September 14, 2021
I’ve been immersed in the health, exercise, and fitness industry for over 20 years now, starting out with a fledgling tennis coaching business when I was in high school, to getting a master's degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics, to working for ten years as a personal trainer, strength coach and nutritional consultant, to bodybuilding, Spartan racing, and competing all over the world in Ironman triathlons, marathons, open water swims, adventure races and beyond, to of course what I do now: write, speak, podcast, research, self-experiment and investigate every nook and cranny of both ancient wisdom and modern science for bettering one's body, brain, and spirit.
Over the last two decades, as I've witnessed hundreds of so-called “cutting-edge” compounds, fringe supplements, health foods come and go, I’ve continued to keep one mainstay supplement darling in my pantry at all times.
Nary a day goes by when I don’t consume anywhere from 10 to 40 grams of amino acids, either for a cognitive boost, an appetite-satiating hack, a pre-workout energy hit, a post-workout recovery aid, a potent muscle-building and muscle-maintenance aid, a gut-nourishing nutrient, or even to support deep, restorative sleep.
Because of their extreme versatility and broad range of benefits that you’re about to learn, amino acids are truly the “Swiss army knife” of nutrients. Because amino acids are so foundational to the human body, there really isn’t much they can’t do. However, there are still pervasive myths about amino acids, as well as confusion around the best types, their benefits, how much you need, when to take them, and much more.
So, because I truly believe almost everyone could benefit from getting more of these compounds, in today’s article I’ll be busting those myths, and telling you everything you need to know about amino acids—including one type of amino acid supplement you should avoid, despite common advice.
And finally, I’ll let you in on some cutting-edge new research that’s changed everything I thought I once knew about selecting the best amino acid supplement.
What Are Amino Acids?
Many moons ago, when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman in college at the University of Idaho, I distinctly remember my biology professor describing amino acids as the tiny “Lego pieces” that formed the building blocks of human skeletal muscle.
Convenient explanation? Sure (albeit a little cliche).
But was it completely accurate? Not exactly…
A more precise explanation by my professor would have sounded something like this:
“Amino acids are like if lego pieces could self-assemble into a magic pirate ship, float around the room shooting miniature cannonballs at pesky flies, fixing holes in the drywall of your house, and then tuck you into bed for a refreshing night of deep sleep.”
I’ll admit, while that sounds highly unrealistic, it’s indeed a more accurate description of the sort of magic that amino acids perform in the body. Yes, amino acids are, in very basic terms, the structural building blocks of proteins. They form the foundation of not just muscles, but also organs, glands, ligaments, tendons, nails, hair, and bones.
However, what my professor conveniently left out is the long list of other roles that amino acids serve in the body, regulating dozens of processes including:
- Blood sugar
- Sexual function
- Immune system
- Hormone production
- Nitrogen balance
- Immune system regulation
- ATP (energy) production
- Muscle protein synthesis
- Absorption of nutrients and minerals
- Proper functioning of neurotransmitters
- And more…
In other words, amino acids are much, much more than just the tiny building blocks of your muscles. They are literally the fuel for nearly every process in your body. So, if you want optimal health, cognitive functioning, and human performance, focusing on proper ratios and adequate intake of amino acids might get you further than any biohack, cutting-edge peptide, or fancy piece of gear you can ever buy.
But it all comes down to getting adequate amounts of amino acids, and in the correct combination and ratio, which you'll learn everything you need to know about later in this article.
Why Do I Even Need To Supplement With Amino Acids?
But first, why supplement with amino acids in the first place? It’s a fair question, and something you’re probably asking yourself right about now if you haven’t already experienced the potent benefits of an amino acid supplement.
After all, doesn’t dietary protein give you all the amino acids you need?
“Need” is the key word here. Without getting into a huge rabbit hole smack dab in the middle of this article, I’ll sum it up in a few bullet points:
- Our body can’t store protein and, like water, it must be replenished on a daily basis. The more you use, the more you need.
- Most people, especially active adults and plant-based eaters, don’t get enough protein to maintain a net positive state of muscular growth.
- The profile of amino acids varies greatly among dietary sources, so unless you’re a savvy “protein combiner,” you’re probably not getting optimal amounts of all of them.
- Even if you do eat a lot of protein, your body can only absorb and utilize ~50% of the amino acids from dietary sources due to digestive processes, metabolism, and factors related to the gut microbiome.
- As you get older, your muscle becomes less sensitive to protein/amino acids. Therefore, older populations may need at least twice as much protein/amino acids compared to younger adults.
- What’s more, digestive issues such as hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid levels), depleted enzymes, and gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut microbiota) can result in an even lower extraction of amino acids.
