When Should You Take Amino Acids?
You probably haven’t thought too much about amino acids since you were in science class in high school. Not very many of us have unless you're talking about the branched-chain amino acids (i.e. BCAA supplements) in your post-workout or pre-workout smoothie.
But that also means you likely didn’t know how beneficial adding an amino acid-based supplement can be for your mental health.
PYM has all of the information that you need to decide if and when you should add amino acids to your routine, as well as what the benefits of doing that are.
Amino Acids Basics
At their most basic, amino acids are molecules that are the building blocks of protein, and are most commonly talked about when it comes to muscle protein synthesis, i.e. muscle growth and muscle mass.
Each amino acid is made of five specific parts: a central carbon (located in the middle), an acid group, an amine group, and some sort of unique side chain. The first four components are exactly the same in every amino acid, but the side chain is what makes each different. Some side chains are very simple, like a single hydrogen atom, or more complex combinations of multiple atoms.
When these individual amino acids form peptide bonds with other amino acids, they begin to build proteins. Think of them like beads on a beaded necklace; the way that you put them together on a string dictates what the final product will ultimately look like. Also, due to their unique shapes, the protein will not sit flat, folding into a specific three-dimensional shape (like a coil). This shape also determines their function in the body.
How Many Amino Acids Are There?
There are 20 different amino acids in all, which are divided up into two categories.
Non-essential amino acids are amino acids that your body naturally produces on its own. Don’t be fooled by the name, though. Even though they are called “non-essential,” they are very essential to help your body work the way it's supposed to. There are eleven of them in total: alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, asparagine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. Most of them are created from glucose with the exception of tyrosine, which comes from phenylalanine.
Essential amino acids comprise the other nine: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These amino acids are not naturally produced by the body, and need to be obtained through the foods that you eat or supplementation.
In addition, some of the non-essential amino acids have the potential to become “conditionally essential” if you have an illness that affects their production, or a genetic condition that means you are unable to make the precursors or enzymes necessary to create them.
Can Amino Acids Supplement Help With Mood?
The right amino acid supplement may be able to help your body naturally produce what it needs to promote a better mood.* While protein powder and protein supplements commonly contain branched-chain amino acid supplementation to help build muscle and essentially serve as workout supplements for muscle gain and muscle recovery, there are quite a few different options for amino acid supplementation that are recommended more than others for non-sports nutrition purposes.
One of the non-essential amino acid derivatives that shows some of the most promise for helping to support mood and decrease feelings of anxiety and overwhelm is also one that we included in our PYM Mood Chews, L-theanine.*
L-theanine has been the subject of multiple studies that show its effectiveness at helping with a wide variety of different issues, like attention span, cognitive performance, and sleep quality.*
First and foremost, L-theanine can increase the levels of serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine in the brain.* Each of these chemicals is considered a neurotransmitter and, more specifically, a neurotransmitter that works to calm the mind. When there are more of these chemicals in the brain, people tend to feel more relaxed, less stressed, and less anxious.
L-theanine can also bind to the receptors of some of the “excitatory” neurotransmitter receptors, like those for glutamate and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA, for short).* By binding to those receptors, L-theanine stops the neurotransmitter from reaching its receptor and triggering that action.* As those specific neurotransmitters are related to an increase of stress and anxiety, it naturally reduces those feelings by stopping their release.* Many researchers also believe this helps reduce stress and age-related damage to the brain and body.*
And finally, L-theanine is thought to help promote alpha waves in the brain.* Alpha waves are one of five different brain wave patterns that humans can have (the others being gamma, beta, theta, and delta), each of which relate to the way that we feel and cope with the events that happen around us and to us. Alpha waves, in particular, are the brain wave pattern often known as “wakeful relaxation.” When the brain is in this state, you’re likely feeling relaxed without being sleepy.
More well known as 5-HTP, 5-hydroxytryptophan is a derivative of the essential acid tryptophan. It is specifically known for being a chemical precursor to serotonin.
As we briefly touched on above, serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters for helping stabilize and regulate mood, happiness, and general mental well-being. However, it is also so much more than that. Serotonin may also be able to help regulate pain, leading to its nickname as the “happy” or “feel good” hormone. It really does affect most every part of the body in some way, so increasing its production and uptake can be extremely helpful.
What makes supplementation with 5-HTP so helpful in increasing serotonin is its status as an essential acid. While most of us get enough tryptophan in our regular diets without knowing it (although turkey is the most well-known supplier of tryptophan, making you sleeping after your Thanksgiving meal, foods like eggs, bananas, and brown rice are actually even better sources of the amino acid), supplementation may still be necessary.
When Should You Take Amino Acid Supplements?
When to take those supplements really depends on your symptoms and lifestyle.
While there really is no cut and dry way for you to know whether you are suffering from a deficiency of amino acids, there are a few symptoms that may lead you to make some changes with both your nutrition and your lifestyle.
If you’ve noticed any of the following, you may benefit from working toward identifying a possible deficiency:
- Increased anxiety or panic attacks
- Feeling like you don’t have enough energy to even get out of bed in the morning
- Finding yourself lashing out at people, especially when they don’t deserve it
- Significant shifts in your eating and sleeping patterns
- Crying for seemingly no reason
- Isolating yourself, and not doing the things that used to make you happy
The best supplementation that can be done, though, is before a problem strikes. Taking something on a daily basis, or even just before you know you’ll be entering into a stressful life event, can really help. While you can’t predict every instance that might make you feel anxious, if you have specific triggers that you know you’ll be encountering, plan ahead with a supplement that can kick in quickly.
What Else Can I Do For My Anxiety?
While you’re looking into amino acid supplementation to help manage your stress and anxiety levels, you’ll probably need a few coping mechanisms in the meantime.
Meditation can be exactly the thing you’re looking for. When you practice meditation, the goal is to focus more on being mindful in your day to day life. Mindfulness may seem like a lofty concept, but it helps to just think of it as being aware of what’s happening in the moment instead of worrying about everything that’s gone wrong in the past or what may possibly happen to you in the future. Since we can’t control anything other than the moment we’re currently living in, meditation can help give you the tools you need to work on being able to do that easier.
Exercise is another great option, as it triggers the release of some of the neurotransmitters and hormones that we talked about above in a natural way that’s good for both the body and the mind. Even just a few minutes of moderate exercise, like a walk around the block or a quick cardio workout video done in the privacy of your home, can help your body produce more serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. That makes it an easy, accessible quick solution for anyone struggling with feeling overwhelmed with everything life is throwing at them.
And finally, if you’re having a hard time, never underestimate the power of reaching out. Just sending a text message to a loved one or getting together for a walk or a cup of coffee can really help you feel supported, loved, and more capable of taking on life has to offer, good and bad.
Amino acid supplementation, when you know which ones to look for to help manage your specific concerns (i.e. supporting mood versus muscle tissue), may be incredibly helpful. We included one in our PYM Mood Chews, L-theanine, that helps positively impact mood by naturally supporting it.*
You deserve a life as free of anxiety and stress as possible, because this world can be difficult enough as it is. Take care of yourself, and your mood, naturally.
FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.