Fitness and nutrition : Protein vs amino acids supplements

Fitness and nutrition-Protein vs Amino acids in food and supplements: differences and benefits

Having fitness goals and getting confused about protein intake either by food or supplements you may need? You are probably overthinking protein supplements benefits, or what are amino acids supplements. While amino acids and proteins are closely related. Amino acids are the building blocks of the proteins, but, it is not the same consuming them. Let’s understand what are the differences between those organic compounds. Then, see how we can benefit by consuming each one of them.

Fitness and nutrition: Protein vs amino acids supplements

The basics of amino acids and proteins

Improving our fitness also means improving our nutrition. We need to make sure our nutrition is supportive enough for what we demand from our bodies and mind. Most of the cases this refers to vitamins supplements and protein supplements.  Without getting too much into the chemical/biological terms, Amino acids are organic compounds commonly named Peptides. Our body uses amino acids for several functions: building blocks of proteins, repair of body tissues, the breakdown of food, a source of fuel and growth. Amino acids are also important for processes in the brain, blood, and other body elements. Proteins are polypeptides which are chains of amino acids linked together.

Our bodies have the ability to break down proteins into amino acids and rebuild amino acids into proteins.

The function of the protein is defined by the links amino acids inside it. Individual amino acids influence how our bodies use the proteins.

Protein building blocks include 22 types of amino acids which combine into peptide chains.

We usually divide the amino acids into 2 groups.  The “essential” amino acids and, “non-essential”.  We must consume the 9 essential amino acids through food because the body can’t produce them by itself.


Once The body synthesizes proteins from amino acids, they can serve for many functions. Proteins support your immune health, build and repair muscles, provide structure to your internal organs and send messages between cells.  However, as individual molecules, amino acids can contribute to the body to function independently of their integral role in proteins.

For example, a subset of amino acids can convert to glucose for use as fuel. This happens during times when a diet contains too much protein but too few carbohydrates.  The body converts amino acids to fatty acids for storage in your adipose tissue. This happens when you have more protein and calories in your diet than you need.


There are certain amino acids that take more significant part for processes related to muscle building, workout recovery, and athletic performance.

Those amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. When chained together to a form of BCAA’s (Branched-Chain-Amino acids) the body uses them to optimize Fitness/Sports processes.

This is the reason why we consider BCAA’s supplements to be effective and beneficial. They can decrease muscle damage due to exercise and, increase muscle protein synthesis.

In addition, the body uses a metabolite of leucine called HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methyl butyrate).

HMB reduces muscle protein breakdown and the body naturally produces it.

There are also supplements of the HMB, having the assumption it will contribute more to prevent the muscles breakdown. Other research also shows the influence of HMB supplementation on combat sports athletes. Some researches also suggest HMB supplementation supports conversion of fats to energy, rather than using the glycogen available energy in cells, hence reducing muscles tiredness during intense workouts.

To mention though that not all researches suggest significant improvements by HMB supplementations and you can find some comparisons and conclusions of researches over varying populations.

Other important amino acids we consume as individual supplements are L-arginine and L-glutamine. They are both contributing to fitness processes and optimizing them.

Additional amino acids brief

L-arginine contributes to muscle growth but not only.  It is also a precursor of Nitric-Oxide and as such, promotes endurance and muscle conditioning. By releasing Nitric Oxide there’s a widening of the blood vessels. This causes lower blood pressure and higher blood flow to the muscles during workouts. The process enables a more adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and, for a longer duration. It also contributes to reducing muscle damage, promoting healing and providing peak performance.

L-arginine also helps to maintain overall health by helping the immune system.

These are the reasons that although this amino acid can be produced by the body, it is helpful to take L-Arginine supplement. Especially when doing excessive workouts.

L-glutamine is the most common amino acid found in our muscles.

Studies have shown that L-glutamine supplementation can minimize the breakdown of muscle and improve protein metabolism.



Lysine serves as the building block for various tissues in the body. Scientific conclusions in a 1992 issue of Nutrition support a strong relationship between lysine and calcium. Lysine increases calcium absorption in the teeth and bones


Carnitine supports energy metabolism and reduces muscle fatigue and damage. Also, it is best known for its fat-burning properties. The National Institutes of Health states that carnitine shuttles fatty acids into cell mitochondria for energy burn. The more fat that is burned for energy, the more weight you may lose.

