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Are You Missing Out On the Benefits Of Essential Amino Acids?

By Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, Pn1

Higher-protein diets play a role in improved body composition, maintenance of lean body mass and may help ward off age-related diseases and insulin resistance.

Since protein is broken down to amino acids, it’s possible to gain many of the benefits of eating higher amounts of whole-food protein by supplementing with essential amino acids (EAAs).

Amino Complex is a patented mix of essential amino acids, designed to deliver the amino acids in specific ratios, based on more than two decades of research.

To gain an appreciation for this unique formula, you should first understand some basics about protein and essential amino acids. Then we can look at some of the benefits of this great-tasting EAA powder, including increased protein synthesis, enhanced fat metabolism, improved exercise capacity and blood sugar metabolism and even better mood.*

Protein and Essential Amino Acids

String a bunch of amino acids together and you have a protein. Put a bunch of proteins together and you have muscle, bone, enzymes, and almost every other tissue in the body.

In fact, 45 percent of the dry weight (when you don’t include water) of the average human body is made up of protein. In addition, more than 50 percent of the body’s protein stores are found in muscle tissue, which makes maintenance of muscle tissue throughout life so important.[i]

The body can make some amino acids. These are called non-essential amino acids. We still eat them, but we don’t require them for optimal health.

Others, like glutamine, are considered conditionally essential. Under normal circumstances, the body makes enough on its own. However, under high levels of stress, glutamine stores can be used up faster than they can be replenished, so it becomes important to take in more glutamine through diet or supplementation.

Still other are called essential amino acids, which the body cannot make on its own. These must be supplied through the diet.

While it’s true that all proteins are made up of amino acids, not all dietary proteins are built with the same combination of amino acids.

The “quality” of protein is based on its concentration of essential amino acids.

Other than soy, which is controversial, plant foods are generally low in total protein compared with carbohydrate content.

However, some plant-based foods do have high Biological Values (BV) because, as a result of the protein found in them, the concentration of essential amino acids is fairly high. Rice and pea are good examples.

Functions of Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids have many roles beyond being “biological Legos.™”

The consumption of some essential amino acids results in the stimulation of protein synthesis or the development of new tissue. Others cause a reduction in protein breakdown.

Certain amino acids help regulate metabolism. Not only do they have the ability to improve physical performance as a young adult, they might slow the effects of aging.

Research shows that 8-10 grams of essential amino acids maximally stimulates protein synthesis. If the essential amino acids come through a high-quality protein like whey, then it requires about 20 grams of protein in total.[ii]

Presumably, a larger amount of a lower-quality protein, like plant-based protein, would be required for the same effect, if it had the same effect at all.

Also, it is possible to consume 8-10 grams of pure EAAs as a supplement to derive the same protein synthesis-stimulating effect.

Does that mean you only need 20-30 grams of protein in a meal to get the best effect, or just 8-10 grams of EAAs? Not necessarily.

Total lean body mass growth is equal to protein synthesis minus protein breakdown, as shown in the following equation:

Lean Mass Development (a.k.a. Anabolism) = Protein Synthesis – Protein Breakdown.

Based on this equation, you can see that the rate of protein breakdown plays an important role. Protein synthesis peaks with the consumption of about 20-30 grams of high-quality protein.

Protein breakdown is reduced more and more as protein intakes beyond 20 grams are consumed in a meal.

At the 2013 International Society of Sports Nutrition conference, Dr. Arny Ferrando explained that he has seen continued increases in the anabolic response with single-meal protein intakes of 75 grams. Increases in protein synthesis may reach a cap, but protein breakdown continues to be reduced with higher protein intakes.

The main obstacle to increasing protein intake is a loss of appetite. Protein is quite satiating, which explains why higher-protein diets are shown to be beneficial for weight loss.

Protein Consumption and Aging

As people age, their protein requirements go up, not down. However, their appetite typically drops, which makes it a challenge to eat optimal amounts of protein.

Low protein intake can exacerbate the development of sarcopenia, or age-related lean mass loss. As lean muscle mass drops, the body becomes less efficient at utilizing and storing carbohydrates. Fat tissue begins to replace muscle on a pound for pound basis.

If you’re still young and reading this, don’t skip over this concept, thinking that you’ve got years to go before you have to worry about age-related lean muscle loss.

Like diabetes and other chronic diseases, the loss of lean muscle mass is a long, slow process that begins at ages much younger than when people finally acknowledge there’s a problem.

It also appears that aging adults have less of an anabolic response to incoming protein. This is termed “anabolic resistance.”

The same amount of protein has less of an impact on stimulating protein synthesis or slowing protein breakdown. As a result, older adults need greater amounts of protein to have the same protein synthesis-stimulating effects.

The Advantage of Essential Amino Acids

Protein takes time and energy to break down and to be absorbed.

With aging, many people produce fewer enzymes and less stomach acid, which makes it more difficult to digest whole-food protein. That’s not to say they should avoid it.

Most adults should probably eat more than they currently do. However, this creates a unique advantage to using amino acids.

Amino acids do not need to be digested. They’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream once they’re consumed, meaning they quickly become available for use by the body. This makes them a fascinating supplement for use by high-performing athletes, aging adults, and everyone in between.[iii]

Essential Amino Acids – More than Muscle

Amino acids play an important role in stimulating protein synthesis and reducing protein breakdown. In doing so, they help build or preserve tissues like muscle and bone.

Essential amino acids also support maintenance of, or increases in, strength. They play other critically important roles in the body.

The specific, patented mix of amino acids found in Amino Complex is designed to target multiple benefits of amino acids, rather than protein synthesis alone, which is common for branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements.*

The following are some fascinating findings from research on the Amino Complex formula.

