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Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD

Essential Amino Acids: What Are They & Why Do You Need Them?

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and contribute to muscle growth, protein synthesis, wound healing, digestion, and even mental health. Essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine - can't be produced by the body and must be derived from diet or supplements. Consuming complete proteins, found in both animal sources and certain plant foods, ensures adequate essential amino acid intake. 

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of amino acids! As the building blocks of proteins, these organic compounds are essential for the proper functioning of the amazing human body. 

Amino acids play various roles in your body, ranging from muscle growth and protein synthesis to wound healing, digestive wellness, and even your mental health. In this article, we will focus on the essential amino acids, what they are, why you need them, and how to obtain them from your diet!

 

 

 

Amino acid 101

 

Let's start with the basics, shall we? Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different types of amino acids that make up proteins, and they can be categorized into two groups: essential and nonessential amino acids. 

Nonessential amino acids are those that your body can produce on its own (also known as endogenous production), while essential amino acids are those that your body cannot produce and must be obtained from your diet.

 

 

What are the essential amino acids?

 

There are nine essential amino acids that the human body requires, and that have to be obtained from dietary sources. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. 

These amino acids are called "essential" because your body cannot produce them on its own and must obtain them from external sources, such as food.

But what makes essential amino acids so important? 

Well, they play crucial roles in various functions of the human body. Let’s take a look:

  • Histidine is important for the growth and repair of tissues, as well as the production of histamine, which is involved in immune response and digestion.

  • Isoleucine plays a role in muscle metabolism and is important for forming hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.

  • Leucine promotes muscle protein synthesis and is involved in wound healing, blood sugar regulation, and the production of growth hormones.

  • Lysine is important for the formation of collagen, which is essential for healthy skin, bones, and cartilage, as well as the absorption of calcium and the production of carnitine, which is involved in energy metabolism.

  • Methionine plays a role in the metabolism of fats and is important for the growth and repair of tissues, as well as the production of cysteine, which is necessary for the formation of skin, hair, and nails.

  • Phenylalanine is a precursor for producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which are important for mood regulation and mental clarity.

  • Threonine is important for the synthesis of proteins, as well as the production of glycine and serine, which are involved in the production of other amino acids and the metabolism of fats.

  • Tryptophan is a precursor for the production of serotonin, which is important for mood regulation and sleep, and the production of niacin, which is involved in energy metabolism.

  • Valine plays a role in muscle metabolism and is involved in the production of energy, as well as the synthesis of other amino acids.

All amino acids are also essential for the synthesis of muscle protein to help build muscle mass, especially when combined with resistance training. 

Adequate amino acid intake is also essential for women's health, particularly during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as protein is essential for fetal growth and development.

 

 

 

Where can you get essential amino acids?

 

To ensure adequate amounts of essential amino acids in your diet, it is vital to consume complete proteins. 

Complete proteins are protein sources containing all nine essential amino acids in the right amino acid composition. 

Animal protein, such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, is an excellent source of complete proteins. However, many plant foods also contain all nine essential amino acids, such as quinoa, soy, and chia seeds. You can also combine different 

While it is possible to obtain all nine essential amino acids from your diet, some people may find it challenging to consume adequate amounts of protein through food alone. This is where amino acid supplements come in. 

Essential amino acid supplements are popular among athletes, bodybuilders, and people who want to ensure they get the right amount and type of amino acids in their diet.

However, it is important to note that consuming essential amino acid supplements does not replace a healthy diet. Whole foods are always the best source of nutrients, including amino acids. Moreover, excessive consumption of amino acid supplements can lead to adverse effects, such as digestive issues and kidney damage.

The recommended daily protein intake varies depending on factors such as age, gender, and body weight. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommend that adults consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, athletes and people engaging in regular resistance exercise may require more protein to support muscle growth and recovery. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of protein intake from a functional medicine perspective, read more here.

 

 

 

Final thoughts

 

In conclusion, essential amino acids are vital for the proper functioning of the human body. They play various roles in muscle growth, protein synthesis, wound healing, mental health, immune function, blood sugar regulation, and weight management. Consuming a diet rich in complete proteins, such as animal and plant sources, is the best way to ensure adequate amounts of essential amino acids in your diet.

 

 

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.

Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD
As a qualified Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD), Zaheera Swing has a deep passion for restoring balance and harmony to the body through the modalities of nutritional science, herbalism, and holistic lifestyle practices. Using the functional medicine model coupled with wisdom from ancient paradigms, she aims to provide insight into the underlying root causes of poor health and the holistic tools we can harness to enhance the well-being of mind, body, and spirit.
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