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Amino acids: what are they and what is their use?

Today, we are talking about a much debated subject in the world of sports in general, and at this time still concerned is also the world of runners, given the marketing of amino acid supplements in endurance sports. We will clarify some aspects of their functions, their usefulness in sports, their physical problems if consummation becomes disproportionate and unapproved and personalized to the needs of their body .


Amino acids are the primary structural structural unit of the proteins, practically it is possible to consider them as bricks which, joined by a peptide bond, form a long sequence that gives rise to a protein. It happens that within the stomach and the duodenum the peptide bonds are broken and consequently the individual amino acids reach the small intestine and are absorbed by the body.

Functions of amino acids

The primary function of amino acids we have seen is to intervene in protein synthesis, necessary to cope with the cell renewal processes of the body. In addition to this function, called "plastic", amino acids also have a modest but not negligible importance in energy production (branched amino acids) . Some amino acids are also precursors of compounds that play important biological functions. For example, tryptophan is obtained from niacin, serotonin (neurotransmitter) and melatonin (circadian rhythm regulator).
Methionine and Cysteine ​​produce glutathione, an important antioxidant useful in fighting free radicals. Among these, the best known in the sports field are Creatine (useful to increase capacity and anaerobic potato and laattacida power) and Carnitine facilitating the transport of lipids within the mitochondria.

Download Scheme Function of Amino Acids >>>

Classification of amino acids

As we mentioned earlier, amino acids are part of the protein synthesis, but in spite of the fact there are many amino acids in the body, only 20 are involved in this process. If we take into account the nutritional aspect, the amino acids can be divided into two large groups: that of essential amino acids and that of non-essential amino acids . The feeding of a subject, especially if sporting, should provide all the essential amino acids to make synthesis of non-essential. As we have seen in nature, there are foods that contain sufficient quantities of all essential amino acids (meats, eggs, fish and dairy products). Some foods, on the other hand, have a lack of essential amino acids, and can be counted as incomplete proteins, generally found in plant foods.
ESSENTIAL AMINOACIDES: amino acids that the human organism can not synthesize in sufficient quantity to meet its daily needs, especially if these demands increase as in the case of daily physical activity. They can be classified into:
· Phenylalanine,
· Isoleucine,
· Lysine,
· Leucine,
· Methionine,
· Treonine,
· Tryptophan
· Valina
Also considered essential amino acids for some of their functions are Cysteine and Tiroxin, synthesized from methionine and phenylalanine. And we still have Arginine , Glycine , Glutamine .
Daily requirements
The daily requirement of essential amino acids varies according to the different characteristics of the subject and its state of health:
  • Type of sport
  • Workout frequency
  • Subject metabolism
  • From sex
  • From muscle mass
  • From body fat (decreases metabolism)
Recommended recruitment
  • Sedentary subject: 0.8 gr x kg body weight
  • Active subject: 1/2 gr x kg weight
As you can see to meet this need, it is sufficient to take one gram of protein per kg of body weight per day, in the event that there are particular situations, such as athletes could think of an integration and an increase in the daily quantity. Then there may be specific deficiencies in eating disorders or ethical choices of life such as the vegan diet, which lasts for long periods of time. It is not to be overlooked that proteins and therefore amino acids, as we shall see below, can be used as a source of energy in particular cases, so if daily caloric support is limited, much of the amino acids are used to produce energy . However, increased demand can be covered simply by increasing overall caloric intake.

