The Misunderstood, Misused Darlings Of The Supplement Industry (& How *Not* To Waste Your Money Or Damage Your Health With Them).

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what are amino acids
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What are amino acids? To put it simply, they're the new darling of the supplement industry.

They're purported to give massive amounts of clean energy, muscle repair and recovery, neurotransmitter precursors, better performance when in ketosis, and much more—all without ingesting barely a single calorie.

Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and Viatcheslav Eckimov all used a regimen of them during the Tour de France to stay highly anabolic during their brutal multi-day cycling race.

But they're also vastly misunderstood, misused, and tossed by many supplement manufacturers willy-nilly into everything from pre-workout boosters to endurance formulas to recovery powders— unfortunately without much of a thought as to ratios, balances, amounts, effects on blood sugar, or other crucial considerations that affect your health and your wallet.

It seems these days that these teeny-tiny building blocks of proteins are viewed as precious gold nuggets that bestow superhuman powers upon anyone lucky enough to stumble upon them in a sports gel, capsule, fizzy drink, or other health cocktail.

But what are amino acids exactly, and why are they so prevalent now as the new darlings of the supplement industry?

And more importantly, do amino acids actually work any better or different than, say, whey protein powder or eggs or a steak?

And of course, when it comes to your hard-earned dollars and which supplements you “prioritize,” do amino acids really help you exercise or function… or are nutrition supplement companies pulling a fast one on you?

You're about to find out and have a bit of educational fun in the process (and if you want to transform yourself into a real amino acid ninja, then a perfect audio companion to this article is the podcast I released entitled: Amino Acids, BCAAs, EAAs, Ketosis, Bonking & More With 41 Time Ironman Triathlete Dr. David Minkoff).

What Are Amino Acids And How Do They Work?

Let's start by taking a trip down memory lane.

When I took my freshman-level biology class at the University of Idaho, my professor described to a group of us bright-eyed but informed newbies that a muscle was a bit like a big Lego castle (or Lego pirate ship, depending on your toy preferences), and then described amino acids as all the little Lego parts that made up the giant Lego structure of your muscle.

Convenient explanation? Yes.

Complete explanation? Not exactly.

See, the role of amino acids goes way beyond being Lego-like building blocks. Amino acids are actually essential for the synthesis of proteins, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolic pathways, mental stabilization, and just about every function that takes place within your body.

So, using the “Legos-are-like-amino-acids” example, a more appropriate analogy would be that you dump all your Legos out of the box and they self-assemble in a magic pirate ship, then float into the air and fly around the room shooting miniature cannonballs at pesky flies, fixing holes in the drywall of your house, and then tucking you into bed for a refreshing night of deep sleep. In other words, they do quite a bit more than just building the ship, building the castle, or building the muscle.

As a matter of fact, the function of amino acids goes far beyond being simple “building blocks,” and that's why just about any amino acid imbalance or deficit can cause significant negative physiological effects.

In the nutrition supplement industry—which you can feel free to imagine as a bunch of big fat corporate executives in pinstripe suits clustered around a thick, oak conference table or as skinny, spandex-clad athletes in white lab coats, tennis shoes, and geeky shorts (it's actually a mix of the two)—amino acid supplements fall into two basic categories: Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs).

And trust me, there's plenty of confusion about the difference between EAAs and BCAAs and plenty of critical mistakes made by the supplement industry when tossing either into your precious supplements. So let's begin by addressing the first category: EAAs. (And by the way, using the acronym as I do will make you seem super smart if you hang around any bros at the gym.)

What Are Amino Acids? (EAAs)

EAAs, as the name implies, are essential because they can't simply be made by your body as all the other amino acids can.

Instead, you have to get EAAs from your diet or other exogenous sources.

EAAs are also known as “indispensable amino acids” and are basically an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo (from scratch) by an organism, and thus must be supplied in that organism's diet. The nine amino acids humans cannot synthesize are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.

Six other amino acids are considered conditionally essential in the human diet, meaning their synthesis can be limited under special conditions, such as prematurity in the infant or individuals in severe catabolic distress (e.g. you decided to do Crossfit Murph with a weighted backpack, twice). These six are arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, and tyrosine. Five other amino acids are dispensable in humans, meaning they can actually be synthesized in your body. These five are alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, and serine.

OK, I realize that's quite a mouthful, so let's turn to a handy mnemonic device to help you sort all this out and be that person who can, unlike 99% of the population, actually interpret the label of an amino acids supplement. Have you ever heard of Private Tim Hall, AKA Pvt. Tim Hall? If you're a biology or chemistry geek, you probably have, because his name is the mnemonic commonly used to remember these essential amino acids, which are, once again…

Phenylalanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isoleucine, Methionine, Histidine, Arginine, Leucine, and Lysine.

Get it? PVT Tim Hall? I knew you were a smart cookie.

Thanks, Private Tim. We'll send you a check if we ever win the jackpot in Biology Trivial Pursuit.

Anyways, let's take a look at why the heck good ol' Pvt. Tim might do us benefit, starting with P.

