Although there are over 80 amino acids, our bodies only use 20. Eleven of those aminos are non-essential, meaning your body makes them on its own. The remaining nine are known as the essential amino acids, which are not produced in the body and therefore must be acquired via supplementation. Arguably, the best amino acids out of the essential aminos are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine and valine. Of course, this is coming from a fitness perspective. Let’s take a closer look at each of the others to learn why.
Histidine is used to develop and maintain healthy tissues, particularly in the nervous system. Too much histidine is linked to anxiety and schizophrenia, while not enough can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and deafness. Generally, foods that are high in protein are a good source of histidine. Examples include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, bananas, citrus fruits and dairy.
In order to produce dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and melanin, your body must have phenylalanine. This amino acid can help prevent mood swings, lethargy, anxiety and generally feeling down. Good sources include beef, poultry, pork, fish, dairy, eggs and soy products like tofu.
Threonine is used in the formation of bones, cartilage, teeth, hair and nails, as well as the development of the liver, small intestine and skeletal muscles. It helps to strengthen the immune system and may help combat depression. To boost your threonine levels, eat more cottage cheese, eggs, sesame seeds, beans, lentils, corn, fish and poultry.
Tryptophan is likely the only essential amino acid other than the BCAAs that you’ve heard of. Present in turkey, this sleep-inducing amino is important for the production of serotonin and vitamin B3. It can also be found in milk, chocolate, oats, dried dates, bananas, cottage cheese and peanuts.
Protect your cells from free radicals and boost metabolism at the cellular level with methionine. Although excessive intake can be dangerous, this amino acid is used to treat diseases of the liver and known to minimize the spread of the flu. Find it in chicken, fish, milk, red meat, eggs, nuts, grains and beans.
Lysine promotes the growth of hair, nails, teeth and bones. It is also used in the production of collagen, the protein that contributes to skin elasticity. Foods that are high in lysine include poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, soybeans and nuts.
Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
No, the B in BCAAs does not stand for best. However, leucine, isoleucine and valine are the best amino acids when it comes to building muscle. Muscle tissue is made up of protein, and amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Leucine in particular has a direct role in stimulating the muscle-building process (anabolism). The BCAAs can also help improve performance, optimize recovery and contribute to weight loss.
The Best Amino Acids Supplement
Not sure which amino acid supplement is best for you? Read this article to learn the differences between our four, main products.