It's easy to assume that protein powders are fairly simple, straightforward supplements. After all, all you really need to look at is the protein content, right? No. Not really. In addition to examining the entire list of ingredients for potentially harmful additives, there is one more element you should be concerned with: amino acids.
What Are Amino Acids?
As you might remember from high school biology class, amino acids are the building blocks of life. Every cell, tissue and hormone in your body is constructed out of amino acids arranged into a variety of structures.
But what do amino acids have to do with protein powders? All proteins are made out of various levels of amino acids. Once you ingest these proteins, your body breaks them down into their component aminos which can then be rebuilt to fill whatever needs exist within your system.
Types of Amino Acids
All told, there are 20 amino acids that play a variety of functions within your body. Typically, these amino acids are divided into three different classes. First, there are so-called “non-essential” amino acids. Although the name would suggest otherwise, these amino acids do fulfil vital functions. The reason they are considered non-essential, however, is that your body has the ability to synthesis them from other compounds; you do not need to get them through your diet.
Then we have “essential” amino acids, which your body cannot create on its own. Included in this group are tryptophan, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, valine, isoleucine and leucine – all of which can only be procured through your diet.
Finally, there are the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) valine, isoleucine and leucine, which are actually essential amino acids that have an entirely unique chemical structure that allows them to serve as carriers for other aminos. BCAAs also help to spare muscle fibers during a fast and allow sugar to be used more efficiently as fuel.
Understanding Amino Acid Profiles
Clearly, for a protein to be most beneficial, it should contain all of these amino acids in adequate levels. This, however is not always the case. When a protein does not carry all of the essential amino acids its referred to as being “incomplete.” Logically, a protein that does offer every essential amino acid is “complete.”
Again, your body does have the ability to create non-essential amino acids. Providing these through your diet, though, will only help to ensure that you have enough when your body needs them the most.