  • P: Phenylalanine is traditionally marketed for its analgesic (pain-killing) and antidepressant effect, and is a precursor to the synthesis of norepinephrine and dopamine, two “feel-good” brain chemicals. This could be good because elevated brain levels of norepinephrine and dopamine may actually lower your “RPE” or Rating of Perceived Exertion During Exercise, which means you could be happier when you're suffering halfway through a killer workout session, an Ironman bike ride, an obstacle race, or any voluminous or intense event. It is also needed for the formation of our metabolism-regulating thyroid hormones. 
  • V: Valine, along with Isoleucine and Leucine, is a real player because it is BOTH an Essential Amino Acid and a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA – more on those pesky amino acids later). It can help to prevent muscle proteins from breaking down during exercise. This means that if you take Valine during exercise, you could recover faster because you'd have less muscle damage. More details on that below, when we delve into BCAAs. It is also involved in stimulating the central nervous system, regulating blood sugar levels, and with normal growth and development. 
  • T: Threonine research is a bit scant. Its main role is to help maintain the balance of protein within the body, making it essential for normal growth and development. Threonine is required to produce the amino acids serine and glycine. Glycine has been getting a lot of attention lately as research has uncovered its ability to promote muscle growth and inhibit muscle loss, its role in collagen production which repairs and protects the joints, ligaments, and tendons, its role in repairing the digestive tracts, its role in the formation of glutathione, its regulation of the nervous system, and in aiding restful sleep. 
  • T: Tryptophan is an interesting one. It is a precursor for serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter that can suppress pain, and if you're taking some before bed at night, it even induces a bit of sleepiness. The main reason to take tryptophan would be to increase tolerance to pain during hard workouts, games or races. But studies to this point go back and forth on whether or not that actually improves performance. Tryptophan is also needed to manufacture vitamin B3, which assists with blood sugar regulation, prevents free radical damage, and prevents the build-up of cholesterol. 
  • I: Isoleucine, another BCAA that has some of the same advantages of Valine. Again…more on BCAAs coming in a sec.
  • M: Methionine helps your body process and eliminate fat. It contains sulfur, a substance that is required for the production of the body’s most abundant natural antioxidant, glutathione. Your body also needs plenty of methionine to produce two other sulfur-containing amino acids, cysteine and taurine, which help the body eliminate toxins, build strong, healthy tissues, and promote cardiovascular health. Methionine is a “lipotropic”, which means it helps your liver process fats, prevents accumulation of fat in the liver and ensures normal liver function, which is essential for the elimination of toxins from your body. Methionine also supports liver function by regulating glutathione supplies – glutathione is needed to help neutralize toxins in the liver.
  • H: Histidine, as the name implies, is a precursor to histamine, and actually has some antioxidant properties and plays a key role in carnosine synthesis. What does that mean, exactly? Here's a clarification: histamine could help you fight off the cell-damaging free radicals you produce during exercise, and carnosine helps you get rid of muscle burn more quickly and helps turn lactic acid back into useable muscle fuel. Interestingly, though histidine is often listed as “essential,” it is not technically essential because when you take an EAA supplement, the levels of histidine in your blood will rise within one hour. But Tim and biology professors worldwide might be pissed if we abbreviate Tim Hall to Tim All, so we'll roll with the mnemonic for now.
  • A: Next is arginine, and if you're reading this and you're an old man who has relied on a little blue pill called Viagra to have a happier time in the sack, you can thank arginine. Arginine helps with nitric oxide synthesis, and nitric oxide is a vasodilator that increases blood flow and could help with exercise capacity (in the case of the blue pill, for one specific body part). Most of the studies on arginine show that it also helps folks with cardiovascular disease improve exercise capacity.
  • L: Leucine is yet another BCAA that supports muscle building. It also helps to maintain the nitrogen balance and energy supply within the body… Yes, as I keep promising, we will get to BCAAs very soon.
  • L: Lysine is something my Mom used to take to help cold sores that she got from eating citrusy foods. That's basically because it helps heal mouth tissue. But more importantly for exercising individuals, lysine may actually assist with growth-hormone release, which could vastly improve muscle repair and recovery, although if you take lysine in it's isolated form, the amount you'd have to take to increase growth hormone release would cause gastrointestinal distress, or as I like to call it, sad poopies. But combined with all the other essential amino acids, there may be a growth hormone response in smaller doses, and there is some clinical evidence that essential amino acid supplementation could stimulate growth hormone-releasing factors. It is also used in the development of antibodies and has important antiviral properties, both of which help support a healthy immune system.

OK, that almost wraps it up for good ol' Private Tim Hall.

The only thing I didn't mention is that the EAAs have a bit of an insulin and cortisol increasing effect, which confuses some people as to why EAAs would be good. But before you draw back in shock and go flush all your essential amino acids down the toilet because you heard insulin and cortisol make you fat and stressed, remember that both insulin and cortisol are crucial (in smaller amounts) for the “anabolic process”, or the growth, repair, and recovery of lean muscle tissue.

In addition, the amount of these hormones you get in EAAs is far different than the stress and insulin and cortisol response you get from, say, doing burpees with your mother-in-law while eating a pint of ice cream smothered in whiskey as you work on an all-nighter project for work.

In fact, there is a significant muscle-preserving effect of EAA supplements when ingested, especially during training in a fasted state or ketotic state, and this includes decreased indicators of muscle damage and inflammation. This basically means that if you popped some EAAs, even if you didn't eat anything, you wouldn't “cannibalize” as much lean muscle during a fasted workout session, a long intermittent fast, a bout of ketosis, or a marathon, Ironman triathlon or any other long, voluminous or relatively intense event.

