Amino acids, which do I need and what contains them?

Your body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function. What are amino acids and how do I know if I'm getting enough? This and more!

Amino acids, what are they?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein (protein). If you were to take protein apart, all the small amino acids would fall out that together form the amino acid profile of the protein. Different protein sources have different amino acid profiles.

A large part of human cells are considered protein, such as muscles, organs and tissue. Amino acids play a vital role in keeping these cells healthy and functioning.

They support the transport and storage of nutrients, and they have an important function in wound healing. In addition, they help organs, muscles, tendons, glands and veins to function.Also, the heart is considered a large muscle, specific amino acids are essential for a healthy heart.

Specific amino acids are used as a dietary supplement to improve your mood, sport performance and rest / sleep.

Which amino acids are essential and which are not?

If you do some research on amino acids, you will often hear the term essential and non-essential. Out of the 20 amino acids our body needs, 9 are essential. Our body cannot produce the 9 essential amino acids. These amino acids need to be absorb out of our diet.

Can you get a shortage of non-essential amino acids? Even thought the body produces non-essential amino acids does not mean you cannot get a shortage. For instance, if the body is fighting cancer it might be that the body cannot keep up with the production of Arginine. It would be wise to use extra supplementation or adjust your diet to support your body.

It is also possible that due to kidney problems you drain amino acids from the blood into the urine. This will lead to a shortage in both essential and non-essential amino acids.

List of essential amino acids: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan and Valine.

List of Non-Essential Amino Acids: Alanine, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Beta Alanine, Carnitine, Cysteine, Glutamine, Glycine, Proline, Serine, Taurine and Tyrosine.

In this blog we will focus on the essential amino acids and in which protein sources / food they occur the most.

How do I know if I’m getting enough essential amino acids?

Essential amino acids are found in large numbers in our diet. This is also the reason that our bodies do not make them, because there is plenty in our food. The right question to ask is am I getting the right ratio?

Our amino acid needs have evolved with the amino acids we naturally get through food. The essential amino acids are the most abundant in the amino acid profile of our diet. By amino acid profile I mean the composition of amino acids that make up a specific protein source. Yet you see differences, soy has a different amino acid profile than chicken meat (Chicken Protein).

Our body needs different amino acid ratio’s and quantities throughout different stages of our life. Growing children have a different need than adults. People that do physical work or are pro athletes have different needs then someone who works at an office.

For example, you can eat a lump of one-sided protein but still not get enough essential amino acids for optimal muscle growth or normal function of your body.

You can show this best with a picture of a barrel. Below you see that lysine is the first limiting amino acid, so the barrel can only be filled with water up to lysine. The water holding capacity of the barrel is equal to the maximum muscle growth. If your body only receives 70% of its lysine needs, you will never be able to achieve full growth potential. 

What is my amino acid requirement?

The table below shows the amino acid requirement according to the world health organisation. In the second row I calculated the ratio in relation to the first limiting amino acid Leucine. This ratio helps us compare protein sources. If an amino acid is lower in relation to Leucine than the requirement, you will have to eat more to meet the requirement. By calculating the relationship you can quickly see whether a certain source is short of an amino acid.

Animal protein sources almost always contain sufficient amount of amino acids. The amino acids ratio’s in meats are very similar. This applies to regular meat as well as organ meats.

Multiply your amino acid needs times your body weight to find out how much you need!

* mg per dag per kg lichaamsgewicht WHO
Meth + cyst150.38
Fenyl + tyr250.64

Protein digestibility, why is it important?

Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), that’s a mouthful. The PDCAAS is a method to indicate how well a protein source is digestible  and how much the amino acid ratio fits our needs.

Eggs, whey, cow’s milk all score 1.0, soybeans 0.91, chicken 0.95 and beef 0.92. In short, this means that you need to consume 5% more chicken protein than egg protein to fulfill you amino acid needs.

The PDCAAS is a great way to identify whether your diet contains enough digestible amino acids to fit your needs. You can check it without this method but it is not easy. You would need to find the digestibility per amino acid for each protein product.

Checking whether your amino acid needs are met is extra important for vegans. The digestibility and the amino acid profile differ greatly in plant proteins. Animal protein sources are generally better digestible and have an amino acid profile that better reflects our needs.

What do I use?

Personally, I don’t use any powdered protein products except for my liver and heart capsules. I eat enough animal protein to meet my amino acid requirement. If I ever need extra, I choose whey protein, which scores a 100% in the PDCAAS. Vegans should opt for a soy protein isolate, which scores 97% in the PDCAAS. This is the best score for a vegetable protein source. But you might want to google about soy and isoflavones, I’m not getting involved in this discussion on my blog.

Hopefully I was able to give you a little more insight into  amino acids. I could go deeper into this with example calculations in our amino acid needs, but I don’t think this is of added value. Leave a comment if you have any questions or comments!


Kijk verder

Related Posts

What are Free Radicals

Everyone has to deal with free radicals. Nevertheless, not everyone knows exactly what they are. And why, for example, it is so important to be aware of it. With that in mind, we therefore dive deeper into everything that has to do with free radicals.


The function of the liver in humans

The liver is one of the
critical organs in humans. This organ has multiple functions, making it
involved in many processes. The liver is therefore well protected by the human body. The lower ribs
of the chest fall over the liver.