Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You? – Part 1

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It seems these days that the building blocks of proteins, affectionately known as “amino acids”, are tiny little gold nuggets that bestow superhuman powers upon anyone lucky enough to stumble upon them in a sports gel, capsule, fizzy drink or cocktail. After all, these little guys are starting to get put by nutrition supplement manufacturers into just about everything, from your engineered pre-workout snack, to your during workout beverage, to your post-workout smoothie mix.

But why are amino acids so prevalent now?

And more importantly, do amino acids actually work?

Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You?

You're about to find out, and have a bit of fun in the process.

Back in biology class, it was convenient to think of a muscle like a big Lego castle (or Lego pirate ship, depending on your tastes), and amino acids as all the little legos that made up the giant Lego structure (your muscle). Convenient, yes. Complete, no. The role of amino acids goes beyond building blocks – they are essential for the synthesis of proteins, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, metabolic pathways, mental stabilization, and just about every function that takes place within the human body. So using the Legos-are-amino-acids example, a more appropriate analogy would be that you dump all the 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 cannon balls.

In other words, the function of amino acids goes far beyond simple “building blocks”.

In the nutrition supplement industry (when I use that word, it seems to denote big fat guys in black suits sitting around an oak conference table, but in reality, most of these folks are skinny athletes in white shoes and shorts), amino acid supplements fall into two basic categories: Essential Amino Acids (EAA's) and Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's).

In Part 1 of this two-part amino acids series, let's review the first category: the EAA's (do not pronounce this like a donkey “heehaw”. Just say the letters.)

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids, as the name implies, are essential because they can't be made by our bodies, like all the other amino acids. Instead, we have to get them from our diet. Have you ever heard of Private Tim Hall, AKA Pvt. Tim Hall? If you're a biology or chemistry geek, you probably have, because he's the pneumonic commonly used to remember the essential amino acids, which are Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isoleucine, Histidine, Arginine,Leucine and Lysine. Thanks Tim, we'll send you a check if we ever win money in Biology Trivial Pursuit.

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

Phenylalanine is traditionally marketed for it's 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 hallway through a killer workout session or Ironman bike ride.

Valine, along with Isoleucine and Leucine, is a real player, because it is BOTH an Essential Amino Acid and a Branched Chain Amino Acid. Valine is an essential amino acid. 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 in the Part 2 of this article, which will focus on BCAA's.

Threonine research is a bit scant. I personally couldn't find much at all that explained why threonine could assist with exercise performance, but would hazard a guess that it is included in essential amino acid supplements because it is just that: essential. And many of the studies done on EAA's just basically use all of them, rather than isolating one, like Threonine. For example, and this is a bit interesting for people who are masochistic enough to like working out starved, there is a significant muscle-preserving effect of an EAA + Carbohydrate solution ingested during training in a fasted state, and decreased indicators of muscle damage and inflammation. This basically means that if you popped some essential amino acids, even if you didn't eat anything, you might not “cannibalize” as much lean muscle during a fasted workout session.

OK, sorry, I got sidetracked there.

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, even induce 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.

Isoleucine, another BCAA/EAA combo, has some of the same advantages of Valine. More on BCAA's Part 2.

Histidine, as the name implies, is a precursor to histamine, and actually has some antioxidant properties and plays a key role in carnosine synthesis. Looking back, that sentence I just wrote is not very user-friendly, and is pretty much just geek speak. 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. So hooray for histidine, it gets a gold star sticker.

Next is arginine, and if you're reading this and you're an old man who has relied on a little blue sill to have a happier time in the sac, 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 really helps folks with cardiovascular disease improve exercise capacity, and like tryptophan, the studies go back and forth on whether it really helps with the athletic population – but it has a great deal of promise.

Leucine is yet another BCAA/EAA combo. Yes, we will get to BCAA's in Part 2.

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 actual 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 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.

That about wraps it up for essential amino acids.

The only thing I didn't mention is that the EAA's have a bit of an insulin and cortisol increasing effect. 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, 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. The amount you get in essential amino acids is far different than the stress and insulin/cortisol response you get from eating a pint of ice cream while you drink whisky and work on an all-night project for work.

Not that I eat ice cream and drink whisky that often. But for now, I'll put aside the chocolatey spoon and shot glass, stop writing, and let you sit back and absorb the information I've presented in this article. Don't you feel all warm and geeky?

