All About Essential Amino Acids by Ben Greenfield

by Ben Greenfield March 28, 2016 5 min read

All About Essential Amino Acids by Ben Greenfield

What are the individual aminos and how do they work??  Our good friend Ben Greenfield is a fitness expert, researcher, and accomplished author, who recently did a podcast with Dr. Minkoff on Essential Amino Acids, which you can listen to HERE.  Ben then wrote this article to explain the essential amino acids in a very clean and concise way.  Here is some of what he said:

EXPLANATION: Essential amino acids, as the name implies, are essential because they can’t simply be made by your body like all the other amino acids can. Instead, you have to get EAA’s from your diet or other exogenous sources.

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, drumroll please:

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

Get it? PVT Tim Hall?

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.

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, an Ironman bike ride, an obstacle race, or any voluminous or intense event.

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. 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 below, when we delve into BCAA’s.

T: 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 a essential amino acids when ingested during training in a fasted state, and this includes 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 wouldn’t “cannibalize” as much lean muscle during a fasted workout session.

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, 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.

I: Isoleucine, another BCAA that has some of the same advantages of Valine. Again…more on BCAA’s 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’s 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” histidine 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 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 also helps folks with cardiovascular disease improve exercise capacity.

L: Leucine is yet another BCAA.. Yes, as I keep promising, we will get to BCAA’s 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 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.


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

The only thing I didn’t mention is that the EAA’s have a bit of an insulin and cortisol increasing effect, which confuses some people as to why EAA’s 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, 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.

So the amount of these hormones you get in essential amino acids 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 while working on an all-nighter project for work.

Read more http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2015/12/how-to-use-amino-acids/

Wait… Now I’m Confused… How many Essential Amino Acids are there?   Is it 8 or 10?

As mentioned above, the reason they are called “Essential” is because they are not made by the body and must be obtained from an outside source.   Histadine and Arginine are two that although they do fall into this category, when you put in the other 8, the body can now make these final two.   In developing the formula for PerfectAmino, it was determined that this exact blend of these amino acids is, well, perfect, and the body can and does subsequently make the necessary Histadine and Arginine.

Ben Greenfield
Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, obstacle course racer, human performance consultant, speaker and author of 13 books, including the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life”. In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 and 2014 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys. For more information: bengreenfieldfitness.com Mastering Endurance, Health and Life : http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com


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