- Dietary protein also contains high amounts of non-essential amino acids (NEAAs). Consuming excess NEAAs puts a strain on the liver and kidneys, creating more harmful by-products like urea and ammonia. Therefore, supplementing just with EAAs requires less processing by the gut, liver, and kidneys, and is, therefore, easier on your body’s organs.
In summary: Sure, if you're getting adequate, digestible, bioavailable protein from food sources (at least 0.55-0.8 grams per pound of body weight, preferably) you might be able to get “enough” amino acids from your diet to simply maintain a relatively decent level of health…
…unless you’re as physically active as the average exercise enthusiast or athlete, vegan or vegetarian, over 50 years old, have even the slightest amount of gut dysbiosis, or actually want to build muscle and look and feel amazing. In that case, added amino acids can be incredibly beneficial, and I would argue that covers a pretty decent chunk of the population.
In other words, think of taking amino acids like taking a multivitamin: Theoretically, you shouldn’t need it. But in an imperfect world, it’s incredible health insurance at the very least.
The Types Of Amino Acids
In total, there are 20 (-ish, depending on what science you're reading and which nutritionist or dietitian or scientist you ask) amino acids…
…all of which are categorized differently depending on how the body synthesizes them.
While I could really take you back to freshman biology—listing all the amino acids, explaining what each does, and supplying you with a handy mnemonic to memorize them (including “Pvt. Tim Hall” or Phenylalanine-Valine-Tryptophane, Threonine-Isoleucine-Methionine, Histidine-Arginine-Lysine-Leucine :)—the truth is, this isn’t really a biology class, and there are only two groups of amino acids you need to be aware if you want to cut straight to the chase…
…essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
(If you’re curious, all the remaining amino acids are considered “non-essential,” or NEAAs, meaning that they can be made by your body and therefore are not essential to include in your diet.)
Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
EAAs are a smaller subcategory of the 20 amino acids. They’re classified as “essential” because your body can’t make them on its own, and you have to get them from diet or supplementation.
In fact, EAAs are the only macronutrient humans must eat to survive. So long story short, just like water, you would simply die without enough of them.
There are nine EAAs in total, each with critical roles in the body:
- Leucine (BCAA): Critical for protein synthesis, muscular growth, and repair.
- Isoleucine (BCAA): Supports muscular metabolism, immune function, and energy regulation.
- Valine (BCAA): Stimulates muscle growth, regeneration, and energy production.
- Phenylalanine: Precursor to several important neurotransmitters that promote cognitive function and a balanced mood.
- Threonine: Forms structural proteins (collagen and elastin) for healthy skin and connective tissue.
- Tryptophan: Precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, sleep, and appetite.
- Lysine: Important for immune function and the absorption of nutrients.
- Methionine: Plays a role in metabolism, detoxification, and the absorption of zinc and selenium.
- Histidine (sometimes considered “conditionally essential,” but for reasons you’ll learn about, is best classified as “essential”): Precursor to histamine, and neurotransmitter vital for the immune system, digestion, sexual function, and sleep.
As you can guess, lacking in any one of the EAAs is a fast-track to a multitude of health issues—hence why these amino acids are considered to be “essential” in the first place. Of these nine EAAs, only three are classified as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are denoted above.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs have a molecular structure that includes—you guessed it—a branched chain.
This branched chain structure allows them to bypass the liver, and instead be quickly metabolized in muscular tissue, providing a direct source of fuel for your muscles.
This means that BCAAs, without any requirement for much digestion or “processing” at all, can be relied on as an energy source for your muscles during exercise. This fact has made BCAAs a darling of the bodybuilding industry, as well as an inexpensive favorite for any athlete wanting a quick performance boost—although I have personally in the past referred to BCAA's as basically overpriced flavored “water”, and most supplement manufacturers know that, especially compared to EAA's, BCAA's are crazy cheap to produce and crazy profitable, though their benefits are pretty ho-hum, and possibly even deleterious, as you'll discover below.
However, despite their drawbacks, expense, and relative inefficiency, BCAAs have been shown in studies to have beneficial effects on a number of performance-related metrics, including:
- Preventing exercise-induced muscle damage
- Reducing the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Supporting exercise recovery (even more so than rest or passive recovery activities)
- Lowering perceived exertion and mental fatigue during exercise
- Increasing resistance to fatigue and lipid (fat) oxidation during endurance exercise
- Boosting lean mass, muscle strength, and fat loss when combined with resistance training
However, there are some big myths about BCAAs, as well as serious downsides to taking them in isolation, which is what I am going to get into shortly.
BCAA Myths And Side Effects (And Why I Personally Don’t Take Them In Isolation)
As I mentioned, I’ve been using amino acids for decades. As a matter of fact, back in my college bodybuilding days, in addition to eating oodles of canned tuna with ketchup and relish, dry lean chicken with broccoli, and nasty, chemical-infused whey protein shakes, I used to toss back scoops of chemical- and caffeine-laden BCAA formulas (you know, the ones in the massive Costco-sized tubs), thinking they were my key to a lean, muscular physique. Just imagine the nasty gas coming out my backside, baby.