Muscle Function

In animals, the Amino Complex formula caused a shift in muscle fiber types from slow-twitch, type 1 fibers to fast-twitch, type 2 fibers in older animals.* This has significant implications for humans.

As we age, we tend to lose fast-twitch fibers. The fast-twitch fibers are important in maintaining normal blood sugar levels, providing strength, and providing a significant storage area for amino acids in the body.*[iv]

Another animal study showed that regular use of the Amino Complex formula reversed reductions in mitochondria number and size, and reduced fibrosis in skeletal muscle caused by aging.*[v]

Mitochondria provide the energy we need to think, move, and function. The growth of mitochondria number or size is called mitochondrial biogenesis. More mitochondria means more energy.

With aging, muscle tissue becomes less concentrated with actual muscle cells, and fibrosis increases. It’s logical to think that maintaining lean mass with aging can help ward off the development of fibrosis.*

In yet another animal study, time to exhaustion during exercise was measured in older animals. Not only did their time to physical exhaustion double, it exceeded the time to exhaustion of rats four times younger than the elderly animals!*[vi]

When used in older humans, the EAA formula in Amino Complex significantly increased the distance they could walk in a set period of time, as well as increased strength.* As the researchers put it,

“the increases in these parameters during AA (amino acid) supplementation were similar to those obtained through exercise training in elderly subjects.”

In this particular study, simply taking the amino acids in the Amino Complex formula had a similar effect as exercising in this population.*[vii]

The amino acids in Amino Complex have been shown to slow or reverse catabolism, which can affect the body during aging, high-volume training, low-calorie diets, and various disease states.

Nervous System Support

Amino acids play a role in maintaining a normal mood because they are precursors of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The Amino Complex formula was shown to significantly improve mood in older adults and reduce signs of stress.*[viii]

Blood Sugar

Older adults increased lean body mass, which then had the effect of helping to maintain normal fasting insulin levels and blood glucose levels.*[ix]

The use of amino acids in the Amino Complex formula also supported normal insulin levels and blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, showing that their use can significantly alter the way the body stores and uses fuel. Fasting insulin and glycated hemoglobin, or HbA1c were both positively impacted.*[x]

Other Benefits

There is a strong indication that the use of the amino acids in the Amino Complex formula support good cardiovascular health.[xi] This is an area where more research should be done.*

Yet another study resulted in improved antioxidant function, which also deteriorates with aging or chronic stress.*[xii]


Amino ComplexWe are able to offer this unique amino acid formula due to our partnership with Thorne, which maintains an exclusive right to the formula in North America. The formula has been well-studied and shown to affect a number of areas of metabolism.

The use of Amino Complex can have a positive effect on age-related changes, supporting increases in lean body mass, maintaining proper blood sugar regulation, enhancing fat metabolism and improving exercise capacity.

Thanks for reading! Pass it along if you thought it was a useful blog post.

If you’re ready to try out our patented amino acid formula, Amino Complex, order it here.

[i] Solerte SB, Gazzaruso C, Bonacasa R, Rondanelli M, Zamboni M, et al. Nutritional supplements with oral amino acid mixtures increases whole-body lean mass and insulin sensitivity in elderly subjects with sarcopenia. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):69E-77E

[ii] Burd NA, Tang JE, Moore DR, Phillips SM. Exercise training and protein metabolism: influences of contraction, protein intake, and sex-based differences. J Appl Physiol. 2009;106(5):1692-701

[iii] Pasini E, Aquilani R, Dioguardi FS, D’Antona G, Gheorghiade M, Taegtmeyer H. Hypercatabolic syndrome: molecular basis and effects of nutritional supplements with amino acids. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):11E-15E

[iv] Pansarasa O, Flati V, Corsetti G, Brocca L, Pasini E, D’Antona G. Oral amino acid supplementation counteracts age-induced sarcopenia in elderly rats. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):35E-41E

[v] Corsetti G, Pasini E, D’Antona G, Nisoli E, Flati V, et al. Morphometric changes induced by amino acid supplementation in skeletal and cardiac muscle of old mice. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):26E-34E

[vi] Chen Scarabelli C, McCauley RB, Yuan Z, De Rezze J, Patel D. Oral administration of amino acidic supplements improves protein and energy profiles in skeletal muscle of aged rats: elongation of functional performance and acceleration of mitochondrial recovery in adenosine triphosphate after exhaustive exertion. Am J Cardiol.2008:101(11A):42E-48E

[vii] Scognamiglio R, Testa A, Aquilani R, Dioguardi FS, Pasini E. Impariment in walking capacity and myocardial function in the elderly: is there a role for nonphamarcologic therapy with nutritional amino acid supplements? Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):78E-81E

[viii] Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Antoniello N, Boschi F, Iadarola P. Effect of essential amino acid supplementation on quality of life, amino acid profile and strength in institutionalized elderly patients. Clin Nutr. 2011;30(5):571-577

[ix] Solerte SB, Gazzaruso C, Bonacasa R, Rondanelli M, Zamboni M. Nutritional supplements with oral amino acid mixtures increases whole-body lean mass and insulin sensitivity in elderly subjects with sarcopenia. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):69E-77E

[x] Solerte SB, Fioravanti M, Locatelli E, Bonacasa R, Zamboni M, et al. Improvement of blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity during a long-term (60 weeks) randomized study with amino acid dietary supplements in elderly subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):82E-88E

[xi] Taegtmeyer H, Harinstein ME, Gheorghiade M. More than bricks and mortar: comments on protein and amino acid metabolism in the heart. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):3E-7E

[xii] Brocca L, D’Antona G, Bachi A, Pellegrino MA. Amino acid supplements improve native antioxidant enzyme expression in the skeletal muscle of diabetic mice. Am J Cardiol. 2008;101(11A):57E-62E

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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