This study shows that consuming an EAA mixture after resistance training increases muscle protein synthesis and net muscle protein balance, indicating that ingesting EAAs post-workout may stimulate faster muscle repair, recovery, and growth. Yet another study showed the potential for EAAs to cause muscle growth and regeneration through them being a potent rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) activator (activating cell growth), causing muscle satellite cell proliferation. As you age, your muscle produces less or has a delayed ability to proliferate satellite cells in response to exercise, which is bad news, since satellite cells are essential for skeletal muscle regeneration. But older men who consumed EAAs after resistance exercise had greater satellite cell proliferative capacity than those who didn't supplement. This is especially important information if you're at all interested in anti-aging, since muscle mass and resistance training keep you young, as explained in my article “The Latest Longevity Research & 5 Anti-Aging Secrets From Five Of The Fittest Old People On The Face Of The Planet.”

So in a nutshell, if you're going to use amino acids, you get far, far more benefit from consuming all the essential amino acids and, as you're about to learn, not too much benefit and some potential negative repercussions from their close cousin—the branched-chain amino acids.

And how many EAAs should you take? After our podcast, I asked this very question to Dr. Minkoff, and here was his reply:

“For most people who do not have gigantic bodies, 10 grams of amino acids consumed 3 times a day would be maximum the body could use. If more are taken, they will just be metabolized into sugar or stored as fat. Taking more than 10 grams of amino acids at a time can also do the same thing. Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and Viatcheslav Eckimov did this regimen during the tour and were anabolic during the tour. That was something they were never able to achieve without this formula. They didn’t have body break down and were actually more fit at the end than the beginning. It allowed their bodies to accommodate the stress and get stronger.”

So, the answer would be that for supplementing with EAAs, no more than 30 grams per day (and my personal protocol involves one handful of ten EAA tablets or two spoonfuls of EAA powder taken 1-2 times per day, always on an empty stomach, and usually before, during or after a workout—especially any workout that I perform while in ketosis or in a fasted state on an empty stomach).

What Are Amino Acids? (BCAAs)

Now come BCAAs, the slightly less well-endowed (albeit much cheaper on the shelf and much less expensive for a supplement company to produce) cousin of EAAs.

BCAAs are quite interesting because they are metabolized in your muscle, rather than in your liver. This means that BCAAs, without any requirement for much digestion or “processing” at all, can be relied on as an actual energy source during exercise, and could therefore prevent premature muscle breakdown. There was actually one compelling study done by a guy named Ohtani that showed exercising individuals who got BCAAs had better exercise efficiency and exercise capacity compared to a group that didn't get BCAAs.

Daily leucine supplementation to untrained men aged 18-29 participating in a resistance training protocol increased their power output from 31% to 40% without affecting lean mass or fat mass changes. BCAAs, particularly leucine, appear to stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis.

Other studies have found that BCAAs could increase a variety of factors that are really useful for anyone who cares about their physical performance…like red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and serum albumin. They can also lower fasting blood glucose and decrease creatine phosphokinase, which means less inflammation, better red blood cell formation, and better formation of storage carbohydrate.

But that ain't all.

BCAA supplementation after exercise has been shown to cause faster recovery of muscle strength, and even more interestingly, the ability to slow down muscle breakdown even during intense training and “overreaching” (getting very close to overtraining). This same study found an increase in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.

OK, so continuing with the many cool things that BCAAs can do…

This study found that taking BCAAs before and following damaging resistance exercise reduced indices of muscle damage and accelerated recovery in resistance-trained males.

When you supplement with BCAAs, they can decrease the blood indicators of muscle tissue damage after long periods of exercise, thus indicating reduced muscle damage. They also help maintain higher blood levels of amino acids, which, if you recall from the EAA explanation above, can make you feel happier even when you're suffering hard during exercise. So as you may have guessed, low blood levels of BCAAs are correlated with increased fatigue and reduced physical performance.

A 2011 study found that BCAA supplementation caused a 17.2% increase in time to fatigue in glycogen-depleted subjects and enhanced lipid oxidation, or using fat for fuel.

Heck, they even use BCAAs in medicine. BCAAs could help people recover from liver disease, could assist with improvements in patients with lateral sclerosis, and could help recovery in patients who have gone through trauma, extreme physical stress (can you say “triathlon,”,”Crossfit WOD,” “obstacle race,” or “airline travel”?), kidney failure, and burns. They even help prevent muscle loss in bedridden patients, so if you're injured and unable to exercise, supplementing with amino acids is a good idea.

BCAAs seem to enhance mental performance as well. During a 32 hour offshore sailing event, BCAAs reduced fatigue and mental errors. BCAAs have also been reported to preserve cognition during extended periods of exercise, a useful benefit for sports requiring decision making and reaction time.