But, like many athletes, gym rats, and personal trainers at the time, it turns out I was pretty misled when it comes to the effects of BCAAs on building muscle.
Not only that, I was completely unaware of the potential issues that may result from taking BCAAs in isolation. So, in the effort to make you a more informed consumer than I was, here’s what we now know about BCAAs and a few reasons why I no longer take them…
Do BCAAs Actually Promote Muscle Protein Synthesis?
As you may recall from human physiology or biology classes or textbooks (sheesh—I'm really taking us back to school today!), the process of muscle building depends on the delicate balance between muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and muscle protein breakdown (MPB)—which is known as net protein balance (NPB).
MPB naturally occurs as a result of muscular damage induced by exercise. MPS, on the other hand, is the opposite force: when protein is produced (or consumed via diet) to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise.
When MPS is greater than MPB, you get a positive NPB, and therefore muscle growth. But when MPB outpaces MPS, NPB is negative, and you experience a net loss of muscle. Therefore, increasing your rate of muscle protein synthesis is one way to make sure you’re building muscle, and not losing it. And replenishing your protein stores (or more specifically, amino acids) after exercise is exactly how you can do that.
To simplify it even more: Protein In > Protein Out = Muscle Growth
While all the amino acids contribute to MPS, arguably the most potent for stimulating muscle protein synthesis is the BCAA leucine. This is why many folks in the fitness industry started opting for BCAA supplements. After all, why take all the amino acids when you just need three? However, this reductionist thinking misled a lot of people because of one aspect of your body's physiology…
…namely, when you don’t have the other EAAs to balance out the BCAAs, the effects of BCAAs on protein synthesis are severely limited—and worse, can even lead to an amino acid imbalance that results in the breakdown of muscle tissue.
According to a 2018 review in the journal Nutrients, “Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training”:
“While it is true that leucine is capable of stimulating MPS in the absence of other amino acids, it should be emphasized that protein synthesis will eventually become limited by the availability of other essential amino acids.”
Another large meta-analysis, in which researcher Robert Wolfe reviewed all the available BCAA studies between 1985 and 2017, found exactly zero human studies in which BCAAs alone were responsible for more efficient muscle protein synthesis. What’s more, Wolfe’s meta-analysis discussed two studies in which BCAAs were found to actually decrease muscle protein synthesis and increase the catabolic rate of lean tissue!
This shows that, when you have an excess of BCAAs, the body will actually break down its own muscle tissue to free up EAAs and maintain homeostasis.
In other words, no: BCAAs alone don’t promote muscle protein synthesis. In fact, without adequate intake of the other EAAs, BCAAs can actually have catabolic (breakdown) effects. It's as though you were trying to build a car and only had 2.5 wheels, half an engine, a missing chassis, and no gas tank—rather than a shiny new vehicle, you get a crumpled-up mess of metal uglying up your backyard.
The potential loss of muscle is reason enough not to waste your hard-earned dough on BCAAs. But unfortunately, there’s more…
The Unfortunate Side Effects Of BCAAs In Isolation
Not only are isolated BCAAs more ineffective for building muscle…
…but there’s also now research that points to some potentially deleterious side effects of regular, high dose BCAA supplementation.
BCAAs Can Deplete B Vitamins
B Vitamin cofactors—specifically B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6—are required for the breakdown, synthesis, and utilization of BCAAs.
Therefore, by taking high doses of BCAAs, you could be taxing your precious stores of B vitamins.
This is bad news, especially 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.
BCAAs Can Lower Serotonin Levels
BCAAs and the amino acid tryptophan compete for the same carrier system.
In fact, blocking the uptake of tryptophan in the brain is exactly how BCAAs can help to stave off fatigue during long workouts.
So, when BCAA concentrations in the body are abnormally high, the brain doesn’t get as much tryptophan. While this is good news during a workout, it also means you can inadvertently lower your serotonin levels—a calming, mood-boosting neurotransmitter—because tryptophan is its precursor.
High BCAAs = low tryptophan uptake = decreased serotonin levels
Unfortunately, chronically low serotonin can lead to serious neurological imbalances that increase the risk of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, carbohydrate cravings, attention disorders, and more.
BCAAs May Lead To Higher Risk Of Metabolic Disease
BCAAs are known to activate insulin activity and promote the uptake of glucose by muscles…
…which actually contributes to their positive effects on athletic performance.