Questions so far? Leave them below! Unless you think I made a glaring scientific error, in which case you can shove it. Just kidding, leave your comments below, including the critical ones.

Part 2 coming Friday…

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

78 thoughts on “Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You? – Part 1

  1. Haidar says:

    I am 25 years old, 152 pounds (about 69 KG) with 5’9”. I really want to gain weight but the problem is that I dont have much of an apetite and can’t eat more. What should I do?

    1. Benjamin Turgeon-Decary says:

      Spend more time at the gym tiring yourself out and trust me you’ll be hungry, and slowly, day by day increase your food portions

    2. DANIEL A ZEA says:

      12 pack of beer and a whole pizza pie daily.

  2. LJ says:

    The ending, i.e. “Don’t you feel all warm and geeky?”, almost made me puke from cringe. You’re making us geeks look bad. Otherwise, thanks.

    1. Jodye says:

      You can’t brother without increasing your calorie intake and being in a surplus for extended amounts of time you can’t gain more weight you can download an app for tracking your calorie intake people who say they eat a lot tend to not eat as much as they think

  3. Nichole Sutherland says:

    Love this article !

    My question to you : I am a 22year old female , used to be a professional dancer (my body looked great) as I had to step away from the dance world to move into the real life of studies and work I gained about 18kg and lost most of my muscle mass, it took me a year to two to lose all the weight properly and I am back to my normal size and weight , but I am now struggling to tone and get rid of that leftover annoying little fats and access skin. I am training (5days a week HITT and Hypertrophy) and eating healthy but it seems like it’s not working.

    1. Check out my get fit guys guide to achieving your ideal body type:…

  4. Pratik says:


    I Excersise 1.30hr. Everyday. I wants to loose fat not weight. So what i should take

    1. These EAA in the article would be PERFECT for you.

    2. Prashan Aley says:

      Go for low calorie diet. More of protein like boiled egg white. Red meat and replace rice and chapatis with oats, you can go for fruits like apple, mosambi and orange which helps in loosing fats.

  5. Tony Aguilera says:

    Hi Ben I’m 50 this sept I love weight lifting I’m 510 215 I’d like to cut some weight and tone up but don’t want to lose any muscle mass what should I do I’ve heard that anymore than 12 min of cardio is bad for me not sure what to do or a good supplement to take

    1. You can take about 10 to 20 g of this before weight training session or after weight training session and it works fantastically for maintaining muscle mass:…

  6. john nicholson says:

    lets see how do I start ,well I ‘m knocking on the door of 58. My job is very physical ,but I’m losing muscle mass. What amino do you recommend?

    1. These:” target=”_blank”>

  7. How Ben,

    My son is 16 years old 6’1” 195 lbs. He just finished spring lacrosse and wants to start lifting for football. He started to lift weights last year but cautiously as he was recovering from shoulder (labrum & SLAP tear) surgery. He wants to lift more seriously and asked if he could take amino acids (AminoX). I looked up the ingredients and there is alot of garbage (sucrolose and artificial colors). He does not want to get hugh but wants to get stronger and he claims his friend took this last year and was “jacked”. Please advise if you would have your 16 yr old son take amino acids. thanks Betsy

    1. Yes, but I would go near that chemical cocktail. Start here:…

  8. Annet says:

    Hi, I am a 57yr old female and feel that I’m losing muscle tissue quicker than I can build it. I’ve started doing squats and now do 3×20. Also swim about 1.2km every other day. Trying to stick to a low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. So fruit n veg, meat, eggs, olives, avos. Can I do squats every day and do I need supplements. I might sound very healthy, but get up groaning and creaking every morning. Getting older is no joke.

    1. Getting older is no joke. You may consider NatureFlex as supplement you try to help retain muscle.

      NatureFlex is bone and joint formula that assists with rapid healing from hard workouts, injuries, stress fractures and joint pain. It contains naturally occurring compounds such as Glucosamine and Chondroiton from type II chicken collagen as well as whole foods, herbs and enzymes that are blended together to promote bone and joint wellness and vitality

      Check it out:…

  9. j-rock says:

    funny people don’t realize everybody fitness level and bodies are different we all react to food training rest recovery so different I think supplements only work on your mind. do you remember when you was a kid and you got a pair new sneakers no body couldn’t tell you that those new sneakers made you run fast jump hire. no body could tell you that they didn’t so think od any supplements as those new sneakers. ask real bodybuilders they don’t reach for supplements they reach for the real stuff FOOD that what makes them grow the body wants real food not stuff made in a lab by man real food. all the stuff you think in those man made labs are in real food. so instead thinking about supplements reach for real food get it from that and focus on recovery

  10. Pamela Arlante says:

    Hi. I’m pamela. 19 years old. Weighing 57kg and my height is 5″. I started going to the gym January 2017. Until now Im confuse if what I will do before and after working out. Should i take amino before? Or drink whey protein after? Or shoul I take them both, before and after work out? In the gym they are selling amino acid 2002 and whey protein (gold standard) What do you recommend?

