Can Essential Amino Acids Help You Burn Fat? - The Muscle PhD

Can Essential Amino Acids Help You Burn Fat?

You’ve always been told about the importance of protein in building muscle, or how essential amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and support muscle repair and recovery. However, what if that’s not all you want? Should it really be so hard to get the best of both worlds: Lose weight AND build muscle? Well, one thing’s for sure, your protein building blocks can actually help you get fit and be lean, because essential amino acids (EAA), are just what your body needs to get started on your goals.

What Are Essential Amino Acids?

Despite what a lot of people will go the distance to tell you, macronutrients aren’t everything. If you’re trying to lose weight, the quality of your protein plays a major role. Your body needs certain kinds of high quality protein in order to deliver essential amino acids to your body, whether that be through diet, or supplements. While we typically get 20 amino acids from our daily diet, 9 of these acids can’t be produced internally, these are referred to as “essential amino acids.”

One measure of assessing protein quality is how well a protein source can deliver essential amino acids to your body. Any protein source that cannot deliver all of the EAAs is considered an “incomplete protein.” Conversely, complete proteins are proteins that contain all the essential amino acids. This includes: meat, eggs, dairy products.

Now that we’ve got a firm foundation, how does that actually help you burn fat?

Protein Synthesis

While you might know that your diet plays an integral part in your muscle gain and fat loss, you may not know just how much influence your diet can have on your training. If your diet is low on EAAs, no matter how hard you workout or how long you spend at the gym, you’re going to lose muscle. Essential amino acids heavily influence your body composition, as they are the amino acids responsible for triggering protein synthesis, or short-term muscle building.

Short-term muscle building is an energetically demanding process that forces your body to drain energy in a cell. Simply, because your body needs so much energy to build your muscle, you actually end up burning more calories at rest while recovering from hard workouts. Not only does this help with fat loss by itself, but it can also increase the mitochondria in your cells, thus enhancing fat burning even more.

Not All Proteins Are Created Equal  

Complete proteins can make or break your diet. Complete proteins are proteins that give all the essential amino acids, such as: meat, eggs, and dairy products. On the other hand, incomplete proteins cannot deliver all the essential amino acids, such as: beans, legumes, tofu, soy, or vegetables. These incomplete proteins are lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. Except for soy, it actually has all the essential amino acids, but is low on a lot of them.

The Better Essential Amino Acid for Protein Synthesis 

We’ve mentioned that our body needs 9 essential amino acids that it can’t produce on its own, however, which one should you focus on while building muscle? Leucine is considered a quality amino acid, and can aid in protein synthesis. In fact, we often consider leucine to be the “key” to triggering protein synthesis. You’ll need about 2-3 grams of leucine to maximize protein synthesis.

Here’s a guideline for when you’re looking for leucine:

The so-called switch to turn on protein synthesis is generally when your EAAs concentration is double what your body needs. The EAAs you consume can either flip the switch to maximize protein synthesis or it doesn’t. Achieving maximal protein synthesis depends on whether or not your EAA intake surpasses your body’s threshold. A source like whey protein definitely doubles your EAAs concentration However, soy protein, as previously mentioned, is low on all EAAs, so it’ll be very hard for it to double the EAAs concentration.

A Real-Life Study

Back in 2012, we conducted a study using baseball players. We were looking at what we call the essential amino acid threshold. As mentioned before, you need to double the amount of EAAs in your blood to trigger protein synthesis, which leads to muscle growth and theoretically fat loss. While we took a look at the body composition of our baseball players, we were trying to find out how many times a day they cross this essential amino acid threshold. To cross the threshold, the athletes had to consume 10 grams of EAA. These can come from consuming 25 to 35 grams of protein or from supplementing with 10 to 15 grams of essential amino acids.

We Found Something Amazing

The more times they spiked in protein per day, or, the more time they crossed that EAA threshold, the leaner they were! Especially in the mid section, which is where we looked during the study. Who doesn’t want to be leaner in their mid-section!?

Final Thoughts on EAAs

How can you maximize how lean you actually are? You need to consume essential amino acids whether in the form of 25-35 grams of high quality protein, or in the form of supplements, for a minimum of 4 to 6 times a day. We highly suggest taking essential amino acids if you’re not getting them already. This is especially useful for people on vegan or vegetarian diets that are naturally low in EAAs.

We hope this helped you understand how surpassing your essential amino acids threshold can actually help you lose fat. We’ll see you again next time you have any questions!

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