Every day muscle tissue is being broken down and simultaneously being built up by amino acids. Giving 100% every day in WODs means feeling pain, feeling that high rate of muscle break-down. We tell you the top 5 amino acid supplement benefits and show you how amino acids are used a for optimum performance. We’ll also say which are the best amino acid supplements to use.
If your goal is getting fitter, being faster and gaining strength this article is for you. Using the right nutrients that promote optimal muscle development always results in improving your performance and celebrating new PRs.
KNOWING WHEN YOUR BODY NEEDS SUPPLEMENTATION
Feeling sluggish as hell or having persistent or slow healing injuries isn’t always just a sign of maxing out your workouts. It can mean you’re not getting the right balance of amino acid building blocks your body needs to repair fully post-training.
Getting sick more than a couple of times a year doesn’t need to be your standard, it can be a sign that your body is depleted and needs more support. A healthy boost from the right amino acids supplements not only saves your muscle tissue from wasting, but they can also keep fueling your immune system to be more resilient.
Not reaching new PRs or hitting plateaus in your workouts is a sign your body isn’t getting enough of the different amino acid building blocks needed to keep up with your demanding schedule.
Remember, your body can’t just synthesize this stuff. Your body has to be actively fed with these regularly, and if your diet isn’t already on-point, and you’re not at your peak the more, you’ll feel any amino acid supplement benefits.
AMINO ACIDS FOR CROSSFIT
CrossFit training demands are so intense, sustained and so high that your body’s requirements for amino acids are extreme.
And that’s before you’ve accounted for your daily stress, your work and on top of that your family obligations.
Gone are the days where supplementing with amino acids are only for muscle-bound iron junkies with roid rage and necks thicker than their heads. Amino acid supplements are readily available, regulated and widely used.
Even on what looks like a proper whole food diet, digestive problems or undereating can leave you depleted. Virtually everything that goes on in your body from growing strong eyelashes to healing rope burn, to your cardiovascular health and your eyesight all require amino acids. Amino acids are in every cell of your body and are vital for maintenance and regeneration.
Our bodies depend on them for energy production, getting oxygen to the cells, developing bones, skin, and muscles, and they also help the body produce hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and even protective antibodies.
Prepared product ingredients reflect the vital role that amino acids play. For example in Red Bull there’s Taurine and in nutritional bars commonly Arginine. Long gone are the days where supplementing with amino acids are for muscle-bound meatheads. Now they are widely recognized as a healthful ingredient in a broad cross-section of performance-based sports, and getting enough amino acids is simply part of a decent nutritional plan to support CrossFit workouts.
THE LOW DOWN: HOW AMINO ACIDS WORK
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 alter the body’s output and muscle performance because each protein has different physical and chemical properties. Ingested proteins are broken down into amino acids and used at different rates and in different ways.
After the protein is digested, some amino acids go to the liver to be processed before being used as energy and others are fast-tracked to the muscles.
That’s why amino acid supplement benefits can be further optimized if we focus on taking the right amino acid supplements, at the right times. So what are these benefits?
THE TOP 5 AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENT BENEFITS
1 IMPROVED MUSCLE BUILDING
CrossFit builds and breaks down protein stores in the muscles.
Resistance based and high-intensity training workouts increase the bodies signaling systems for muscle protein synthesis – building healthy muscle tissue. And, heavier strenuous exercises promote muscle breakdown during training, and for hours afterward.
Strong muscle building only happens when amino acid building blocks are already waiting there in the system. One of the biggest amino acid supplement benefits is being able to strategically time the dose to counteract the breakdown of lean tissue.
Taking a good quality supplement makes amino acids ready for use in your system. Eating right is still important, a well rounded whole foods diet is still 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 supplements benefit your training because 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.
2 REDUCED ABDOMINAL FAT
Taking amino acid supplements can shed fat from your abs because they blunt cortisol, which means it levels out the dips and sharp spikes. This is good because the presence of cortisol increases muscle breakdown and inhibits testosterone – this is what we want to avoid.
If you’re struggling to get quality sleep, amino acid supplements will benefit you. Every wondered about the corporate pen pushers you see who work long hard hours? They’ve dialed in eating and go all out in the box but still can’t shake that belly fat. The reason they are thick around the waist is high cortisol, a side effect of stressful work and little sleep.
An increase of cortisol manifests as fat around the belly– not sexy!
3 IMPROVED ENDURANCE
Amino acid supplements benefit endurance by allowing better energy levels during workouts.
Reduced fatigue during workouts means you can workout harder and for longer.
Without the right nutrition, workouts are exhausting. We feel fatigue not only because it’s glycolytically demanding, but also because during a hard session the demand on the bodies stores of amino acids is really high.
The brain tells the body to reduce strength though serotonin signaling. This is called central fatigue syndrome and it happens because the proportion of some particular BCAAs is low compared to tryptophan. The key here is to tip that proportion in your favor.
Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and the protein found in foods like turkey, and your cup of warm milk touted to promote sleepiness and relaxation. Valine competes with tryptophan for the limited pathways into the brain, and where valine dominates the pathways reducing tryptophan the result is enhanced energy.
4 REDUCED HUNGER
Leucine has been well researched and lowers hunger and increases metabolic rate which results in burning fat. We know that protein satisfies us better and for longer.