    1. If it were ME I'd skip the protein and just do 10-20g of amino acids either before or after…that's better for combo of fat loss and muscle gain.

  11. John Rowe says:

    Amen Brother,

    Tired, after 80 years of watching the healthcare “industry” come up with the “feel good” answers to “extremely” complex organic chemistry and convincing people to spend money on useless products. What did people do 4000 years ago without big pharma, and how did my ancestors survive to create me???

    1. Gord says:

      They lived to be a whole 40 years old!

  12. Sarah Pilkington says:

    Thank you Ben I thoroughly enjoyed this article and found it during research on fasting. I have been 7 days on a fast rather than starvation diet having a light broth of ginger and green onions with Braggs aminos in the evenings. The first 3 days I had a little orange juice and black sweetened tea. And now I am mostly drinking lemon water with the broth and lots of plain water. I feel brilliant, have had absolutely no tiredness confusion or weakness. I have been living my regular daily life (not too active right now) My primary purpose for this is clarity and I find I am very in touch with my thoughts and emotions which is very helpful for the Spiritual path I am on. As I have never felt less hungry in my life I would love to know how many milligrams you suggest of the EAA brand you recommend as a maintenance of regular functioning (when not eating). I am also overweight and I am really feeling the bonus of being able to move more easily. A lighter way of functioning! I have no health conditions though female, 5ft 3” and 210lbs. I take no medications only a multivitamin. And I am never sick. I have been fit in the recent past easily able to walk ten miles flat or train to walk a marathon. I am using this only as realignment for body mind and soul. Then I would like to implement it as I get into working out more so that I am not breaking down lean muscle! I don’t believe it would work for me if I felt there was any sense of deprivation or unkindness. Thank you.

    1. Is there a question hidden in there somewhere? ;) I'd be happy to help you via a personal one-on-one consult. Just go to and then choose a 20 or 60 minute consult, whichever you'd prefer. I can schedule ASAP after you get that.

  13. Derek Nowell says:

    I’m 68 years old and still work 8hours per day in physically demanding job . Arms and shoulders are under pressure . I’v been taking 2 baca’s 3 times a day to maintain my muscle mass. It seems to work . Or am l wasting my money ?

    1. Nope, not wasting money. But I would also have a listen to this:…

  14. EmilyP says:

    I feel a little sheepish asking this basic question, because I’m not a hard core athlete and my knowledge of supplementation is nil. But, I see so many amino acid drink mixes that advertise both muscle recover AND energy and focus, so I’m wondering what (if any) are the drawbacks of using an amino acid drink powder as a source of energy in place of something like a couple cups of coffee or in place of something like a Red Bull energy drink?

    1. EmilyP says:

      To clarify, I mean to ask about the benefit of drinking an amino acid supplement just for the benefit of prolonged alertness–like for a desk job, or just getting through the mid afternoon slump?

  15. max says:

    Is beef aminos good for workouts?

    1. Natureaminos is much better…beef can have some purity issues.

  16. K aderholt says:


    1. Hey there, feel free to book a consult at and choose 20 or 60 mins and we'll get you scheduled to go over everything.

  17. Alex Schutz says:

    Hey Ben, I am 15 years old and I want to know if I should use Amino acid supplements. My workouts are usually only around 30 minutes long, but pretty intense, I am currently doing 70 pushups in 2 minutes and rising, I also do tons of sittups and ab workouts as well as benching,curling, etc.

    1. Yep, for something like that, 5g prior would do…

  18. Wayne Mainwaring says:

    I was put on a specific amino acid program by an american doctor of naturopath, who has study the works of amino acids for over 30yrs. He says that taking amino acids,”ONLY” works if taken in the right combination and dosage to the indvidules needs. Would you agree with this?

