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How To Choose The Best Amino Acid Supplements For Your Needs
Amino acid supplements are popular among people who want to improve their health and fitness. But with so many different types and brands of amino acid supplements available, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you.
Not only is there a wide variety of options available to you, but the supplement market can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Many supplement brands will make claims that sound promising or logical, but because nutritional supplements generally aren't regulated in the same way that medications are, there often isn't much sound science to back up the claims being made.
To avoid spending your hard-earned cash on a supplement that's not going to do anything for you other than flavor your next glass of water, let's break down amino acids and what to look for in a supplement.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They are essential for the body to function properly and play a role in many bodily processes. There are 20 different amino acids, but nine are most important for human health. Some amino acids are found in proteins in food (essential amino acids), while others are made by the body (non-essential amino acids). You can take a deeper dive into each of the amino acids here.
Amino acids are vital for several key body functions. They affect everything from organ function to tissue health, memory and cognition to digestion, hormone regulation to nutrient absorption.
If you're eating a well-rounded diet that contains diverse protein sources (including plant-based protein sources), then you're probably getting an adequate amount of amino acids to fulfill your bodily needs. However, because amino acids do play core functions in cell health and dozens of bodily processes, some people may find it beneficial to also take an amino acid supplement to target specific outcomes.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Amino Acid Supplements?
There are many benefits to taking amino acid supplements, including improving muscle growth and recovery, boosting energy levels, and helping to prevent muscle loss. Amino acid supplements can also help to reduce inflammation and improve joint health.
The exact benefits that you will notice will depend upon the types and quality of the amino acid supplements that you take. Because of this, we can think of amino acid supplement benefits as being broken down by category, which corresponds to the type and combination of acids in a given supplement:
- Muscle health and recovery
- Heart and vascular health
- Liver health
- Cognition, memory, and focus
- Joint health
- Gut health
More categories exist, but these are probably the most common, with muscle health and recovery and vascular health having the largest shares of the market.
How do You Choose the Best Amino Acid Supplement for Your Needs?
There are many different types of amino acids that can be found in supplements, and it can be difficult to know which one is best for your needs. The most important thing to remember is that you need to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements, as they can have side effects and interactions with other medications.
Core medical considerations aside, there are a few steps you should take when shopping around for amino acid supplements–
- Specify what your goals are. This will help you avoid falling into "one size fits all" traps that are common in marketing supplements.
- Look for pseudoscience buzzwords and red flags. I always recommend doing a scan of a brand's website to evaluate the claims that they are making. If they make their products sound too good to be true, steer clear. Remember, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins– they're not miracle elixirs.
- Check if research is present. This one can be a challenge for the average consumer, but I always recommend asking if there is any clinical or formal research to validate a product before you buy it. A great example of this is Amino Co., which started as a research organization that partnered with institutions like NASA and only recently reached into the consumer market, keeping their research available and accessible on their website.
- Check the Reviews. If you're having a hard time finding actual science to back up a product's claims, you can probably glean a lot by reading the reviews. In particular, see if you can spot fake or suspicious reviews. Reviews that speak so glowingly about a product that they don't sound like they were written by a human should be a red flag that honest reviews are being buried or removed; as odd as it sounds, I like to look for products with tepid reviews that skew positive. Something along the lines of "I like this– I guess it's working and it tastes good," is usually more of a selling point for me than overly-animated, exciting reviews because they lend themselves to authentic user satisfaction.
What Are the Most Popular Types of Amino Acid Supplements?
For physically active people, BCAA supplements are ones you're most likely to be familiar with. BCAA supplements are a popular choice for physically active people because they provide energy and help to recover from exercise. The three most common types of BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, but BCAA supplements typically contain a blend of all three, so you don't necessarily need to seek out specific acids. BCAAs are also a good choice for active people because they have been around for a while and have decent proven efficacy.
The second most popular category of Amino Acid Supplements would be vasodilators and vascular health-focused supplements. L-Arginine, for example, is quite common for people who lift to take before their workouts. It's a vasodilator (meaning it helps your blood vessels dilate, which helps carry blood, water, and nutrients to your muscles more easily), which contributes to getting that feeling of a good post-workout pump. L-Arginine and other vasodilators can also help with minor cases of erectile dysfunction for some people.
High-end, targeted amino acids are also becoming more and more popular. These are supplements that have a specific outcome– such as recovery, heart health, energy, or fatty liver prevention– tied to their dosage. Often, these supplements are fairly pricey, but they're also more likely to be backed by clinical research. They're not necessarily the go-to supplements for people who generally live an active lifestyle, but for active people with specific health goals– especially folks with pre-existing conditions, genetic predispositions, or who are older– these high-end amino acid supplements can be a great way to build upon an already healthy lifestyle and diet. Amino Co, the research company I mentioned previously, is a great example of such supplements.
Amino acid supplements offer a wide range of health benefits, and it is important to choose the right one for your individual needs. By considering the factors mentioned in this article, you can be sure to find a supplement that will help you meet your health and fitness goals.