Amino Acids Refined
In addition to the essential and non-essential amino acids we also have the Ramificate Amino Acids known as "BCAA" , among which one can distinguish between three essential amino acids (Valina, Isoleucine and Leucine) that under particular conditions, such as during an intense physical effort Prolonged, are used as auxiliary energy substrate for fat and carbohydrates. This energy function is part of the biochemical process called (Glucogeogenesis). They must be introduced with diet because our body is not able to produce them autonomously. It happens that after their intake, branched amino acids are not metabolized by the liver, but after being absorbed into the small intestine, they are captured directly by the muscles where they can be used to repair damaged protein structures or for energy purposes. We have seen several times that in the past it was considered that proteins were used for energy purposes only at the end of a long training or competition, as carbohydrates, fat as main fuel were first used, while when there was a right amount of carbohydrates and fat , The effort was not intense and prolonged the proteins were not used. Now it seems that the oxidation of energy-based amino acids already occurs in the early stages of exercise and even gains more importance with the continuation and intensification of it . The use of energy-related BCAAs is linked to the body's energy stores (lipids and glucids), the more they are reduced and the greater the use of amino acids for energy purposes. It can be said that the run, considered as a endurance activity, if particularly prolonged, such as a Marathon or Ultramarathon, is merely a limitation of protein synthesis due to the fact that amino acids are used as a source energy. In practice it may happen and many times it happens even if the supply is limited, a "cannibalization of the muscles", in practice the body uses the muscles to provide energy because the energy demands are superior to the availability of the moment. All this can be seen not only during physical activity, but also in the recovery phase to repair muscle fibers that have been damaged by continuous ground impacts and microtraums at every stroke. By their action BCAA branched amino acids, they are also able to counteract lactic acid production, hamper fatigue fatigue, and preserve immune defenses. We have seen in several articles the importance of glutamine in this regard, immune activity, increased volume of muscle cells, over-exercise syndrome, recovery after physical effort, growth hormone secretion stimulus, In antioxidant action. Studies show that the integration of Glutamine after exercise together with a source of carbohydrates allows for better reintegration and reconstruction of decompressed glycogenic reserves after a prolonged run.

Download Table of Foods and Amino Acids Scaled >>>

AMINO ACID INTEGRATION FOR RUNNERS (and sportsman in general)

As the nutrition is balanced, we use good carbohydrates (low glycemic index), we use all the protein sources we have at our disposal, we insert the right amount of monounsaturated fats, see how we can best use an amino acid supplement branched. According to the guidelines of the Ministry of Health, the daily intake of branched amino acids (taking into account the three leucine, isoleucine, valine compounds) should correspond to 5gr with a ratio between the branched amino acids that is: 2: 1: 1 in Order of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Generally speaking, the assumption for a sportsman is around 6 gr per day for a subject of 70kg. If we want to explain what happens during prolonged physical activity, we can state that there is a negative nitrogen balance due to the use of energy-related amino acids, as mentioned above. The consumption of branched amino acids increases to produce glucose in the liver and brings the body's energy to the body. All this suggests that taking an augmented post-training amino acid supplements can improve recovery and that some body responses to the body's physical activity before.


What surely many sportsmen are wondering is whether it is really useful and necessary to take amino acids if the diet is complete and balanced. What can really be said about integrating amino acids (and integration in general) is due to the fact that with respect to the intake of food proteins, the amino acids present in the integration product are readily usable with respect to a protein source Food that needs a digestive and absorption process that is definitely more complex and therefore slower.
Like all foods, protein sources (especially protein sources) should fatigue the digestive system by subtracting blood from the muscles in activity. While the intake of branched amino acid supplements can be assumed with greater simplicity and effectiveness without overloading the digestive system and can preserve the muscle masses involved in physical activity.
So surely after an intense and prolonged aerobic run our body has to be able to detoxify the catabolites produced during physical activity, and an amino acid integration with the right amount of predominantly alkaline foods allows all this. Like all the integrations, the one for branched amino acids needs to be calibrated according to your needs to avoid risks to your health and overloading your body
As I have always mentioned and reiterated, integration needs to be personalized for personal needs, no integrator unless it is matched to a balanced diet and targeted workout can distort your performance , but if used with a criterion can make the benefits to your condition Physics and performance in general especially if your workout is prolonged and intense.

Good run

Prof. Ignazio Antonacci
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