    1. Yep. That's why NatureAminos is in that perfect blend.

  19. Gurpreet Singh says:

    I find ur articles nice n helpful.Thanks for that .Now, I need ur advise I am 40 years, body weight 73 kgs(reduced from 80 to 73 in 2 months of cardio exercises),height 172 cms .In the process My muscle size has drastically decreased,now I want muscular gain to its optimum .At present I do abs exercise in the morning for 1hour n weight training in the evening for 2hours ,6 days a week. Along with other guidance please provide me the list of supplements i have to intake with appropriate quantity, quality and timings for intake.

    1. Its very hard to say this as everyone is different. I need more details. If you want to go into detail book a consult at and choose 20 or 60 mins and we'll get you scheduled for a Skype consult

  20. Jackie says:

    Can i take-phentermine-and-amino-acids-together.

    1. I haven't seen any research to indicate otherwise. But I am *not* a physician and this is *not* to be interpreted as medical advice. Please talk to a licensed medical professional about all of this!

  21. Barry Pemberton says:


    I know you did the Sealfit Kokoro and wanted to know what supplementation you would advise for those WOD’s . I am going to Kokoro 43 this coming June.

    Thank you,


    1. Barry – call this question into the podcast at or book a consult at and we can go through everything during either of those!

  22. Amanda says:

    Hi, where can I read part two?

  23. Simon says:

    Hi Ben,

    Have your views on EAA’s changed since writing this article back in 2011?
    Your recent podcast with Dr Minkoff suggests that there are really only 8 EAA’s not 10? As Arginine and Histidine are not required when the proper ratio of the other 8 are provided.

    This is an excerpt from the page on your own product Nature Aminos

    A: Histidine is actually not essential. When you take NatureAminos the Histidine level in the blood will rise within 1 hour. The absolute genius of NatureAminos is that when you have the essential 8 all the others can be made as needed. Also worth noting: Arginine, sometimes also touted as an “essential” amino acid, levels will rise alongside Histidine after taking NatureAminos. When you take NatureAminos, your body has all it needs to make any and all natural proteins – that, by the way, is why it’s called NatureAminos!

    I understand that viewpoints change as time goes on so could you clarify and perhaps update this article if it no longer holds true?

    1. Yep, everything is fully updated here:… – that reflects the current formulation and my current thoughts.

      1. Simon says:

        I may have missed something but this link takes me to a podcast episode all about fixing your gut. I skim listened to the podcast but I couldn’t find any mention of amino acids?

  24. Greg says:

    Hey Ben, Im 45 yrs old and started working out 2 months ago. I’m losing weight slowly but not really seeing any muscle gain. I started at 214lbs and now weigh 203lb and am 5’11”. I work out about 1-1/2 hours every other day. Should I consider

    Supplementary amino acids? Creatine or both. I’m getting stoked on exercising and want good results

    1. Best ones for muscle gain are here, and that's where I'd start:…

      Also, I'd do fasted fat burning in morning, then alternate days of heavy lifting with High Intensity Intervals. That is very good fat loss combo for weight loss and muscle gain.

  25. frank says:

    Hello im 23yr old and do some exercercises. Im very skinny. Someone gave me amino acid supplements and want to know if ok to use.

  26. Jenifer says:

    Hey Ben! I came across you a few months ago and am loving your intensity and knowledge! Thank you! Going to be adding aminos to my regimen, looking for advise on how much and often I should be taking them. Here is a brief bio 104 lbs F 37yrs of age 20 yrs endurance athlete between marathons, mnt bike racing, xc skiing, triathlons. I’m a mommy of two and want to be able to continue many years of playing hard with them! Thanks a bunch Ben! Much respect

    1. At the bottom of this page… I tell you how I use them. That should help you out.

  27. Salah says:

    I know this is 4 months after, but I have a quick question. I am currently working out (weights) 5 days a week as hard as I can, but I'm not breaking a sweat for some reason. I'm still a beginner which may be why. Anyway, I take a whey protein shake after the workout, and I want to start taking amino acids. I also take a optimum nutrition multi vitamins for men, and another protein shake at night after a small at home workout. Should I start take optimum nutrition amino acids? If so, when? Before or after my intense workout at the gym?


    1. I wouldn't do more than ONE shake per day. They can be tough on your body. And the ON Multivitamin is no good. Use the mutlvitamin here:

      Take the amino acids right BEFORE your gym workout.