But here is what I think could be the most interesting things about BCAAs, especially for fat loss:

  1. In his book, “SuperHealth: The Last Diet You'll Ever Need,” my friend KC Craichy swears by them for significantly decreasing your appetite when taken 30-60 minutes prior to exercise.
  2. When taken prior to a fasted exercise session, BCAAs could increase fat oxidation (and yes, I'll actually cite a study for this one, it was “Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion.“, by Gualano, et al)
  3. This study also found that consuming BCAAs during resistance training increased lean mass, muscle strength, and fat loss.
  4. My friend Dominic D' Agostino, ketosis researcher at the University of Florida, swears by BCAAs for maintaining high-intensity performance while in ketosis, a strategy he recently outlined in this recent ketosis podcast with Tim Ferris.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Why the heck wouldn't you just save your money and use BCAAs instead of EAAs? Great question, and here are the reasons I personally never use BCAAs and only take EAAs for my amino acid supplementation:

High Doses of BCAAs Can Deplete B Vitamins

Enzymes necessary for the breakdown and utilization of BCAAs require B vitamin cofactors, specifically B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), and B6 (Pyridoxine). This is bad news considering B vitamins are essential for converting your food into fuel, nervous system function, cognition, healthy hair, skin and nails, DNA synthesis, hormone production, and more. If you're taking high doses of BCAAs, then eventually you will disrupt the hundreds of biological processes that rely on B vitamins.

BCAAs Can Deleteriously Affect Serotonin Levels

When BCAA concentrations are high, uptake of tryptophan by the brain is low because they’re both transported by the same carrier system. This is good when using BCAAs to stave off fatigue during long workouts because as BCAA levels fall, there is an influx of tryptophan which leads to the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, causing fatigue. However, mega-dosing with BCAAs, especially on a high protein low carb diet may lead to low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a calming and relaxing neurotransmitter that boosts mood and helps you sleep. A shortage of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety, sleep problems, carbohydrate cravings, attention disorders, and more.

BCAAs May Cause Insulin Resistance And Dysregulate Blood Glucose Metabolism

Increased BCAA plasma levels are associated with a high risk of metabolic disorder and future insulin resistance and may predict the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that the infusion of amino acids induces insulin resistance in experimental settings. Furthermore, and independent of body weight, the addition of BCAAs to a high-fat diet contributes to the development of insulin resistance and impaired glucose homeostasis. A hypothesized mechanism explaining increased levels of BCAAs and type 2 diabetes involves leucine-mediated activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1), resulting in uncoupling of insulin signaling at an early stage. BCAAs may adversely affect insulin action on glucose metabolism. This study found that acute exposure to amino acids caused a dose-dependent inhibition of insulin-stimulated glucose transport and a blunting effect of amino acids on whole-body and skeletal muscle glucose disposal in humans. This study on healthy young men found that BCAA supplementation after an overnight fast caused an increase in insulin levels, but had almost no effect on glucose levels. No matter which way you look at it, BCAAs mess with insulin and blood glucose levels.

So, because I don't want my precious vitamins depleted, my neurotransmitters imbalanced, or my blood glucose and insulin regulation screwed up, I really don't go near BCAAs aside from their presence in whole food protein sources that I eat, such as fish, eggs, and meat. I'd highly recommend you do the same.

Now here's what I didn't tell you yet, and something that is going to save you a ton of trouble when it comes to how many “bottles” of different supplements you use: any EAA blend also contains all the BCAAs, but in a balanced form along with the other amino acids, meaning you get all the benefits of BCAAs with none of the negative side effects mentioned above. So if you use an EAA formulation that's created with the proper ratios, you get every single benefit you just read about in this article, without having to buy both EAAs and BCAAs.

That's why I don't use BCAAs. Not only are they only giving me less than half of my amino acid needs, but they also aren't necessary for a protocol that already includes EAAs. I only use EAAs.

How To Use EAAs and BCAAs

So if you've stayed with me so far, here's the big take-away message about amino acids…

…if all EAAs are present, your appetite is satiated, muscle repair and recovery can start before you're even done with your workout, and when you need a fast, nearly instantly absorbable form of protein or you're mentally stretched toward the end of a tough workout, game or race, or a long fast or bout of ketosis, high blood levels of EAAs (NOT BCAAs) can allow your body and brain to continue to both repair and to work hard instead of getting cannibalized and shutting down.

Based on all this, do I personally supplement with amino acids?

You bet I do.

I swear by them for enhancing mental focus during a workout, keeping me from cannibalizing muscle (especially during fasted morning workout sessions), and decreasing post-workout muscle soreness.

I also use them before fasted workouts for a huge pre-workout boost without the need to eat or digest actual food, and I use them when doing longer bouts of fasting or ketosis to maintain energy and focus and to keep any muscle loss at bay. You'd be surprised at how hard you can hit the weights or high-intensity cardio intervals without nary a calorie in your system, and only amino acids.

I also use EAAs when I can't get my hands on quality protein, such as when I don't have time to make a real meal after a workout, or on a plane flight when the “fish” that gets shoved in front of me in the airline meal appears to be a rubber doggie toy laced with chemicals, or during a week or a day when I'm limiting meat consumption (shocker for bacon enthusiasts: I actually do occasionally limit meat consumption as a longevity-enhancing technique), and especially during longer bouts of ketosis or fasting.

So which essential amino acids do I personally take?

I can tell you that I do not take the popular brands that have artificial sweeteners like sucralose or added sugars like maltodextrin.

