The essential amino acids (EAA) are those specific amino acids that you need to consume in your diet because your body doesn’t naturally make them. If you slept through your college chemistry class, remember that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. So for any given protein that you consume, whether it is beef, chicken, eggs or beans, the amount of each specific amino acid differs. Most plant sources of protein for example do NOT have enough of the essential amino acids; that’s why they are incomplete proteins. And that’s why most athletes are carnivores. We love our meat because they are full of the EAA or essential amino acids.
On the other hand, your body makes the non-essential amino acids; therefore, you don’t necessary need to consume them in your diet. Though if you consume meat or milk-based proteins, then you will always get a mix of essential and non-essential amino acids.
So what are the EAA?
Of the 20 amino acids that are used to form proteins, eight or nine are essential or indispensable; meaning that you need to consume them in your diet because your body does not normally make them. These are:
- Histidine (essential in infants)
- Arginine (essential in infants)
You’ll notice that branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), which are popular among bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and other athletes, are essential (valine, leucine, and isoleucine). The BCAA deserve special mention especially because of their popularity. During long-distance type exercises such as marathon running, branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) breakdown could lead to an increase in the blood tryptophan/BCAA ratio. By affecting this ratio, some scientists believe this leads to an early onset of 'central fatigue'. In plain English, your head just starts to feel really tired. To offset this, sports nutritionists often suggest consuming BCAA during exercise.
But the beauty of the EAA is not in just the branched-chain amino acids, but in their combination as a whole. In a study from the University of Nebraska, scientists studied a group of women who consumed either 18 grams of EAAs or placebo daily for six weeks. Each woman performed a split-routine, multiple-set weight training regimen three times weekly as well as aerobic training three times weekly for 20 minutes per session. They discovered that time to exhaustion on a treadmill improved more in the EAA group (+12%) versus the placebo group (+4%).
In an elegant study from deep in the heart of Texas, scientists compared the anabolic response of consuming an six grams of the essential amino acid plus 35 grams of carbohydrate (in the form of table sugar) cocktail before versus after heavy resistance exercise. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call this EAA plus sugar ‘EAC.’ Six healthy subjects completed an exercise bout of 10 sets of eight reps of the leg press (80% of 1-RM), and eight sets of eight reps of the leg extension (80% of 1-RM). The rest interval was about two minutes with the total exercise time roughly 45 minutes.
So what did they find? They found that over a three-hour period, taking the EAC before exercise resulted in a 160% greater anabolic response than taking the EAC post-exercise. But they also found that taking EAC after exercise produced a great anabolic response; however, it just quite wasn’t as high as taking the stuff before training. There is so much information showing the superiority of the EAA in promoting muscle gain and recovery. For instance, here’s a list of amazing things that the EAA can do.
- EAA can help promote muscle recovery and gains in lean body mass. This is important for all athletes including swimmers.
- Leucine is by the far the most important EAA.3, 4
- As little as 3 grams of EAA is enough to increase protein synthesis.5
- 100 grams of CHO can increase protein synthesis by 35% while 6 grams of EAA increase protein synthesis by 250%.
- However, up to 20 g of EAA may be necessary to optimize muscle protein synthesis.
- 20 g of high quality whey protein contains ~ 8-12 g of EAA’s (and ~ 2 g of leucine).
- EAA as twice as efficient as intact protein (casein or whey) in stimulating protein synthesis. 12 g of EAA are more than twice as effective as 20 g of casein or 20 g of whey.6
- EAA given pre-workout is among the most anabolic supplements.
- EAA gram for gram is superior to BCAA.
So what’s the take-home message from this complicated story? First, consuming essential amino acids definitely promotes an anabolic response when taken before or after resistance exercise. The anabolic response just happens to be greater if you consume the essential amino acids prior to exercise.
So if you’re a competitive swimmer or athlete of any kind, it’s best that you consume essential amino acids (or the equivalent in mixed protein [about 40 grams of whey protein for instance] prior to exercise. However, some individuals prefer not to consume anything prior to training. If that’s the case, a post-workout mix of protein (or amino acids), carbohydrates, and fat (small amount) will assist you in the recovery process. Consuming carbohydrates and protein stimulates insulin secretion from the pancreas. Insulin is what we science types call a ‘storage’ hormone and it promotes the uptake of amino acids and glucose into the muscle cell as well as stimulates enzymes responsible for muscle glycogen resynthesis (i.e. helps replenish fuel stores in muscle).
Gold Medal Aminos
Fitness Nutrition’s Gold Medal Aminos is an amazing combination of essential amino acids. Consuming Gold Medal Aminos pre as well as post workout will lead to faster recovery, more lean body mass and a lower percentage of body fat. All of these great benefits will in turn make you a better swimmer, runner, and athlete in general.