  28. Sonya says:

    I have a question, I am limited to impact because I have health problems. The only thing I'm currently cleared to do from the Dr. is to swim, bike on a recubent bike about 40 minutes, and do light weight training. In order to help me medically feel better I need to lose 30lbs. Is this too light of a workout for amino acids? Will amino acids still help me too?

    1. Yes, these are light workouts. I wouldn't be focusing on aminos. I'd be focusing on limiting carb intake and staying physically active.

  29. SERGIO says:

    i am takink amplified creatine every day and taking map amino acids 30 mins before working out . am i doing this right. i work out bout 4 days a week.

    1. Yes, that's not a bad plan at all Sergio!

  30. Jay P says:

    Are there benefits to Methionine? I didn't see it in this article. Thanks much, great overview!

    1. Yes, I missed methionine. The body uses methionine to make a sulfur compound abbreviated, SAMe, which is made from methionine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). SAMe is a methyl donor in a ton of different biochemical reactions, including detoxification of metabolic byproducts and formation of neurotransmitters, cartilage, and glutathione (glutathione is a potent antioxidant).

  31. Mer says:

    Have you ever factored in on all the Bragg's controversy over soy, sodium and how it's made? There are so many arguments raging out there that I've just decided to avoid it completely.

    1. People equate the glutatamic acid in it to MSG, which is not technically true. they're chemically different HOWEVER I'm not convinced that there couldn't be some heavy processing with Bragg's that may form MSG, so I need to research this. Also, some people throw a fit over the HCL used to neutralize the soy, but your stomach is chock full of HCL. Finally, I *do* agree that soy should be consumed in moderation, and like any processed food, Bragg's does have preservatives and has to use heat, pressure and chemicals in it's treatment. But ultimately, it's a better protein source than the average soy sauce. However, there may be better alternatives. I'll look into this, and thanks for brining it up.

  32. What should I be looking for in the supplement. Other than the MAP supplement that you recommended there must be others and I'd like to know what to look out for and what to avoid?

    1. The MAP supplement is a bit different than many others. Here's why:…

  33. Bob G. says:

    Do recommend this type of supplimentation for long and slow workouts? I'm training for a 1/2 marathon and our long runs are typically 2 hours and are at a slower pace (1st 1/2 marathon).

    1. Yes, I do. Assuming slow still means you're near your aerobic threshold.

  34. RCH says:

    Bragg’s aside – I too use it as a food alternative only and not necessarily as a supplement for getting my complete AA’s.

    There are complete AA liquid (or pill) supplemented with both the BCAA and EAA in them. Any reason you couldn’t just take that kind of supplement rather than trying to take them separately? I generally take this kind of ‘complete’ AA in the AM before a fasted workout to preserve muscle (and help build post workout). Should I be taking BCAA and EAA separately? I do a lot of HIIT and Weights.

    Thanks as always for your excellent information

  35. RCH says:

    Is there any reason you couldn’t take a complete liquid amino acid complex supplement (before, during and/or after) that has all the BCAA and EAA in it? Since BCAA are part of the EAA group why take them separately?

    FYI – Bragg’s makes a nice spray amino acid that works well as an alternative to salad dressing.

  36. Becky H says:

    Exactly what I was looking for, thanks!

  37. Becky H says:

    I read part two over at, and I had a question about timing and how much for taking each of both the EAAs and BCAAs. I currently take about 1000mg of BCAAs post workout (anything longer than 1 hr or a hard effort) Is that considered a sufficient amount? Would EAAs be taken at the same time, or would it be beneficial to take the two separately. Great articles, thanks!

    1. Ideally, you would take the EAA's BEFORE the workout (so blood levels of EAA's are high during the workout) and then take the BCAA's DURING the workout. For example, you would take 5 of these directly before:… and then during, consume a gel, like Roctane, that has BCAA's in it. Many BCAA compounds also contain proteolytic enzymes, so after your workout, you could take 4 of these capsules:…

      IMPORTANT: We're talking about HARD and LONG workouts here, not a 30 minute jaunt on the treadmill. So for example, today I'll be riding 20 minutes to the pool, doing a 2000m swim, then doing 8×5 minute hill climbs on the run, then tempo time trialing another 20 minutes home. That's about a 2 hour workout, so something like this make sense for a workout like that.

      1. Aaron says:

        What about for P90X or Insanity workouts?

        1. they would definitely help with intensity, yes!

      2. sahil says:

        im use amino acid 2-2 tab bfor & aftar workout & 2 tab bad is right sir plz give me answer.

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