Rebuilding muscles and preventing muscle loss requires amino acids, which is gained from proteins. While there are amino acids that are naturally produced by the body, other amino acids must come from the diet or through supplements. These are classified as essential amino acids. Foods with the nine essential amino acids are classified as complete proteins. So, what are complete proteins and what are examples of such?
Overview: Amino Acids
Before jumping right into that, it is crucial to understand what are amino acids? As mentioned, these come from proteins and are referred to as its building blocks. Amino acids play a crucial role not only in muscle growth and repair, but it also plays a significant hand in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones.
20 amino acids are known to be important in numerous bodily functions. While 11 are considered non-essential, which the body can naturally manufacture, the other nine are referred to as essential amino acids. These must come from either food or supplements.
Essential Amino Acids: Functions
Much like the non-essential amino acids, the nine essential amino acids have a specific role to play in the body. These are as follows.
The myelin sheath acts as a protective covering of the nerve cells. For it to remain sturdy, the body needs appropriate amounts of histidine. Aside from its role in maintaining the integrity of the myelin sheath, histidine helps in the production of the neurotransmitter called histamine. It is vital in numerous functions such as the sleep-wake cycle, digestion, immune response, and sexual function.
In energy, enzyme, and hormone production, lysine is vital. Also, it is crucial in elastin and collagen production, protein synthesis, the absorption of calcium, and immune function.
This amino acid helps in the creation of other amino acids. Furthermore, it plays an important role in the function and structure of enzymes as well as proteins. It also acts as a precursor for the following neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, and tyrosine.
For one’s immune system to function effectively, threonine is needed. Moreover, it has an important part in the metabolism of fat. It also is a significant component of elastin and collagen, which are structural proteins found in the connective tissue and the skin.
The balance of nitrogen in the body has maintained all thanks to tryptophan. Furthermore, it acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter referred to as serotonin, which plays a role in regulating one’s sleep, mood, and appetite.
Detoxification and metabolism are not complete without methionine. Also, it is necessary for the absorption of selenium and zinc as well as in tissue growth.
Of the nine essential amino acids, there are three that are branched-chain, which means a chain of its molecular structure branches off to one side. One of the three is valine, which helps in the production of energy as well as muscle growth regeneration and stimulation.
The second of the three branched-chain amino acids are leucine. It helps in the production of growth hormones, aids in muscle repair and protein synthesis, stimulates wound healing, and regulates blood glucose levels.
In regulating energy, isoleucine, which is the last of the branched-chain amino acids, is vital. Furthermore, it helps in hemoglobin production, immune function, and muscle metabolism. Much of this amino acid is found primarily in the muscle tissues.
What are Complete Proteins?
Food that contains adequate portions of all the nine essential amino acids is referred to as whole proteins or complete proteins. Such food sources include eggs, poultry, seafood, meat, and dairy products. As for the plant-based sources of complete proteins, these include buckwheat, soy, and quinoa.
For meat-eaters, it won’t be difficult to get all nine essential amino acids. However, for vegans and vegetarians, plant-based food like soy, buckwheat, and quinoa won’t always be part of the diet. So, chances are, vegans are not getting all the necessary essential amino acids.
In this regard, it is vital to be strategic when it comes to the sources of protein. Pair together two incomplete proteins to get a complete source of all nine essential amino acids. The rule of thumb is to pair legumes, such as peanuts, lentils, peas, and beans, with a seed, a nut, or a grain. Other combinations to try include pairing beans with brown rice, combining bread with peanut butter, and adding pita with hummus.
Other methods of getting complete proteins are by supplementing with protein powders. There are also essential amino acids that come in capsule or tablet form. However, before supplementing with amino acids, it is best to first consult with your doctor and dietician. This is to guarantee that the supplements you take do not interact with any prescription drug you might be on.
Recommended Daily Allowance
As for the recommended daily allowance of protein, it depends on numerous factors like one’s fitness goals, age, and weight. Generally, an individual who weighs approximately 140 pounds should be consuming around 50 grams of protein daily. For every 2.2 pounds of body weight, the following amino acids are required daily.
- Tryptophan: 5 mg
- Lysine: 42 mg
- Leucine: 42 mg
- Methionine: 19 mg
- Histidine: 14 mg
- Isoleucine: 14 mg
- Valine: 24 mg
- Threonine: 20 mg
- Phenylalanine: 33 mg
Furthermore, regardless of the amount of protein an individual need, the source of the protein is what matters most. As mentioned above, it is advisable to get the necessary essential amino acids from complete sources.
The essential amino acids that come from complete proteins have a wealth of health benefits. These include the following.
1. Stimulates Weight Loss
Lose weight with the aid of essential amino acids, particularly the three branched-chain amino acids leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Studies have shown that supplementing with amino acids, leads to a decrease in body fat percentage.
2. Enriches Exercise Performance
Enjoy enhanced workouts with the help of amino acids. In addition to boosting one’s athletic performance, the essential amino acids help alleviate muscle fatigue and stimulate muscle recovery.
3. Boosts Sleep and Mood
Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids, helps in the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which regulates mood, behavior, and sleep. By supplementing or getting appropriate amounts of tryptophan from the diet, it reduces signs of depression, boosts mood, and improves sleep.
4. Prevents Muscle Loss
Prolonged bed rest, which is usually experienced by sick individuals and the elderly, most likely leads to muscle loss. Prevent this from happening with the help of amino acids. It not only prevents the breakdown of the muscles, but it also helps preserve lean body mass.