When taken in high doses and in isolation of other amino acids, though, research shows BCAAs may actually lead to dysregulated blood sugar, insulin resistance, and increase the risk of more serious metabolic diseases like diabetes:
- Independent of body weight, the addition of BCAAs to a high-fat diet contributes to the development of insulin resistance and impaired glucose homeostasis
- Higher levels of BCAAs have a significant association with the future development of diabetes
- Increased fasting concentrations of circulating BCAAs are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance in humans
While the mechanism between BCAAs and dysregulated glucose metabolism isn’t quite clear, some researchers hypothesize it could be a result of a metabolic burden driven by an amino acid imbalance.
BCAAs Can Lead To Overeating And Weight Gain
High levels of BCAAs have also been linked to obesity.
Some say this is a result of the aforementioned insulin resistance, which inhibits your body’s ability to burn fat and leads to weight gain (as I discussed in the article “5 Simple Steps You Can Take To Live Longer, Banish Blood Sugar Swings & Massively Enhance Energy Levels”).
However, new research shows that it may be the opposite, and that high levels of BCAAs can interfere with appetite signaling, leading to overeating and obesity, which then causes metabolic dysfunction.
In a recent animal study from 2019, researchers found that mice given higher levels of BCAAs (200%) experienced hyperphagia—an abnormal condition of intense hunger and overeating—and thus gained more fat-based weight than controls (no gain in lean mass was observed). Additionally, these mice had a 10% reduction in overall lifespan.
What’s more, the researchers concluded that these effects were not due to high levels of BCAAs, but a consequence of the body compensating for a BCAA-driven amino acid imbalance. In fact, the researchers found that by adding certain essential amino acids back into the mouse diets (specifically tryptophan and threonine), they were able to reverse the effects of BCAAs and significantly reduce hyperphagia.
I guess you could call this effect the BCAA munchies.
So, because I don't want my precious vitamins depleted, my neurotransmitters imbalanced, or my blood glucose regulation or appetite screwed up, I really don't go near any BCAA formulas. Period.
This isn't because BCAAs are bad, per se. It’s just that when taken in the doses dished out in most supplements and powders these days, and without the presence of the other EAAs to balance them out, BCAAs are A) not as effective for building muscle, and B) can lead to amino acid imbalances that cause all the other issues I've just cited.
But you don’t need to throw out your amino acid supplements altogether, as the solution is actually quite simple. Just make sure you somehow consume all of the EAAs, which include a balanced ratio of BCAAs, plus the additional benefits of all the other essential amino acids.
What I Didn't Know About Amino Acids & What Has Radically Changed My Stance On Amino Acids: “LEAAs”
As you probably guessed by now, EAAs are my amino acid supplement of choice.
Taking all the essential amino acids together (which again, includes the three BCAAs) prevents the potential side effects caused by a BCAA-induced amino acid imbalance, while also giving you the full spectrum of benefits.
But here’s a secret not many people know, and one that I just recently learned myself…
…based on the latest research that I'll get into below, it appears that EAAs are even more effective when they include a relatively higher ratio of leucine than what I've considered to be appropriate in the past (but again, in combination with the other amino acids, not in isolation). These leucine-fortified essential amino acids are known as LEAAs.
While I’ve taken traditional EAAs for years now—and have experienced massive benefits in not only my energy, athletic performance, muscle mass, mood, satiety, and much, much more—when I dove into the large amount of high-quality research on leucine-enriched essential amino acids, which we'll call “LEAAs” for now, especially when it comes to muscle protein synthesis, lean muscle growth, and athletic recovery, I pretty quickly became convinced.
Why LEAAs Are Even Better For Muscle & Recovery
Again, the key to the magic of LEAAs is the leucine content, as the “L” implies…
…because, as you've already learned, leucine is undoubtedly the most effective amino acid when it comes to building muscle and athletic recovery.
Mechanistically, leucine supports muscle and recovery in a number of ways:
- Increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis (but as you know, it doesn’t work efficiently in isolation)
- Regulates the production of anabolic endocrine hormones
- Stimulates the release of insulin, which enhances the uptake of other amino acids and suppresses muscle protein breakdown
- Modulates the mTor pathway, the cell survival pathway that monitors the availability of nutrients, cellular energy, and oxygen levels, triggering muscle hypertrophy (an increase and growth of muscle cells)
(In fact, a specific lack of leucine may be why plant-based proteins don’t have as much of a profound effect on building muscle when compared to leucine-rich animal proteins.)
Sure, that’s all pretty theoretical. But is there any research on these novel LEAAs? You bet your ‘AAs’ there is.
The Research-Backed Benefits Of LEAAs
In the past decade, there have been a number of high-quality, clinical trials conducted on LEAAs. I wish more of those folks throwing back cheap BCAAs, and those now taking EAAs, knew about these trials.
You will now.
Most of this research relates to protein synthesis, muscle growth, and athletic recovery.