I also do not take any amino acids that don't come in the necessary ratios, because I do not want to completely waste my money, a concept my guest Dr. David Minkoff delves into in this podcast episode.

Finally, I avoid any amino acids that have a bunch of added fillers, lubricants, chemicals, preservatives, or other nasties.

Instead, I use a pure and clean EAA blend called “Kion Aminos,” which comes in a convenient, portable tablet form or powder form, depending on which method of delivery you prefer (e.g. swallow vs. sip). Each tablet contains exactly one gram of EAAs (making it super easy for calculating your dosages) and each scoop of powder contains five grams of EAAs. Of course, both the tablet and the powder contain every single amino acid you've just read about in the exact ratios necessary for achieving lean muscle maintenance, immune system health, staving off central nervous system fatigue during exercise, controlling food cravings, and every other benefit you've just discovered.

So why are Kion Aminos any different than other protein sources, and why wouldn't you just “eat a steak”?

It all comes down to the Amino Acid Utilization (AAU™) that Kion Aminos offers, which is dramatically greater than dietary protein sources. AAU reflects the amount of amino acids from a protein source that your body is actually absorbing and utilizing.

  • At the low end of the spectrum are BCAAs–only 1% of their content is utilized by the body, with 99% resulting in waste that your body must then process and eliminate.
  • Next are whey and soy proteins–only 18% or less of their content is utilized by the body with 83% leaving as waste.
  • Food like meat, fish, and poultry fare just a bit better, with 32% being absorbed and 68% being wasted.
  • Eggs are the winners in the food category with 48% being utilized and 52% converted to waste.

Now compare those numbers to Kion Aminos—a massive 99% is put to work by the body, with only 1% leaving as waste. Not only that, but Kion Aminos are absorbed by the body within 23 minutes—and there is just 0.4 of a calorie per tablet, meaning a huge anabolic boost, muscle preserving effect, appetite satiation, and even a positive effect on sleep and neurotransmitters, with close to zero calories.

This also means that unlike, say, whey protein powder or meat or eggs or nuts, which can take hours to digest and absorb, Kion Aminos are fully digested within 23 minutes from its ingestion!

In addition, Dr. David Minkoff, who helped develop the Kion Aminos blend, actually lab tested the top-selling amino acid blends on the market, including those pesky BCAA formulas. The net utilization of most blends, which is the percentage of those blends actually used by your body to make protein, only ranged from a paltry 0% (yes, 0%) to 20%.

This seems pretty lousy when you compare this to the Kion Aminos utilization of 99%. Even spirulina was tested, and although I've talked about spirulina before as a much-hallowed protein preference of vegans and vegetarians worldwide, of the 24 different spirulina products tested, the utilization ranged from a low of 0% utilized to a maximum of 6%. So spirulina may be a decent source of amino acids, especially for vegans, but even it does not hold a candle when compared to Kion Aminos.

Here's the complete Kion Aminos label:

what are amino acids

On an airplane? I pop 10 Kion Aminos with a can of club soda to crush food cravings and keep me from digging around in my bag for dark chocolate.

Post-workout? I take 5-10 immediately, which is much easier than mixing a protein shake (and zero calories for those of you wanting recovery without the calories).

Injured or sick? I'll take up to 30 in a single day to give my body extra protein without creating digestive strain.

In ketosis or fasting? I completely and instantly crush any appetite or food cravings with a single serving of Kion Aminos tablets or powder.

You get the idea. This is without a doubt one of the most versatile and useful supplements you could have in your health and performance toolbox. You can click here to try a bottle of Kion Aminos now. They're in tablet or tasty Cool Lime or Mixed Berry flavored powder forms, they're 100% natural, and they're very easy to use (this page contains full instructions).

Enjoy, and leave your questions, comments, or feedback about amino acids in the comments section below.

what are amino acids


The following is a list of research on the original formulations upon which Kion Aminos were built.








Master Amino Pattern (MAP) Weight Loss Paper  – Word Document format

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

64 thoughts on “The Misunderstood, Misused Darlings Of The Supplement Industry (& How *Not* To Waste Your Money Or Damage Your Health With Them).

  1. Fred says:

    What do you think about taking non-essential aminos in isolation? e.g. glycine for antioxidant use or improving sleep quality?

  2. Eric says:

    Where are the amino acids in Kion Aminos sourced from? Animal or plant? And is it Kosher?

    1. Hi Eric! Kion Aminos are from 100% plant-based sources like beans and peas. The powder and tablets don’t include fillers, plant residues, sugars, yeast, gluten, soy, corn, wheat, rice, or animal products. The Kion Aminos powder contains natural preservatives like citric acid and malic acid.

  3. Hanry Jones says:

    Do you have any advanced bionutritionals perfect amino reviews? Are they any good and worth their price?

  4. blayne ludwig says:

    what is the replacement value 1 gram of EAA to grams of food protein

    1. blevo says:

      1 to 5
      you’ll notice no one seems to take more than 10g of EAAs at a time. equivalent of 50g protein

      still it depends what food source right? in the article you notice eggs are pretty efficient in NNU, nearly half used.
      so 50g of protein from egg might be close to 25g EAA (MAP). The 1 to 5 replacement above is vs whey, really. the main supplement competitor.

      I wonder what the exact NNU of egg yolk would be. quite possible 4 egg yolks might get you to the same place. but you’ll get all those calories from fat as well.

