cause blood sugars to go too low. Anyone already taking medications prescribed for blood sugar might need to reduce their dose and should talk to their doctor before taking amino acid supplements along with monitoring their blood sugar closely. Medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others
Branched chain amino acids have been shown to decrease the effects of Levodopa, a prescription only drug used for the clinical treatment of Parkinson’s disease and Dopamine-responsive Dystonia as well as Restless Leg Syndrome. Trade names include Sinemet, Parcopa, Atamet, Stalevo, Madopar and Prolapa. Because the drug works on the neurotransmitters by menas of the precursor amino acid L tyrosine, amino acid supplementation may complete for the pathways used. If you take Levodopa it is advised not to simultaneously supplement with amino acids.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease) patients supplementing with amino acids have been linked with lung failure and higher death rates. If you have ALS, do not use supplemental amino acids until more is known.
Seizures and severe mental and physical retardation can result if intake of branched-chain amino acids is increased if you already have Branched-chain ketoaciduria. Don’t use branched-chain amino acids if you have this condition.
Chronic alcoholics have widespread systemic imbalances, dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in alcoholics has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).
More minor interactions of Diazoxide (Hyperstat, Proglycem) and amino acids have been found. Because amino acids are used to help make proteins in the body, taking Diazoxide along with supplemental amino acids might decrease the effects of amino acids on proteins. However, not enough about this is known so more research yielding information is needed about this interaction.
Medications for inflammation, corticosteroids interact with amino acid supplementation. Taking drugs called glucocorticoids along with amino acids might decrease the effects of branched-chain amino acids on proteins. Again not enough about this is known so more research yeilding information is needed about this interaction.
Some thyroid hormone medications can decrease how fast the body breaks down branched-chain amino acids so thyroid hormone medications could affect the amino acid supplementation. Again not enough about this mechanism is known so more research yielding information is needed about this interaction.
During pregnancy and breast-feeding, like with most supplements and natural products, here is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking amino acid supplements if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Consult your doctor or obstetrician.
Amino acids are probably safe for children when taken by mouth, short-term. Branched-chain amino acids have been used safely in children for up to 6 months, if you are considering long term use, see your doctor.
Infants with idiopathic hypoglycemia, one of the branched-chain amino acids, leucine, has been reported to lower blood sugar. Idiopathic hypoglycemia means they have low blood sugar, but the cause is unknown. Some research suggests leucine causes the pancreas to release insulin, and this lowers blood sugar.
Because amino acid supplementation might affect blood sugar levels, and might interfere with blood sugar control, during and after surgery it is recommended that they are avoided. Stop using branched-chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery and consult your doctor.
AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTATION IS BENEFICIAL IN OTHERWISE HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS
The take home point to all of this is that amino acids are generally very well tolerated by the general population, especially people who are already pretty healthy. Look out for formulations which are really well balanced for the purpose you are looking for. Be sure to cycle the supplement timing so that your system stays in balance and stop and talk to your doctor if you have any unwanted side effects and always talk to your doctor if you currently take medications, it’s possible your medication dosage might need to be altered. Remember to get the greatest benefits, choose quality amino acid supplements that are well regulated. Some cheap brands may not contain what is actually stated on the bottle and if you are at a competitive level, CrossFit bans illegal drugs and other drugs including stimulants, anabolic agents, beta blockers, diuretics, masking agents, hormones and their analogues, anti-estrogens and beta-2 agonists.
The Most Potent form of Amino Acids BCAAS for CrossFit
We have all heard of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) even if we don’t 100% know how they work, we all know that taking extra can be beneficial for CrossFitters. But why? In addition to a good whole foods diet, taking extra BCAAs gives special benefits such as increases in strength, improvements in endurance, reductions in cortisol levels, improved stimulation of protein synthesis, reductions in body fat and increases in lean body mass. The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine and these have been found to reduce appetite, reduce body fat stores and hunger and utilize glucose more efficiently by regulating cortisol and insulin. Bodybuilders have known this for a long time, supplementing with these special amino acids for decades and with increased availability and the science to back up the claims, CrossFitters can also harness these benefits to get the most out of workouts.
During exercise the body uses glucose, fat and even protein for fuel. When diet and carb levels are low the percentage of protein required is higher, specifically leucine, isoluecine and valine. And, if they are not replenished by consumption the body can’t manufacture more so will breakdown other areas of the body to replenish them. So why take BCAAs over other proteins? BCAAs are more beneficial than say, a whey protein for an energy source because they are not required to be digested. They are quickly absorbed into the blood stream and bypass the liver on the fast track into the muscles ready for energy. BCAAs make up a great proportion of the bodies muscle, and they are essential amino acids – meaning that they can can’t be made by the body, they must be consumed from food or supplement sources. BCAAs are hugely important for muscle strength and repair, all those maintenance and regeneration processes important for CrossFit.
A common question we get is how much should I take, and this is dependent on several factors such as your current size and your digestion and how fast you want to really start seeing results. Generally what has been found to be an effective dose is 5-10g per dose of capsules or powdered BCAAs, it is recommended to start off slow with 1-2g per dose and to gradually increase the size of each dose over a few weeks so your system gets used to them. The ratios of each essential amino acid from the source are important. The optimum for Luecine:Valine:Isoluecine should be 2:1:1 by weight in your formula.