In a 2011 randomized controlled trial, eight adults completed two separate bouts of cycling for 60 minutes for 13 days. 10 g of LEAAs (3.5 g leucine) were consumed during one bout, and 10 g of a standard EAA supplement (1.87 g leucine) during the other. The results showed that LEAAs increased MPS by 33% more than traditional EAAs (though both were effective).
Another randomized controlled trial from 2018 on post-stroke patients with sarcopenia (a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function) showed that supplementation with as little as 3 g of LEAAs resulted in increased muscle mass, strength, and physical function.
In terms of athletic recovery, the research is also very promising. A 2019 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science examined the effects of LEAA supplementation (3.6 g, 3x/day) on post-exercise muscle damage in 10 young, healthy males. The results of the study showed that LEAAs significantly suppressed exercise-induced muscle tissue damage, suggesting that LEAAs can aid in muscle recovery.
In April 2020, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group design study (whew, say that five times fast) was published in which 20 active young men on a controlled diet (1.2 g/kg/d of protein) were given either 4 g of LEAAs (1.6 g leucine) or a placebo three times a day for four days following an acute bout of lower-body resistance exercise. LEAAs were shown to preserve muscle force production and attenuate muscle soreness more than placebo, even when combined with an already high protein diet.
All that to say, the research is pretty clear: By using an essential amino acid formula that’s just a bit higher in leucine, you could see substantial gains when it comes to lean muscle mass, reduced soreness after exercise, and a speedier recovery, and avoid all the issues with BCAAs because you've still got all the other EAAs present.
But the importance of leucine isn’t all I’ve learned about amino acids in the past several months. Thanks to the help of my team at Kion and several researchers and scientific experts in the nutrition science field who I've consulting with, there have been a number of new discoveries that have shifted my thoughts on how to formulate the absolute best amino acid supplement on the face of the planet.
But That's Not All: The Correct Ratios Of EAAs Are Also Critical
As someone who has worked on amino acid formulations for many years, there are many ways to “skin the cat,” so to speak, when it comes to selecting an EAA supplement.
You can find formulas with varying amino acid ratios, amounts of each, total dosage, and much more. None that I could find utilize the LEAA trick you've just read about.
But the truth is, despite what many companies will tell you, we don’t yet have a clinical trial that compares all the options and tells us what combination is the absolute best for humans. However, there are a few key factors I’ve discovered recently that have a big impact on whether or not your amino acid supplement might be getting you the best results possible, starting with the clues on the best EAA ratios perhaps already being hidden in our very own muscles.
Many people in the amino acid space will claim that the most effective ratio of essential amino acids mimics that of human muscle.
Makes sense, right?
If your goal is to enhance muscle protein synthesis, or build more muscle, mimicking the amino acid composition of muscle seems fairly logical. For example, human skeletal muscle contains the following EAA amounts (expressed in grams per 100 gram):
- Leucine: 6.3 grams (20%)
- Lysine: 6.6 grams (21%)
- Isoleucine: 3.4 grams (11%)
- Valine: 4.3 grams (13%)
- Threonine: 2.9 grams (9%)
- Phenylalanine: 3.8 grams (12%)
- Methionine: 1.7 grams (5%)
- Histidine: 2.8 grams (9%)
However, from a physiological standpoint, things aren't as simple as replicating that composition we find in our own muscle.
See, when you consume amino acids, some of them get used up before they can be incorporated into skeletal muscle. In fact, that’s exactly what happens to leucine, which tends to get rapidly oxidized by muscle as it enters the cell.
Therefore, in order to make sure you’re actually getting adequate amounts of leucine—which, as you now know, is the star of the muscle-building show—your amino acid supplement really should have more than the 20% found in skeletal muscle.
Which brings me to the next discovery: 40% Leucine + Increased Valine, Isoleucine, and Lysine is best.
That’s right, you need about double the amount of leucine you’ll find in skeletal muscle, especially if you’re concerned about lean muscle and athletic recovery.
Now, as I discussed in the case of isolated BCAA formulations, maintaining a balanced ratio of amino acids is important—otherwise, the body tends to overcompensate and cause other problems. Therefore, with additional leucine, the other BCAAs (valine and isoleucine) will also need to be increased proportionally to maintain proper balance. And, since its transport into muscle is slower than other amino acids, increasing the amount of lysine is helpful for bumping up protein synthesis rates, too.
You Need All 9 EAAs for Best Results (Yes, Even Histidine, The One Most People Leave Out)
If you recall from a few thousand words ago (and if you don’t, I certainly don’t blame you), I mentioned that histidine was once considered a “conditionally essential” amino acid.
It was thought that, at least in adults, histidine could be created de novo (inside the body), and that blood levels would rise in the presence of the other EAAs. However, it turns out this theory was based on studies from the 1980s, which used an outdated method of urine nitrogen balance testing.
