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Amino Acids & BCAA

By Joseph Eitel ; Updated July 18, 2017

Amino acids play a major role in several bodily processes, including digestion, growth and tissue repair. There are a total of 20 amino acids your body produces on its own or that you obtain through your diet. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in protein ensures you get all of the amino acids your body needs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and the recommended dietary allowance for sedentary individuals is 0.36 g per lb. of body weight per day. You can also obtain protein and amino acids by consuming them in supplemental forms; however, consult your doctor before doing so.


According to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health, there are three types of amino acids: essential amino acids, which your body doesn’t produce; nonessential amino acids your body can produce; and conditional amino acids, which your body usually makes except in times of stress or sickness. Branched-chain amino acids, referrred to as BCAAs, are a type of essential amino acid.

Essential Amino Acids

A complete protein source is one that contains all eight essential amino acids. Since your body doesn’t make these important substances, you must obtain them from your diet. Food sources include meats, dairy, eggs and soy protein. Leucine, isoleucine, histidine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, valine and threonine are the eight essential amino acids. Similarly, conditional amino acids need to be acquired via your diet if you exercise vigorously on a consistent basis or if you are sick for an extended period of time. Conditional amino acids include glutamic acid, aspartic acid, asparagines and alanine.


There are three amino acids referred to as branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three are of particular importance if you’re looking to build and maintain lean muscle mass. According to a 2006 study published in the "Journal of Nutrition,” BCAAs were shown to speed up muscle recovery and decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness. DOMS is a condition in which muscle soreness lingers days after working out. Whey protein is a rich source of BCAAs.

Protein RDA

Consuming a wide variety of protein sources that fulfill your daily need for the nutrient ensures your body gets the amino acids it needs. If you don’t work out regularly, or do not have a physically demanding job, follow the protein recommended dietary allowance for sedentary people. If you exercise on a consistent basis, your RDA level goes up to 0.68 g of protein per lb. of body weight per day, according to the University of California Los Angeles. Strength-training athletes may need up to 0.82 g per lb. of body weight. Exceeding the protein RDA can cause an increased strain on your kidneys and/or lead to increased body fat.

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