  5. Al says:

    Im intrigued as to if you fasted on EAAs compared to water if autophagy levels would be affected?

  6. Stephen Parker says:

    I am a fit, strong, 175lb, 5’11” male of 68 years and have spent my life eating carefully and exercising regularly. I have had surgery to fix a complex broken leg and am three weeks into a three month period whereby I can not put any weight to bear on my leg. Muscle atrophy is evident already. Not just on the broken leg. I am looking to take Kion amino acids supplement to help with muscle atrophy whilst having my mobility seriously impaired. I am concerned about not being able to replace muscle mass as a result of the aging process.
    Question: What would be your advice on protein supplement, particularly EAA’s, during this enforced period of inactivity?

  7. Guy says:

    Hi Ben

    I usually train early in the morning in a fasted state, so the EAAs sound ideal pre that work out. Do I continue to take the protein shake post work out (30 mins-1h after normally) as well? Or should you only take one or the other?


  8. Leonard Cabrera says:

    Is it safe to take L-Arginine and L-Ornithine Together,at the same time?

    1. blevo says:

      safe, more than likely. effective? hard to say.

      as a general rule when supplementing an amino acid take it on an empty stomach with no other AA which might compete.
      If you find some specific science/data indicating the pair can play well together let us know.

      this comment is just general for amino acids, not specific to the pair you mentioned.

      and certainly don’t get any other protein simultaneous to the MAP EAA mix. would just mess up the efficiency altogether. a waste of the EAA supplement.

  9. Leonard Cabrera says:

    I bought L-Ornthine And L-Arginine Supplements In Capsule Form. I would Like To Know If It Is Safe To Take them both,Together?

  10. Leonard Cabrera says:

    Can L-Arginine And L-Ornithine supplements Be Taken Together? And What Are The Benefits,Or Disadvantages, Of Taking Them?

  11. Joe K says:

    Hi Ben!

    Big fan of your content. One question please – I feel that the aminos will help me on my goal to put on muscle but I am on a budget and can really only afford to take one serving per day. With the focus to put on a muscle, would you recommend taking the amions pre or post working out? Or does it matter?



  12. Jillian Stronczek says:

    I’ve been taking you Kion Aminos for years. Since my body is used to them. Are they safe to take during pregnacy?

    1. I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my own personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever… But generally there shouldn't be concern.

  13. Bruce says:

    Hello there Ben. Every thing that ive seen and read looks very interesting. With that said why is the mention of Amino Acids always associated with extensive work or hard exersise. Arn”t amino acids essential to overall great or good health on it”s own. I dont like exercise. have an auto immune condition and just have far too many symptoms that fall under the under balanced hormone code. im 56 yrs old but feel lke i”m 65. am thinking of taking the AM/PM Multi vitimin product as well as the ZOIN Aminos. do you concur. thanks Bruce

    1. You're correct. EAAs are crucial to a number of processes in the body, and if your diet doesn't adequately support you, it's a great idea to supplement… Being especially active isn't a qualifier to taking them, but those who are very active would be more likely to need the support

  14. Joseph DeSantis says:

    Hi Ben — Thank you for the informative article. It talks about the importance of having the correct EAA ratios, but the product you are recommending, Kion, refused to divulge what ratios it is using (if it is listed somewhere, please correct me, but on the label it says it is proprietary.) How are we supposed to compare Kion’s ratios to other products out there? -Joe

  15. Ed says:

    Hi Ben,

    Great article!

    1. Do you think it is good idea of adding Kion Aminos to help out with food cravings while fasting in male in his sixties that have type 2 diabetes also taking blood pressure meds, with moderate physical activities (mainly walking) – to loose some weight?

    2. what would be a good protocol for taking Kion Aminos for female in her 30-ies with 3x a week of 2hrs training in evening hours – to build some muscle, help with the recovery but not screw hormone balance?

    Many thanks,


    1. I always recommend speaking with a license medical professional when considering supplementation along with prescription medicine. I'm not a doctor and this shouldn't be misconstrued as medical advice… 1) Aminos will help to satiate you and maintain lean muscle mass, and would be a good strategy as long as you aren't looking to purely maximize autophagy, in which case you should avoid all supps/food if possible. 2) Aminos can be effectively utilized as a preworkout, for post workout recovery, etc. For a longer, intense workout it could be a good idea to take 5g about an hour in and another 5 g post workout

  16. Hilary McClure says:

    Wondering about the recommended histidine and arginine. Are they in there? Also wondering how much leucine is in the dose.

  17. Daz Jones says:

    Hey Ben. Can you tell me from where your EAAs are derived please? I just found out that my current brand is part synthetic and part duck feathers!! Surely whey or egg-derived EAAs would be superior on the molecular level?

  18. Rose Morris says:

    Very interested

  19. Lenny Weber says:

    Is this in any way similar to this product:
    because I was wondering about changing it and if this is similar that would be perfect!

  20. Dave says:

    Hey Ben, I’ve been doing the 16:8 IF program for about 6 months now with fantastic results. I would however like a little more muscle growth since because of my schedule, all my workouts are done towards the end of my fasted state (about 6 days a week) and most are HITT or Boxing. Will I throw myself out of the fast by taking Kion EAAs before the workout? For the past 6 months I’ve consumed nothing in the fasted state except water, coffee, and tea. I really haven’t lost strength or muscle but haven’t seen any growth either. Heard you on the Joe Rogan podcast about 4 months ago, great episode!