Urine nitrogen balance testing measures the byproducts of amino acid breakdown rather than evaluating aminos acids directly. When looking at newer research using the “Tracer Method”—which observes amino acids right inside the muscle—we now know that manufacture of histidine inside the body isn’t that efficient. Therefore, researchers now tend to classify histidine as an essential amino acid, which means we need to get it from either diet or supplementation.
Plus, histidine has many important roles in the body that you don’t want to hinder, including regulating glucose metabolism, decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress, reducing appetite, improving cognitive function, boosting mood, and improving sleep. So, when finding the most effective, high-quality amino acid supplement, it turns out you should indeed choose one that includes histidine.
In other words, most supplements manufacturers have been under the impression that histidine wasn't at all important, and it turns out that because they were all relying on outdated methods of amino acid testing, they were all wrong. Histidine is crucial if you want to get the most out of your amino acid supplement.
Wow. Let's review. In summary, a good amino acid supplement should:
- Be modeled off human skeletal muscle, but with a few important tweaks
- Have 40% leucine
- Include increased levels of lysine, valine, and isoleucine
- Include histidine
Does such an amino acid supplement exist? A month ago, I'd say absolutely not. But based on all this new research I've been up to behind-the-scenes, since I want the supplement I consume every single day to be as close to perfect as possible, it does now…
Putting It All Together: Introducing The New-And-Improved Kion Aminos
Whew, that was quite the thrilling exercise in theoretical amino acid formulation.
But don’t worry, this isn’t all about theory.
If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know I’m such a fan of essential amino acids that we started formulating them at my nutrition supplements company Kion—so that I could not only “scratch my own itch” when it came to taking the best amino acid supplement I could find, but also to help spread the word about these amazing compounds and get them into as many hands as possible so that others could experience the same benefits I did, especially benefits that are totally risk-free, incredibly tasty, and hyper-efficacious.
Despite already experiencing the incredible effects of Kion Aminos myself (and swearing by them so much that I literally don’t ever go a day without 10-40 grams dumped in my mouth, sprinkled in smoothies, and shaken into icy cold Nalgene water bottles) since learning about these new findings in amino acid research, I just couldn’t help but go back to the “bat caves” with my team at Kion to make some serious improvements. After all, I'm totally willing to come right out and say it when new research has revealed that I could do an even better job with my supplement formulations.
So, over the last several months, thanks to Kion’s amazing team of researchers, scientists, and formulators, we’ve managed to develop an upgraded formula that knocks the socks off any other EAA supplement on the market.
The newly formulated Kion Aminos does indeed check literally every box we just covered in this article:
- All nine essential amino acids (including histidine)
- An LEAA profile with 40% leucine
- Additional lysine, valine, and isoleucine
- A comprehensive amino acid ratio that’s been clinically proven to maximize muscle protein synthesis and athletic recovery
- And, just like always, no added sugar, artificial ingredients, chemicals, stimulants, or other nasty fillers
Not only that, while it was pretty tasty before, our new Kion Aminos got a serious upgrade in the flavor department. I must say, I didn’t know it was possible to make amino acids taste this friggin’ delicious (without gobs of sugar, obviously). But we worked with some stellar flavor scientists to crack the code on a flavor profile for our aminos powders that is going to blow you away when you taste it.
So here’s what you’ll find in the new-and-improved Kion Aminos.
Superior, Scientifically Validated Amino Acid Ratio
Each serving of Kion Aminos contains 5 grams (5,000 mg) of pure essential amino acids in a meticulously crafted ratio.
After spending countless hours poring through the current scientific research, we landed on a ratio similar to skeletal muscle, but with all the improvements needed to make a more effective product.
In each serving, you’ll find:
- L-Leucine: 2000 mg (40%)
- L-Lysine: 850 mg (17%)
- L-Isoleucine: 550 mg (11%)
- L-Valine: 500 mg (10%)
- L-Threonine: 475 mg (10%)
- L-Phenylalanine: 350 mg (7%)
- L-Methionine: 200 mg (4%)
- L-Histidine: 71.5 mg (1%)
- L-Tryptophan: 3.5 mg (<1%)
With 40% leucine, increased amounts of lysine, isoleucine, and valine, plus added histidine, the new formula is more effective than ever.
Unbelievable Upgraded Taste
They’re notoriously bitter, with a lingering aftertaste that can scare away even the bravest of spouses.
Most companies will mask the strong taste with crazy amounts of sugar and artificial flavors. However, if you know Kion, you know we never add sugar or artificial ingredients, and our Aminos are no exception. So, considering Kion Aminos are only sweetened with a touch of natural stevia and monk fruit, the fact that we were able to create a formula this delicious is nothing short of mind-blowing.
