7/21/08

Amino Acids

My first love of sports nutrition is protein (in the diet and for recovery) and the active individual (aka athlete/exercise enthusiast). My second love, is the building block of protein: amino acids.
Just the other day I was scrolling MSNBC.msncom and read something very interesting about Dara Torres, the 41 year old Olympic swimmer who is rumored to be doping. Now the talk is about a supplement she is taking.....long pause.....Amino Acids!
Hum...amino acids? I mean, can you tell me something new that athletes don't already know. Or maybe it is just one of the many supplements that is mixed with the many other supplements that are available on the market. You have heard of them, you've read about them, maybe you have tried them, but just aren't sure if they will work for you.
Time for me to step in.....
Take a look at almost any current nutrition products (hammer, GU, Accelerade, cytomax, infinit, base nutrition by Chris Lieto, first endurance and amino vital) and you will see one of the following ingredients:


The most common amino acids are glutamin, isoleucine (BCAA), leucine (BCAA), valine (BCAA), Tyrosine and Arginine. These amino acids, among many other ingredients, help you feel better during exercise. So, how do they work?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. These amino acids are similar to the proteins found in real food but in a higher percentage when found in sports drinks.
The branch chain amino acids, leucine, isolecuine and valine and the many other essential amino acids can be viewed as brain fuel. During endurance exercise your brain increases its level of tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin. You all know of serotonin right? That feel good, boy I’m tired for no reason chemical in the body? As serotonin levels increase, BCAA levels in the brain decrease. This isn’t good. The brain begins to fatigue and performance, exercising or competing begins to suffer. Through the supplementation of BCAA’s (around 3-6 grams per hour during exercise) you will feel more energized during the workout, use fat more efficiently and you will also think more clearly.
Another sport fuel that people love to use during training is sport bars. Anything liquid will get into the bloodstream quickly. Anything solid must be digested, absorbed by the small intestines and then taken up into the blood…if it is properly digested. If you are exercising, where do you want the blood to go? To the muscles of course. Not to the stomach. I like to view solid food, like bars, sport beans and gel blocks as accessories to your liquid fuels. They are stomach satisfiers not fuel givers. I recommend having a bar if a workout lasts longer than 2 ½ hours and not having that bar until you reach the 2 ½ hr mark. Have ¼ bar will help you digest the bar a lot easier than eating it all at once. A lot of people look for sport bars with protein because of the muscle damage that occurs with long distance training. The BCAA’s are your best bet for reducing muscle damage during exercise and giving you fuel because they can be consumed in liquid form to get into the bloodstream very quickly.
Any protein that you consume must be broken down into amino acids in the small intestines, absorbed through the tissues and then taken to the liver where it is broken into ketones. At this point, amino acids can be used for repair. Since you don’t use protein for fuel during exercise, the protein that is in a bar or packaged food is broken down many times before it can be used to repair. So if you look at a bar that has 10, 15 or 20 grams of protein, think about how much protein you are actually getting into the muscles and tissues after it is broken down? Not very much. However, BCAA’s are not broken down in the liver. They go right to the skeletal muscles and after they are metabolized they can actually be used for immediate fuel. I think everyone would benefit from amino acids during exercise to help you go longer and to delay fatigue. Even for the short workouts, a scoop of base performance with 30 calories may help you increase your running or cycling pace and help you get in a high intensity hour workout.
If you want to use protein in food to receive amino acids in the diet, choose milk/soy milk, lean meat, eggs, whey protein, cottage cheese, cheese or even beans and nuts which provide more of a complete protein than anything processed (whey, eggs, lean meat and milk are your best choices for complete protein.

Here is what I recommend:
Whey protein: 90-120 calories per scoop (around 18-22 g protein) around 30 minutes after long workouts. Choose an affordable protein powder (whey) of almost ALL protein. You can mix with water or milk if you can't get to a blender (working out on the road away from home) or make a smoothie after a long workout. Factor in smoothie calories into your post workout meal so you don't end up with more than 500 calories at your post workout meals. Aim for around 350-400 calories with your long workout meal even with a 200-250 calorie smoothie. Eat the meal around 1-2 hours after the smoothie. This way you don't overdo it and listen to your body who is incorrectly telling you that because you burned 1500 calories (mostly fat if you are working out long and mostly aerobically) that you need to eat a 1000 calorie meal. WRONG!
For those shorter workouts, 1/2-1 scoop whey protein with water (or a little milk) after 60 min. high intensity workouts or two a day workouts (either workout you can have it after but I recommend after the harder workout).
Two Amino acid products I recommend, in addition to HAMMER as your primary sports nutrition fuel (Maltodextrin as primary ingredient for your sports drinks):
Amino vital pro for your drink during long workouts. 1 scoop in a bottle. You can also choose amino vital endurance which has a little more calories.
Amino acids base nutrition (by Chris lieto) is what I totally LOVE and that can be added in hammer heed (add about 1/2 - 1 scoop of the aminos into 1 scoop heed) per water bottle.
Amino acids base nutrition can be added to water during high intensity workouts around an hour (around 1/2-1scoop), especially if you workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (which I recommend).

Good luck!