Protein is crucial for growth and repair, and getting enough in your diet is essential if you want to make changes to your physique and promote a healthy, happy body.
This is exactly where amino acids come in to play…
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, therefore the foods that have the most amino acids are amongst the highest protein sources.
The body requires 20 amino acids, some of which it can manufacture itself (non-essential amino acids). This does not mean they are not important but simply means, in an healthy state, the body can keep up with the rate of demand for these amino acids of its own accord.
Out of the 20 amino acids, there are nine known as essential amino acids; this means the body can’t make them on its own and they must be consumed through the diet.
Animal vs. Plant-Based Sources
Animal based protein sources tend to be the best foods containing all the amino acids, whereas most plant based food sources tend to be missing one or more of the essential amino acids. There is no additional health benefit that is amino acid related by choosing plant or animal based sources. Of course, plant sources and animal sources have other associated health benefits such as red meat having a high iron content and plant sources being a great source of fibre, but both can be good sources of amino acids.
The main thing to remember is all essential amino acids are needed by the body – therefore should be included in your diet, regardless of the source.
Essential Amino Acids
The nine essential amino acids include: Histidine (especially for infants), lysine, leucine, methionine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine and tryptophan.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are amino acids with a slightly different molecular structure to other amino acids and play an important role in normal physiological processes including protein synthesis and glucose metabolism. There are three amino acids from this group including leucine, isoleucine and valine.
10 Foods High In Amino Acids
We have listed some of the top amino acids sources to incorporate into your diet. Try introducing a new recipe or two into your weekly meal prep or weekend meals.
Eggs are well known as a muscle building food and many old-school bodybuilders used to chug them raw from a tall glass (this definitely isn’t necessary).
A large egg contains 6g protein and is incredibly versatile – try them scrambled, poached, boiled or even as an ingredient in baking.
There are lots of quick and easy meals which use eggs as a primary ingredient, including omelettes and stir fries. For added convenience, you can gain the benefits of egg protein in the form of whole egg powder which can be consumed as a shake or used in recipes.
Chicken is a great source of amino acids and is also rich in niacin and selenium, hence why it’s such a popular food choice amongst those in the fitness industry.
Chicken is one of the easiest foods to incorporate into your diet as it is used in a wide variety of cuisines from curries to your favourite stir fry or to accompany some Mediterranean roast veg. Packs a punch of lean protein.
Spice things up with some protein seasoning….
Beef includes all the essential amino acids and is a really versatile meat. It is a great source of iron and depending on the cut, it can either be quite lean (preferably) or calorie-dense in regards to the excess fat.
This is a great choice for anyone on-the-go and stuck for a handy source of protein. It is also a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids which are associated with numerous health benefits, for example improving cardiovascular health.
Soybeans have a high protein content and are rich in vitamins, minerals and insoluble fibre. The bean also contains a good level of potassium, zinc, iron and vitamin E. These are one of the easiest sources of amino acids for vegetarians and vegans.
A great source of healthy fats, salmon is a brilliant choice for packing a punch of protein into a meal.
Another oily fish which is great for adding some heart healthy fats into your diet – you cant go wrong with a tin of sardines or try grilling fresh ones with a Mediterranean style salad.
Extremely low-fat but high in protein, prawns are a great choice for anyone counting the calories and looking to add a healthy protein boost to their meal.
Scallops are a great source of vitamin B12 and also contain omega 3 fatty acids. They also contain potassium and magnesium.
Grass fed lamb is a great source of CLA which is a health supportive omega-6 fatty acid. It is also a great source of selenium and zinc.
Supplementing with Amino Acids
If you are entering a dieting phase, Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a excellent supplement you can use as a tool to minimise muscle loss when reducing your calorie intake.
Dieting is catabolic, which means that you are breaking down fat but also losing some muscle at the same time as a result of this process. Minimising muscle loss will help to keep your metabolism strong and make dieting down a little easier for you. This is because lean muscle tissue will burn more calories at rest than fat.
BCAAs can also help increase your training intensity. This is due to the fact that during exercise, serotonin levels can increase. This increase in serotonin can mean an increase in fatigue. BCAA Energy drinks are some of the best ways to gain these amino acids along with an energy boost prior to exercise.
The role of BCAAs in this instance is to reduce the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain, which in turn decreases the amount of serotonin produced, which results in less fatigue.