Consuming Whey Protein

Many nutrition experts are commonly using the term Protein Biological Value in order to describe the efficiency/quality of the protein we consume.

The higher the amount of protein (nitrogen) that is actually retained, the greater the biological value (BV). If a protein has a BV of 100, it means that our body can utilize all the protein. Whole eggs score the highest of all foods with a BV of 100, while beans have a BV of only 49.

When consuming Whey Protein supplement it is usually the consumption of protein with the highest ranking. Whey supplement usually has a higher BV than chicken breast, fish, or milk protein. Still, the amount of total protein you consume should be enough, otherwise, the result might be no additional muscle growth.

Ease of Use of supplements

Eating a lot of protein throughout the day with food alone can get a bit difficult. While eating can be monotonous, you can consume protein by drinking supplements. Most whey supplements provide 20-30 grams of quality protein per serving. You can easily consume it by drinking, without a need to cook. Just put it in a shaker, add water and you are good to go. You can consume a whey supplement at home, on the go and while working out in the park or gym.

Whey is one of the fastest digesting proteins and doesn’t take over an hour or so to get assimilated by the body and put to work. Theoretically, whey protein navigates through your digestive tract in less than 1.5 hours when taken with water. Casein protein is another variant which is slow digesting. Very less number of people are allergic to whey and chances are that you wouldn’t be too.

Faster Muscle Recovery from Intense Workouts 

Recovery is the phase where your body grows. Intense workouts induce Microtraumas and need quick digesting proteins for starting the repair process as soon as possible. Whey protein does just that. Since it’s very quickly digested, athletes from almost every discipline prefer using it.


The timing for optimizing results for your fitness goals :

Nutrition Reviews has found that there are different results based on consuming times. While protein supplements effectively increase lean mass in all users, consuming them between meals promoted weight gain. Consuming them with meals, however, helped with the maintenance of body weight while decreasing fat mass.

“It may matter when you take your supplements in relation to when you eat meals, so people who consume protein supplements in between meals as snacks may be less likely to be successful in managing their body weight,” said Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and senior author on the study.

The researchers suggest that the timing of protein supplements might impact the number of overall calories people consume, with those downing a shake with their lunch eating less than they usually would.

How Much Do You Need?

The recommended amount of protein can vary depending on your activity, weight and general fitness goals. As rule of thumb, you need around 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you are an adult living a sedentary life. For athletes that demand strenuous exercises on a day to day basis, they’d most likely require 1.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight. By choosing whey protein, you could easily fill up the protein deficiency.

BCAA supplements are available in simplified form. 14mg of leucine is required per pound of bodyweight. The requirement for the rest of the branched-chain amino acids is at 10mg per pound of bodyweight.

Keep in mind to consume BCAA as a part of a complete diet, making sure you have the rest of the amino acids and the amount of protein you need.

To summarize:

Although they are different, proteins and amino acids exhibit a high degree of interdependence. Without amino acids, your body can’t manufacture proteins. Without dietary protein, your body can’t access all the amino acids it needs to make these proteins. Your cells are able to manufacture some amino acids – known as non-essential – while the essential amino acids are a necessary component of your diet because you lack the ability to synthesize them. Both types of amino acids are required for good health, and a well-balanced diet supplies both adequate protein and the full complement of essential amino acids you need each day.

Consuming protein supplements is not about the advantage of building more muscles compared to whole foods but about the convenience of consumption and this is not something to underestimate when discussing fitness goals and how to reach them. It is easier to drink a high-efficiency protein shake than to prepare and consume post workout whole food with enough high-value protein.

While having other advantages of consuming whole foods, when whole food protein consumption is insufficient and can’t be consumed easily and periodically, it is a good idea to have protein as a supplement.

Consuming amino acids supplement as a general compound, as BCAA or specific amino-acid consumption can be useful. Check the type of workout you have and the specific functions you would like to handle. based on your fitness goals and overall diet choose the right supplementation you need. It is advised to have nutrition or fitness consultation to optimize the results.


It is ok to give yourself a small treat sometime while it is can be healthy.

Do you follow some cheat-meals guidelines? you can check this article for complementary knowledge:

Cheat meals the right way

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