Protein is one of the macronutrients that the body needs to function properly, along with carbohydrates and fats. A protein is a compound that is made from smaller substances, which are known as amino acids. There are many different types of amino acids. The body depends on a total of 20 amino acids, which all combine to form proteins. The protein is then used for a number of different functions in the body, including the production of lean muscle mass. Amino acids also have separate roles to play in the body, each contributing to specific functions that are critical to survival. 

In this post, we look at what essential amino acids are, consider the difference between EAA vs. BCAA supplements, and look at the best sources for these compounds. 

The Different Types Of Amino Acids

There are 20 amino acids in total that the body needs for optimal function. When a person has a deficiency of any amino acid that is part of this group, then complications can develop in the person’s body, due to an impairment in the specific functions that the compounds play. While there are a relatively large number of different amino acids needed by the body, it is not necessary to obtain all of them from dietary sources. 

The amino acids required for optimal health by the body are divided into three different categories. The three categories are defined based on how the amino acids are obtained and when they are needed. These categories into which the 20 amino acids that are considered critical to human survival falls under include:

  • Essential Amino Acids – These are the types of amino acids that the body cannot make itself, which means you need to ensure your diet includes all of these to support the functions that rely on them. 
  • Unessential Amino Acids – This is a group of amino acids that the body requires to function, but is able to synthesize without the need to obtain them from a dietary source. 
  • Conditionally Essential Amino Acids – These amino acids are not always needed, but rather only in certain situations. An example would be certain amino acids that the body needs to cope when placed under a significant amount of stress. 

What Are Essential Amino Acid

Now that we have looked at the different types of amino acids and considered why some are considered “essential,” we want to turn our focus to some of the best ways to ensure you provide your body with an adequate supply of these. 

As mentioned, essential amino acids are compounds that your body needs on a daily basis, but it is unable to make these itself. Thus, you need to make sure that you gain your essential amino acids from appropriate dietary sources. 

There are nine specific essential amino acids that you need to obtain. These include:

  • Tryptophan
  • Methionine
  • Threonine
  • Valine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Leucine
  • Histidine

These have different functions to play in your body. Histidine, for example, is needed for the production of a neurotransmitter known as histamine. This neurotransmitter plays a role in digestion, the regulation of your sleep-wake cycles, and even in your sexual function. Valine, another essential amino acid that is also considered a branched-amino acid, is essential for the production of energy, and also has a role to play in muscle growth. 

Increase Your Intake Of Essential Amino Acids

Even though the body cannot make essential amino acids and these nutrients need to be obtained from dietary sources, most people are able to consume an adequate amount of these compounds through the diet that they are following. It is, however, important to note that with the increase in fast foods and other unhealthy eating habits, there is still a risk of deficiency to be taken into consideration here. 

It is possible to obtain essential amino acids from supplements. Many supplements are able to provide your body with these building blocks of protein. For a lot of people, however, obtaining nutrients from real food sources is a priority. 

When it comes to obtaining these essential amino acids through food, you need to look at products that are able to give you access to complete proteins. The term “complete proteins” refer to foods that contain all of the essential amino acids that the body needs, but cannot make on its own. This is the type of food that you want to eat, as you would not need to focus on different amino acids from various foods in such a case. 

There are both animal-based and plant-based sources of complete proteins. Thus, individuals who are following a vegetarian or vegan diet are still able to provide their body with essential amino acids to support the functions that rely on these compounds. 

Individuals who do eat meat and animal-derived food products are often advised to include a good balance of items in their diet for maximum benefits. This means that the diet should ideally include both plant-based and animal-based foods that are rich incomplete proteins and all nine of the essential amino acids. 

Some of the best animal-based sources of complete proteins include:

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Wild Game
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Pork

For those who prefer a diet that is based on plant-based foods; instead, the following are good sources of complete proteins:

  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Soy

Conclusion

Essential amino acids play several roles in the human body, but cannot be synthesized internally. Thus, it is important that you ensure your diet contains the appropriate food sources of complete proteins, which helps you obtain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs. We looked at what amino acids are considered essential and the best sources for these compounds.

Cite this article as:
Editorial Staff, "Sources Of Essential Amino Acids," in Medicalopedia, August 16, 2019, [Permalink: https://www.medicalopedia.org/7680/sources-of-essential-amino-acids/].