9 Essential Amino Acids You Need in Your Diet Now

Let’s look into quite possibly the most important macronutrient, and the most versatile - protein.

You hear quite a bit about protein consumption once you start at the gym or any sort of workout regimen. Why? What’s so important about protein anyway? Why do you need to ensure you’re getting sufficient protein in your diet?

For starters, proteins make up all the major structural components of your body. Did you realize over 50% of the dry weight of your body is composed of proteins? Proteins are used throughout the body for growth, repair, and maintenance of a variety of body tissues, including muscles, organs, bone, and blood.

Proteins also make up all enzymes and therefore control many bodily functions such as digestion and blinking your eyes. Protein is so versatile, it even makes up the particulate content of the blood, such as blood hemoglobin, antibodies and other immune cells. Also, many hormones are all formed from proteins.

Proteins, however, are made up of basic units called amino acids. There are over 500 amino acids known, but only 20 are used by the human genetic code. Of these 20, nine amino acids have been identified as being essential, meaning they must be provided by the diet, while eleven are considered nonessential, meaning the body can synthesize their production from existing molecules.

Amino acids are comprised of organic compounds containing amine (-NH₂) and carboxyl (-COOH) groups, along with a specific side chain differentiating each amino acid from the rest. Amino acids are composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. These are the organic molecules that are necessary for biological life.

Below are the essential and non-essential amino acids and what they’re individual properties are:

Essential

Isoleucine
Branched chain amino acid found in high levels in muscle tissue; an intermediate function in the Kreb’s Cycle

Leucine
Branched chain amino acid found in high levels in muscle tissue; lowers blood sugar; promotes skin & bone regeneration

Lysine
Promotes bone growth; assures absorption of calcium

Methionine
Antioxidant; source of sulfur; makes up part of creatine molecule

Phenylalanine
Manufactures norepinephrine & precursor for other neurotransmitters; appetite suppressant

Threonine
Constituent of collagen, elastin, & enamel proteins

Tryptophan
Precursor to serotonin; hypotensive

Valine
Branched chain amino acid found in high levels in muscle tissue

Histidine (for children)
Important in the production of red & white blood cells

Carnitine
Involved in thermogenesis; allows fatty acid transport into muscle mitochondria for energy; important in regulating oxygen availability to muscle (heart ischemia)

Nonessential

Alanine
Deamination (loss of Nitrogen) produces pyruvic acid—important in the Kreb’s (energy) cycle; used to maintain blood glucose levels

Arginine
Stimulates immune system; promotes wound healing; blocks formation of tumors; causes release of growth hormone; detoxifies ammonia; involved in liver regeneration; increases spermatogenesis

Asparagine
Participates in metabolic control of brain and nervous system cell

Aspartic Acid
Used to form precursors to RNA & DNA; detoxifies ammonia

Cysteine
Antioxidant; protects against mutagenesis and carcinogenesis; stimulates whit blood cell activity; aids in iron absorption

Glutamic Acid
Composes over 50% of amino acid content of the brain; neurotransmitter; transports Potassium across blood-brain barrier

Glutamine
Ammonia scavenger; most abundant amino acid found in skeletal muscle; important in immune function

Glycine
Stimulates release of growth hormone; makes up part of creatine molecule; synthesizes hemin in hemoglobin

Proline
Maintenance & repair of joints & tendons; major constituent of collagen

Serine
Present in muscle, brain, and blood as a factor in muscle contraction

Tyrosine
Precursor to adrenaline & thyroid hormones; appetite suppressant; stimulates growth hormone; antioxidant; linked to production of melanin antioxidant; linked to production of melanin

ProteinFlowChart