First, it’s important to know what amino acids are. Amino acids are the tiny building blocks that make up protein molecules. Proteins help build our body tissues like muscle, hair and collagen, as well as support enzymes and antibodies.
The 20 amino acids look like this:
In nature, scientists have found over 500 amino acids, but only 20 amino acids directly code with human genetics. Because amino acids can bond together to form large protein molecules, they can become very difficult and time consuming to write out. To help scientists, the 20 amino acids have been given three-letter and single-letter codes that identify each amino acid.
Amino acids are broken down into essential and non-essential amino acids. There are 11 non-essential amino acids that our bodies produce internally. The other nine essential amino acids must be taken in through our diet.
The non-essential amino acids are:
- alanine – ala – A: provides energy for muscle
- arginine – arg – R: supports the immune system
- asparagine – asn – N: may boost endurance and lower fatigue
- aspartic acid – asp – D: boosts stamina
- cysteine – cys – C: important for skin health
- glutamine – gln – Q: supports healthy blood sugar levels
- glutamic acid – glu – E: boosts energy while reducing sugar cravings
- glycine – gly – G: boosts energy
- proline – pro – P: supports joint and ligament health
- serine – ser – S: supports a healthy immune system
- tyrosine – tyr – Y: supports mood and can limit depression
The essential amino acids are:
- histidine – his – H: helps treat anemia and allergies
- isoleucine – ile – I: supports muscle strength and endurance
- leucine – leu – L: supports bone and skin health
- lysine – lys – K: supports bone and joint health
- methionine – met – M: supports healthy cholesterol levels
- phenylalanine – phe – F: improves memory and boosts concentration
- threonine – thr – T: a detoxifier that supports liver health
- tryptophan – trp – W: reduces anxiety and promotes good sleep
- valine – val – V: provides muscle energy
Essential Amino Acids and Your Diet
Because amino acids aren’t stored like starch or fat, they must be consumed regularly. If you fail to eat enough amino-acid-rich foods, it can cause an inhibition of protein synthesis in your body. This can lead to fatigue, stress and a weakened immune system.
Amino acids are absorbed into our bodies when we break down protein. This makes protein-rich food a great way to get your essential amino acids.
A few of the best foods to add to your diet to increase your amino acid intake are:
- Lean red meat
- Pork sirloin or pork chops
- Turkey breast
Amino acids truly are the tiny building blocks that make up much of our bodies. Treat your body right by making sure you get all of the essential amino acids you need every day!