The improved Mixed Berry and Cool Lime powder flavors were crafted using only natural ingredients, and then meticulously taste-tested until we reached a final product that allows you to sip, savor, and actually enjoy your amino acid supplement—rather than chugging it down as fast as humanly possible.
(And if you’re not into flavors or powders, need something to tuck into your pack for a hike, marathon, triathlon, or other competition, or simply travel a lot, we also have Kion Aminos in a convenient capsule form.)
Clean, Natural Ingredients
As usual, the new Kion Aminos contains no artificial additives, artificial preservatives, stearates, coatings, dyes, added sugars, or caffeine.
This means that they won’t spike your blood sugar, interfere with gut health, or give you the nervous energy and jitters of other popular amino acid supplements.
In fact, here’s the list of simple, clean ingredients:
Rigorous Quality Testing
And finally, as we do with all our products, we conducted rigorous quality testing to ensure every batch of Kion Aminos is free of heavy metals and other contaminants.
Not only that, our products undergo regular testing to ensure the supplements delivered to your door actually contain what’s on the label, in the exact amounts listed. You'd be shocked at the number of supplement manufacturers who simply don't do that.
While testing supplements before they get shipped to a customer may seem like a no-brainer, the FDA doesn’t actually verify that supplements contain what they say they do or whether they're contaminated with heavy metals, bacteria, or pesticides before they are sold. So, because it’s not actually required, a lot of companies will forego quality testing—meaning there’s no way to know if you’re actually getting what you’re paying for.
In other words, Kion goes above and beyond with our quality testing because—shocker—we really do care about the quality of our products.
These new Kion Aminos just dropped today, and since the original formula is already our most popular product, chances are it’ll sell out fast. So while you can of course keep reading to learn how to use 'em properly, you can also click here to grab some Aminos.
And if you need a little more convincing from some who, perhaps, isn’t the co-founder of the company, just go check out our 400+ 5-star reviews like this one:
How To Use Amino Acids The Right Way
Now, while you’ll definitely still experience profound benefits from the simple act of throwing back 5-40 g of these new Kion Aminos every day, the truth is, once you start diving into the research, you’ll find a number of best practices when it comes to timing, macro-combining, and dosing your amino acids.
(Warning: This is about to get nerdy. So skip to the last section if you just want the CliffsNotes version.)
Let's begin with timing. Because amino acids are such a potent performance and recovery aid…
…most of the research has to do with whether or not you should take them before or after exercise for best results.
Turns out, it depends on what kind of exercise you’re doing. I'll dig into details below.
Aerobic Exercise: Take 30 Minutes Before for Energy, Within One Hour After for Optimized Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS)
The main amino acid that gets oxidized and used for energy during aerobic exercise is leucine.
And as you now know like the back of your hand if you read everything above, leucine is crucial for muscle protein synthesis.
So, if you take amino acids before aerobic exercise, your body will quickly burn any excess leucine for energy. While this sounds bad, it can actually be helpful if you’re looking for a quick energy boost or want help staving off fatigue during a longer workout. In fact, many customers of Kion Aminos report using it as a “pre-workout” for this exact reason—plus, it won’t weigh you down or make you jittery like a lot of other pre-workout formulas can.
However, if you’re looking for optimal results for muscle protein synthesis, you’ll want to take your amino acids within one hour after exercise. This will replenish the amino acids (especially leucine) that got burned during your workout and therefore give your muscles the fuel they need to build and recover.
When it comes to aerobic exercise, do you want energy? Take aminos 30 minutes before. Muscle-building? Take them after.
Resistance Exercise: Take 30 Minutes Prior And Within One Hour After
In the case of resistance exercise, amino acid metabolism is slightly different.
Since the very nature of resistance exercise is to stimulate muscle protein breakdown, by taking amino acids before resistance training, you’re priming your muscles to shift to an anabolic (or biosynthesizing) state, which actually makes them more receptive to strength gains.
However, as every “religious post-workout protein shake drinker” knows, there’s also a benefit to taking amino acids after resistance exercise, too. Research shows that the stimulatory effect of amino acids on muscle protein synthesis is greater after a strength workout, partially due to increased blood flow to muscles.
So basically, if you want to get the most optimal results when it comes to building muscle and recovering, take amino acids about 30 minutes before and also after a resistance workout.
But Then Consider Taking Aminos During Exercise, Too
Now, until recently, I had never considered taking aminos during a workout…
…but my thinking changed after I had professional bodybuilder Milos Sarcev on my podcast.
What Milos pointed out was that during resistance exercise, you can take advantage of hyperemia—the increase in blood flow to skeletal muscle—to maximize the delivery of nutrients into the bloodstream with intra-workout supplementation (literally, taking sips from your shaker cup between sets). This allows you to maintain a consistent level of amino acids by constantly replenishing your stores as they're being depleted by resistance training.