One theory about leucine is that it signals the brain about what the total amount of amino acids are in the bloodstream. The brain is being told by the leucine level that we’re already satisfied, so there’s no need to feel hungry.
5 SHORTER RECOVERY TIMES
Feeling sore after CrossFit? By taking BCAAs the morning after a hard workout you can dramatically reduce recovery times. On waking your body is in fasting mode so a dose of BCAAs at that time stops the breakdown of muscle and puts you back into muscle building mode again.
Want more? If you take BCAAs along with your last meal of the day, you’ll be preparing your body for the morning ahead. It’s keeping cortisol low ready for a restful sleep and maintaining growth hormone overnight for more efficient repair.
TIMING AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTS FOR MAXIMUM BENEFITS
When it comes to maximizing amino acid supplements benefits timing is everything. Intensive workouts increase the demand on the body for energy production, and there are times that are better than others to intake to achieve your goals. The timing of your daily routine matters.
Amino acid dosing should be timed for optimal muscle strength, growth and repair to utilize the building blocks. Pre-workout they increase endurance and strength, after a CrossFit session, they promote repair and growth.
And during training, supplementing with amino acid powder in your water is a favorite way of 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.
For muscular benefit, the best times are half an hour before a CrossFit workout 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 one and day two muscle pain and stiffness from an intense hard workout aka delayed muscle soreness or DOMS.
For fat loss and to stave off hunger dose up between meals, remember how amino acids help satiate your appetite? By taking them between meals, you’re less likely to 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 efficiently and have the added benefit of producing a boost of insulin. If your goal is to lose fat so your carbs are restricted, don’t panic. The amino acid leucine 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.
If we can improve the way our body strengthens builds and repairs muscle by taking amino acid supplements, why not take them all day in massive amounts? Can there be too much of a good thing?
KEEPING THE RIGHT BALANCE
Current research shows that amino acid supplementation gives benefits; even if you are not deficient. They give you a competitive edge which is why you would be hard-pressed to find any sports or workout drink that doesn’t contain amino acids. 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 for 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 currently prescribed medications? And is there a chance of over supplementing?
Short courses of amino acids when you are not deficient can be very 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 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 eat a well balanced whole foods diet as well. Never skip the real food and solely taking capsules and powders. Cycling your supplemental amino acids is important, for example, alternate two months on followed by two months off to 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.
POTENT AMINO ACIDS FOR CROSSFIT: THE POWER OF BCAAS
Bodybuilders have known that it’s more effective to supplement with particular amino acids called Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) for a long time. The science now backs up these claims and the same effect can be gained for CrossFitters or anyone with high physical and mental demands.
Taking extra BCAAs on top of a decent diet gives unique benefits – increases in strength, improvements in endurance, reductions in cortisol levels, improved stimulation of protein synthesis, decreases 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.
The body uses glucose, fat and even protein for fuel during hard exercise. When diet and carbohydrate levels are low the percentage of protein required is higher, specifically leucine, isoleucine, and valine. And, if they are not refueled by more consumption the body is depleted and can’t manufacture more.
In deficit, the body will breakdown other areas of the body to replace them.
WHY BCAAs ARE BETTER THAN WHEY
BCAAs are more beneficial than whey protein as an energy source because they are not required to be digested. They’re quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and bypass the liver on the fast track into the muscles ready for energy.
BCAAs make up a high proportion of the bodies muscle, and they are essential amino acids – they can’t be made by the body, they must be consumed from food or supplement sources. BCAAs are for muscle strength and repair, maintenance and regeneration processes important for CrossFit.
A common question is how much should I take?
Dosing is dependent on your current size, your digestion and how fast you want to start seeing results. Generally, an effective dose is 5-10g per dose of capsules or powdered BCAAs. Start off slow with 1-2g per dose and gradually increase the size of each dose over a few weeks, so your system adjusts to them. The ratios of each essential amino acid from the source are important. The optimum for Leucine: Valine: Isoleucine should be 2: 1: 1 by weight in your formula.
AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTATION IS BENEFICIAL IN OTHERWISE HEALTHY INDIVIDUALS
Amino acids are very well tolerated by the general population, especially people who are already pretty healthy. Look out for formulations which are 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 most significant benefits, choose quality amino acid supplements that are well regulated. Some cheap brands may not contain what is 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 analogs, anti-estrogens and beta-2 agonists.
Amino acid supplementation shows benefits to CrossFit athletes by regulating blood sugar so, diabetes medications could be affected. Taking amino acid supplements while on diabetes medications may cause blood sugars to go too low and necessitate a reduction in diabetes medication. Talk to your doctor and constantly monitoring blood sugar carefully. 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 using the precursor amino acid L tyrosine, amino acid supplementation may complete the pathways used. If you take Levodopa, avoid simultaneously supplementing with amino acids.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease) patients supplementing with amino acids have been linked to lung failure and higher death rates. If you have ALS, avoid using supplemental amino acids until more is known.
If you already have Branched-chain ketoaciduria, seizures and severe mental and physical retardation can result if intake of branched-chain amino acids is increased. 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, more 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 yielding 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.
If pregnant or breastfeeding consult your doctor or obstetrician first. Like with most supplements and natural products, there is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking amino acid supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Amino acids are probably safe for children when taken by mouth, amino acids have been used safely in children for up to 6 months, always 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 two weeks before a scheduled surgery and consult your doctor.