If you slept through chemistry class, you probably forgot the mnemonic device for memorizing the essential amino acids: PVT TIM HALL (say Private Tim Hall). The essential aminos include phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, arginine (essential in the young), lysine and leucine. They are “essential” because we need them in our diet due to the fact that our bodies don’t produce them. Scientists have discovered that the EAAs may indeed be among the most anabolic of nutrients.
Several studies from different labs have proven that. For instance, a recent study from the American Journal of Nutrition looked at 41 patients—average age 79—with various health maladies such as coronary artery disease (73 percent) and femoral fracture (34 percent); they were randomly assigned to receive oral essential amino acids, four grams two times a day for eight weeks, or a placebo that contained about the same number of calories. Researchers found that supplementation with eight grams of EAAs daily improved several determinants of quality of life in the elderly patients, including depressive symptoms, nutrition, muscle function and daily life activity.1 Pretty impressive!
Now let’s check out what happens when we supplement EAAs during exercise. Eight healthy adults completed two separate bouts of bicycling exercise for 60 minutes at 60 percent of maximum. They were given isonitrogenous drinks—containing 10 grams of EAAs—with different leucine contents during exercise. Muscle protein synthesis and whole-body protein turnover were determined.
Results: Muscle protein synthesis was 33 percent greater after subjects consumed the leucine-enriched EAA cocktail, with 3.5 grams, than with EAAs alone. Whole-body protein breakdown and synthesis were lower and oxidation was greater as well. So increasing the amount of leucine in an EAA supplement did indeed elevate the anabolic response.
Clearly, muscle protein synthesis is governed by many factors, and leucine has been identified as one of the key dietary factors. EAAs have been shown to be a great preworkout supplement that can enhance muscle hypertrophy as well as strength and power. Spiking an EAA cocktail with leucine may be one of the best stacks that any bodybuilder or competitive athlete can take. A great preworkout stack would be 10 grams of EAA, 3.5 grams of added leucine, 250 milligrams caffeine and a cognitive booster like alpha-GPC at 400 milligrams.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (www.theissn.org); also check out his site www.TheWeekend
1 Rondanelli, M., et al. (2011). Effect of essential amino acid supplementation on quality of life, Amino acid profile and strength in institutionalized elderly patients. Clin Nutr. May 31.