Intra-workout supplementation is a highly effective way to saturate your blood with amino acids and optimizing your performance.
With Or Without Food?
This is another question I often get: Should you take amino acids on an empty stomach?
I used to think that consuming the EAAs without food was the best, but it turns out, this is not necessarily correct.
In fact, research shows that taking EAAs along with carbohydrates can lead to even greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. According to a small clinical trial, those who consumed EAAs (6 g) along with carbohydrates (35 g sucrose) after a bout of resistance exercise showed significant increases in muscle protein synthesis.
How this works is that the insulin response from eating carbs enhances the uptake of amino acids into muscle, which increases their anabolic effects. Also, the carbohydrates will get stored in the muscle as glycogen, which can also contribute to mass gains.
However, maximizing muscle mass is certainly not everyone’s goal. If you want to build the leanest muscle possible, I would say take your amino acids on an empty stomach. If you’re going for increased mass and strength, combining aminos with carbohydrates could give you a significant boost.
In addition, you can indeed combine EAAs with other forms of protein, including something like a smoothie with protein powder in it. Whey protein is a particularly effective complement to amino acid supplementation. A 2020 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that combining whey protein and EAAs increased whole-body protein synthesis and resulted in greater suppression of whole-body protein breakdown.
How Much To Take
Research shows that because of the enhanced digestibility and bioavailability, as little as 3 grams of LEEAs can stimulate muscle protein synthesis as much as 20 grams of whey protein.
What’s more, 15 grams is shown to be even more effective than 40 grams of whey.
The benefits of amino acids increase linearly (the more you take, the better results), but appear to plateau after 15 grams in a single serving. In other words, you’ll get benefits from taking 3-15 grams of EAAs at one time, experiencing the best results at the higher end of that range. But the benefits plateau after 15 grams.
TLDR (Too Long; Didn't Read :): The CliffsNotes Version
Alright, that was admittedly a lot to weave through…
…but at least you physiology and biology nerds got the full picture.
Here’s basically all you need to know when it comes to dosing, timing, and general best practices for optimal results:
- Dose: Take 3-15 grams in one serving (higher end of range = more results). There are no additional benefits to taking more than 15 grams at one time.
- Aerobic exercise: For energy, take one serving 30 minutes before a workout. For muscle building, take one serving within one hour after exercise.
- Resistance exercise: Take one serving 30 minutes before a workout, and another serving within one hour after.
- Intra-workout supplementation: Also consider taking amino acids throughout your workout to take advantage of hyperemia and maintain nutrient levels.
- General wellbeing: Take one serving in between meals.
- Macronutrient Combining: If looking to enhance mass gains and brute strength, take with a serving of carbohydrates or protein (whey protein is recommended). Combining amino acids with protein Otherwise, take on an empty stomach.
Again, these are all tips for optimal results. You will still get benefits if you don’t follow these instructions to a T. If all else fails, just take one serving per day whenever it’s convenient.
Congratulations, you’re now officially an expert on everything amino acids.
At the very least, I hope you understand why—even as someone who has tried hundreds of different compounds, nutrients, and supplements—amino acids continue to be a staple in my household, and why I consider them the “Swiss army knife” of supplements.
You just can’t get much more fundamental when it comes to your health than the mighty amino acid, which regulates everything from sleep to muscle building, recovery, cognition, mood, immunity, glucose metabolism, and much, much more. However, it all comes down to getting adequate amounts of specific amino acids, in the right combination, and a balanced ratio.
This is why, unlike many other trusted sources, I don’t recommend isolated BCAAs:
- They don’t give you all the essential amino acids (EAAs) you need;
- They aren’t effective alone for muscle protein synthesis (and may have the opposite effect);
- They can lead to an imbalance in the body that results in overcompensation, which can cause depleted B vitamins, reduced serotonin levels, dysregulated blood glucose, increased appetite levels, and even obesity.
Instead, you should look for a balanced EAA supplement—which still contains the BCAAs in lower amounts, but also has all the other essential amino acids.
Additionally, based on current research in the field of human physiology, the “gold standard” amino acid supplement has the following:
- All nine essential amino acids
- An amino acid profile conducive to stimulating muscle protein synthesis
- Is fortified with 40% leucine (also known as LEAAs), which has even greater effects on muscle protein synthesis
- Increased levels of lysine, valine, and isoleucine to balance out the added leucine
- At least 3 grams per serving
I’m extremely proud to say that the new-and-improved Kion Aminos has been strategically upgraded to check all these boxes, and much more.
It also tastes better than ever, and nobody else in the nutrition supplements industry has any product anything like this. We are the only ones. Period.
What's your take on amino acids? Have you been overwhelmed by the information out there? Has this article helped clarify things? How do you personally use aminos, if you do? Leave your comments and questions below. I read them all.