    1. It's complicated and it really depends on who you ask. Personally, I take EAAs while fasting, but others say anything other than water breaks a fast.

  21. Lee Anna says:

    Will these help with autoimmune issues, my body needs amino acids but I can’t find a clean supplement. Didn’t know Better and I think suppleyhave made me a lot worse over the last few years.?? Thank you

  22. Albert says:

    Maybe a dumb question,

    I’ve got nerve injuries in my arms and can’t work out much at all; would taking these EAAs benefit me? Or there’s no point unless I’m working the muscles?

    1. EAAs can benefit you in many different ways! Check out this supplement guide:

  23. Hunter Baldwin says:


    I’ve been using Kion EAAs in with great success for both fasted morning training and lower protein fasting days. I’m typically using them about 10-12hrs into a daily 16hr fasting protocol. I’ve just recently switched to the powder form from the tablets. My question is will the stevia extract in the powder form knock me out of a fasted state or will the caloric intake be so minimal that the effects are negligible?



    1. The stevia will not be significant enough to break your fast

  24. Kalee says:

    Ok. I’m so confused about how much, and when I should be taking these. You, the label, and the Dr. you mention in your article, all say different things. So, which is best?

    1. Because there's not really just one way to take them. This supplement guide should help you out:…

  25. Heather says:

    Hey Ben! I just got your Kion EAA and LOVE them! My question is that I also just got Organifi Red Powder, and they suggest taking some before a workout also. If I train in the morning fasted and take the Kion EEA, will adding the Organifi Reds delete any benefits of a fasted mrng workout? Are they (Kion EEA and the Red powder) a good pre workout combo?

    1. Technically red powder has calories (aminos do not) so they do indeed take you out of a fasted state. You could take them later in the day, however, and just take the EAA for morning workout.

  26. Damian says:

    Superb work here Ben! I am in the interest of using these pre and post workout for intense sessions. Would ingesting following strong black coffee or caffeine supplementation be an issue or is this fine?

    Also, 30 minutes prior to exercise and immediately post workout ? Incredible work and studies here!


    1. Caffeine isn't going to affect the absorption of amino acids much at all so you'll be fine

      1. Damian says:

        Excellent thanks a lot!

        The appetite suppression of EAA has always been noticeable. I will have to get some of these ordered for next weeks training block.

        I am going to experiment 10g pre and 10g post to replace 20g dietary protein to reduce the hypoglycomenia after a large protein ingestion!

        Thank you for your help Ben.

  27. Afrhil says:

    Hi Ben,

    I bought this for my brother who has chronic kidney disease (CKD) since kidney patients benefit from low protein diet but he is malnourished. He is about 32.5 kg with a BMI of 12.7. You advised 8 tablets three times a day for him to meet all his protein needs, assuring that it won’t increase his BUN since it is nitrogen waste that is harmful to the kidneys, but your product has less than 1% nitrogen waste so it should be safe. My brother started with 4 tabs 3x a day for one week, then 5 tabs 3x a day for the second week, then 6 tabs 3x a day for the third week. I didn’t give him the 8 tabs 3x a day abruptly so that his body could gradually adjust to the dosage. We didn’t change his diet even before taking Kion Aminos. Before taking the supplement, his BUN was 40.34 mg/dL, but after taking the product, it rose up to a whooping 59.38 mg/dL (the normal range is 4.65-23.25 mg/dL)! It looks that Kion Aminos failed to fulfill its promise of not increasing the nitrogen waste in the body. We were very disappointed because I thought this was the product that could help my brother get muscle mass while not increasing his BUN level. Very sad. :(

    1. Joe says:

      I find it interesting just reading the posts and peoples response. I also find it even more interesting that Ben replies to most every message in timely manner, but for whatever reason, he chose to refrain from comment here. I thought your comment

    2. Shelly Vincent says:

      He probably did not respond because he is not a nephrologist and would be out of his area of expertise. I can give you some guidance since i have pkd and only one kidney. It is not protein that is detrimental to kidneys that are failing- it is sugar – glucose, sucrose, fructose etc. I have been on keto for 11 years and saved my kidney from transplant. It is functioning perfectly normally now since i have completely cut all forms of carbohydrates except GREEN VEGGIES AND LETTUCES. I am an RN and highly encourage you and your family to consider either keto or a modified keto diet for your brother – under 50 carbs a day. It saved my life. I am 44 yrs old female 5’8″ 140 lbs and this diet has kept me at this weight with almost zero muscle mass loss for 11 years. I do not work out due to kidney pain (my diseased kidney is massive but functions fine) and so i have been able to maintain low body fat and lean muscle all these years. Hopefully this works for your brother. Feel free to email me with any questions you might have shelly.fromcali at yahoo dot com

      1. I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my own personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever. What I would do is start over and start on 2 tablets 3x a day for two weeks, then check BUN. Don’t increase his other proteins though during this time but do ensure that he is adequately hydrating with plenty of mineral rich water.

