Bodybuilding 6 MIN READ 279 VIEWS July 23, 2022

What are Essential Amino Acids and Why They’re Important for Your Bodybuilding Goals?

Written By HealthKart
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Aarti Nehra

What are essential amino acids
What are Amino Acids?
What are Essential Amino Acids?
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
Amino Acid Benefits
Amino Acid Foods
Amino Acid Supplements
Role of Essential Amino Acids in Bodybuilding

Proteins are often referred to as the building blocks of the body. Proteins are made up of small organic compounds, the amino acids, which play a critical role in cell building and help in the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters, hence, crucial for the optimal functioning of the body. The amino acids are classified as essential and non-essential, depending upon their availability in the body. Read through to get a better idea on what are essential amino acids and learn about their benefits and sources.

What are Amino Acids? 

Amino acids are organic compounds that form proteins. The elements, namely nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are present in every amino acid. In addition to this, amino, carboxylic acid functional groups along with a side chain specific to each amino acid make up a particular amino acid. The amino acid metabolism takes place within the body which assists in numerous biological reactions important for the functioning of the body. 

The body requires a total of 20 amino acids for optimal functioning. These are divided into two categories.

  1. Essential Amino Acids
  2. Non-Essential Amino Acids

What are Essential Amino Acids?

Of the 20 different amino acids required by the body to grow and function properly, 9 are termed essential. While non-essential amino acids are produced within the body, the essential amino acids have to be sourced through diet.

The nine essential amino acids are:

  1. Phenylalanine – This essential amino acid helps in the synthesis of proteins, catecholamines, and melanin. The body converts Phenylalanine into another amino acid Tyrosine which is then used to manufacture neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These transmitters are important for the structure and function of proteins and enzymes. The daily intake of Phenylalanine must be 33 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Histidine – This amino acid is used to produce red blood cells and histamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for optimal immune response, sleep-wake cycles, and digestive and sexual functioning. It also plays a crucial role in maintaining the myelin sheath, the protective barrier surrounding the nerve cells. The body requires 14 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Lysine – Lysine is extremely important for protein synthesis, calcium absorption, and the production of hormones and enzymes. It helps in generating energy, boosting function, and producing collagen and elastin. The daily intake of Lysine must be 38 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Methionine – This amino acid is crucial for metabolism and detoxification. It plays an important role in tissue growth and helps in the absorption of minerals namely, zinc and selenium. The body requires 19 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Tryptophan. This essential amino acid helps in the secretion of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating appetite, sleep, and mood. The daily intake of Tryptophan must be 5 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Threonine – Threonine makes up structural proteins in the body namely, collagen and elastin. It is critical in blood clotting and plays a key role in the metabolism of fats and boosting immune function. The daily intake of Threonine must be 20 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Isoleucine – One of the three BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), isoleucine is widely present in the muscle tissue and aids in muscle metabolism. It is also important for proper immune function, production of haemoglobin, growth, glucose transportation, and energy regulation. The body requires 19 mg of Isoleucine per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Leucine – Also a BCAA, Leucine is important for protein synthesis and muscle repair. It also plays a crucial role in reducing protein break down after sustaining injury. The amino acid is critical for quick wound healing and the production of growth hormones. The daily intake of Leucine must be 42 mg per kg of body weight per day.
  1. Valine. The third BCAA, Valine, is important for the stimulation of muscles, their growth and regeneration. It is also involved in energy production. The body requires 24 mg per kg of body weight per day.

Non-Essential Amino Acids

The remaining 11 amino acids namely, arginine, asparagine, alanine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, glutamine, proline, serine and tyrosine are non-essential because they are produced within the body in the required quantities.

Conditionally Essential Amino Acids

Interestingly, there is a category of non-essential amino acids that are conditionally essential. While the body produces them in ample quantities, they transform into essential amino acids when the body enters a state of trauma, implying that their increased requirement must be sourced through food. Conditional amino acids include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.

Amino Acid Benefits

Amino acids are the core of many vital processes taking part in the body. Although their primary role lies in muscle development and repair, amino acids are important for various other functions. These include:

  1. Breaking down food 
  2. Repair and growth of body tissue
  3. Producing hormones and neurotransmitters or the brain chemicals
  4. Helping in wound healing /surgery
  5. Helping improve athletic performance and recovery
  6. Helping lift mood
  7. Helping in generating energy
  8. Helping maintain healthy skin, hair and nails.
  9. Helping build, repair, and strengthen muscles
  10. Boosting the immune system
  11. Helping maintain a healthy digestive system

Amino Acid Foods 

As essential amino acids cannot be prepared within the body, they are to be sourced through a balanced diet. They are found in a vast variety of foods. One must concentrate on eating ‘complete proteins’ as they contain all the nine essential amino acids required by the body.

 Animal-based complete proteins include:

  1. Poultry
  2. Fish and seafood 
  3. Meat
  4. Egg 
  5. Dairy Products

Plant-based complete proteins include:

  1. Quinoa
  2. Soy
  3. Buckwheat
  4. Hemp and Chia seed
  5. Spirulina
  6. Tempeh
  7. Amaranth

Other plant-based proteins, like beans, nuts, legumes and grains, are incomplete proteins because they lack one or more of the EAAs; they must be consumed in a vast variety and combinations to ensure that the body receives all the nine essential amino acids as well as other nutrients

Amino Acid Supplements

A diet rich in ‘complete’ proteins will ensure that the body receives daily requirements of all EAAs. But as the amino acids cannot be stored for future use, their daily intake is necessary. This is where amino acid supplements come in handy. Amino acid supplements help fulfil the daily requirement of all essential amino acids in a calculated manner. The amino acid supplements are especially important for bodybuilding as they enhance athletic performance and recovery. 

Role of Essential Amino Acids in Bodybuilding

When it comes to bodybuilding, a few essential amino acids are more important than the others; leucine, methionine, valine, and isoleucine. 

Leucine, a BCAA, and methionine are important as they trigger the synthesis of muscle protein. This helps in building muscle mass. While complete proteins confer adequate amounts of these two essential amino acids, whey protein is particularly rich in leucine. No wonder, whey protein supplements are extremely popular among bodybuilders and weightlifters.

In addition to Leucine, the other two BCAAs namely Valine and Isoleucine are equally important for bodybuilding. Adequate intake of the three BCAAs helps reduce muscle soreness in individuals after strenuous workout sessions. Consuming amino acid supplements before a workout session fuels the muscles, thus, boosting workout efficacy. The three EAAs are used by the muscles to produce energy to carry out an unhindered workout.


Essential amino acid foods provide the vital organic compounds. They are found in both animal-based and plant-based complete proteins. But unlike fats and carbohydrates that can be stored in the body for subsequent use, the body does not store amino acids for future use. The amino acids not used during the day are excreted out in the urine. 

Thus, failure to consume essential amino acids in the daily diet can disrupt the important functions of the body. In cases of chronic essential amino acid deficiency, the body starts to break down the skeletal muscles to make up for the deficient levels. This can result in severe health implications. Thus, essential amino acid supplements promise to meet the daily protein requirements. 

So, to answer the question: what are essential amino acids meant to do for the human body, the list of positives is a long one. 

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