  28. Adam says:

    Ben, two questions. 1 KION versus Minkoff’s EAA? 2 What’s a maximum dosage per day? For example, if one were consuming 150 grams of protein per day, could you replace 50 of those protein grams with 50 grams of EAA?

    1. The formulations are similar but we are working on multiple iterations of ours to really dial in the ratios perfectly. Yes you could do that. Would be spendy, but it would give you a ton of protein without added calories or insulin effect.

  29. Francisco Aguiar says:

    10g of kion wont even provide 3g of leucine wich is the necessary amount for maximizing muscle protein synthesis. And taken withwhile fasted ill defintely break the fasted state because amino acids, particularly leucine, are insulinogenic.

    1. E says:

      Seems its not? it seems to produce glucagon unless you taking glucose at the same time.

  30. Nick Amenta says:

    Hi Ben, I have a question about fasting and EEAs. One of the main benefits of fasting is autophagy and my understanding is that to get those benefits one has to have no calories or very close to it. Do you have any idea how how EEAs would effect autophogy? Are a few calories not that big of a deal or would it completely negate the autophagic effects of fasting?

    1. Aminos are perfect for fasting. I use that "trick" all the time to stop my body for cannibalizing my own muscle mass during fasted training. Kion Aminos contain just .4 of a calorie per tablet…

  31. Dora says:

    Not a comment. A question. I am a youthful 70 year old lady in pretty good physical shape. Lately, I find myself feeling injured after exercise…. ligaments are more fragile, faigued more easily, takes longer to recover from work-out….. my protein intake not what it should be but can’t eat any more. EAA sound like they may be an answere….. yes? How much? Not super active any longer.

    Love your articles and podcasts…. also like your delivery style.



    1. Hi, Dora!

      I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my own personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever. For Kion Aminos, which is a product I've created, and can personally vouch for, it's recommended you take 5 tablets daily. As an exercise aid, take 5 tablets 30 mins prior to physical activity, repeating once every two hours of exercise. Take 20 minutes before or 1-2 hours after other dietary protein or fat. You can get those here:

      Kion Flex is another product I've specifically created for bone and joint health that assists with more rapid recovery from hard workouts and provides your body with the nutrients to stay ahead of the exercise-recovery cycle while supporting strong bones and joint mobility and flexibility. It contains naturally occurring compounds such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin from type II chicken collagen as well as a specific blend of a gazillion different whole foods, herbs, and enzymes that promote bone and joint wellness and vitality. It's a “shotgun approach” that mixes just about every natural NSAID alternative that exists in one fell swoop. You can learn more and purchase here:

      Hope this helps!

  32. jo says:

    This article is simply a re-hash of a previous one, with an extra paragraph and a new brand of “super amino’s”

    I find it odd the “AAU” is a trademarked method, especially since whey and eggs are THE highest BV protein sources on the face of the planet.

    And this doctor – who happens to sell amino acid supplements – claims most of the protein is “wasted” by the body.

    But his special supplemment, in a patented ratio, will outstrip real food protein?

    Disappointing, dude.

    Article is nothing more than an advertisement.

  33. Mitch says:

    Thanks Ben! Will EAA’s post exercise shut down hormones like eating a meal would or will you continue to benefit until you eat again?

    1. That is the beauty of them… There is no insulin response or any other hormone response. Just pure recovery and repair.

  34. Mike says:


    You used to highly recommend MAP EAA’s. I’ll definitely try the new Kion Aminos, but do you still believe MAP are acceptable?



    1. As we continue to develop our aminos you will find that they become more and more superior. Now I’m pretty much only recommending our brand now

  35. Sandro says:

    This was interesting, I recently got an organic acids tests and all my energy production markers had shown to be really low. The doctor described low amino acids in my body and to start supplementing with them. I’ve been a lot more clear, focused, and most important filled with energy finally. I don’t always have a lot of time with him (expensive) so this was a great breakdown of what PVT Hall has been doing for me. Much appreciated Ben!

  36. Mitch Mitchell says:

    Way over priced. I buy the original MAP for $27.50 for 120 tablets on Amazon. I want to support you, but economics says go with the original. Sorry Ben! I do have your book and Ironman training plan!

  37. Is there any difference between Perfect Amino and Kion Aminos? I’ve been using the former since I listened to the Minkoff podcast and love them.

    I’m a retired USAF officer who bought a gym in Estes Park, CO in Jan 16, and your podcasts and articles have been extremely valuable in my fitness education. Thank you. If you ever want to work out at 7,620′, come see us!

    1. They're very similar, we prefer the Kion blend because we are able to own it and ship it ourselves, and provide you with customer support.

  38. Rod says:

    Per your article Dr. Minkoff recommends up to a 10 gram serving three times per day. If you do that the KION Aminos bottle is a 5-day supply, right? I’m not in the middle of the Tour de France but I am old and train hard so I need every nutritional edge I can get.

    1. That's for an advanced, ergogenic use, but yep, you are correct, and at certain training times of the year that totally makes sense to do. Still cheaper than steak. ;)

  39. Andrew harris says:

    Great article! Loved the insight. Just curios on the pills vs powder. Wouldn’t the powder be better observed? Just curious.

    1. Assuming you mean "absorbed" not "observed", the answer is no. Tablets and powders are going to have similar absorption!

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