Performance Nutrition Blog

  • Amazing Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Life

    Meatheads. We all know one or have observed one in its natural habit, the gym. For the less up-to-date on current slang, according to urban dictionary a meathead is:

    An enormously muscular guy who cannot hold a conversation about anything other than weight-lifting and protein shakes. Gets upset very quickly when he cannot complete his own sentences and thoughts. Can be found at nightclubs wearing shirts that are 10 sizes too small (if at all). They are by far the most closely related human beings to that of apes, chimpanzees, and other primates. They are evolutionarily hindered and are less capable of following directions than my dead hamster.                  

    Let’s not confuse meatheads with professional athletes such football players, body builders, fitness models and those individuals who make a professional living from being physically elite. We are also going to exclude those populations that participate in body competitions as a hobby.

    When I use the term ‘meathead’, I am referencing those individuals who utilize every supplement on the market for the sake of vanity and nothing else. They have no rhyme or reason for taking the five different protein powders that they do each day, they just do it because it makes them “look good”. They are muscular simply for the sake of being muscular and view themselves as being healthy even though they consume illegal pills and non-FDA approved supplements that make them “stronger”.

    So why am I picking on meatheads? Please note that even made a reference to a meathead’s prolific use of protein powders which is today’s topic…well the protein part anyways.

    When most of us think about the term ‘protein’, we often think of meat such as chicken, pork and beef. Most of us know that protein is the necessary nutrient for building and maintaining muscle. And frankly put, as Americans, we love the stuff. After all, steak, burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, pork chops and ribs are staple meats in the American diet.

    What you may not know, however, is that the term ‘protein’ refers to a larger compound that is comprised of smaller compounds called amino acids. The average meathead has probably seen the term ‘amino acid’ used in some form on the packaging of the protein supplements that he purchases on a regular basis. (Please note: women can be meatheads too although they are a far rarer variety. Rather, the fad dieter is a far more common occurrence in the female gender and will be discussed in future posts).

    Simply put, amino acids are the organic compounds that combine to form proteins.

    So why should you care that amino acids are the compounds that form and create a protein?

    You should care because amino acids are the building blocks of life.

    Not only do amino acids combine to form proteins but they are also intermediates in metabolism. This means that they catalyze (start) almost all of the chemical reactions that take place within a living cell. This catalyzation is the result of the work performed by an enzyme, which is a protein. Amino acids also control virtually all cellular processes. And ultimately, it is the chemical properties of the individual amino acids comprising a protein, along with the sequencing/order that these amino acids are in, that determines the biological activity of said protein and its three dimensional structure, along with the resulting stability of said structure.

    image align left For simplicity’s sake, we are going to say that there are twenty amino acids total, eleven of which are produced by the human body. The other nine must be supplied via the diet thereby making them essential amino acids.

    Failure to obtain enough of even one of these nine essential amino acids will result in the degradation of the body’s proteins – muscles and the like – to obtain the one amino acid that is needed. And unlike fat and starch, the human body generally does not store excess amino acids for later use.


    Darlena, why do you keep repeating yourself? Um duh, it’s because I like to hear myself talk…or in this case, read my own repetitious sentences…

    And also because that $30 jar of protein powder that your meathead friend just purchased means that he is probably producing among the most expensive urines out there because any protein that is not needed will either be burned for energy or excreted. Oh and while the body does not store excess protein, it does store the excess calories…as fat.

    The truth of the matter is that the American diet is inherently high in protein consumption meaning that the majority of Americans consume enough protein on a daily basis to meet their protein needs. This is good news because it means that the likelihood you’re missing out on one of the nine essential amino acids is slim. Therefore, you probably don’t need to worry about your body breaking down your muscle and organ tissue to meet its protein needs. YAY!

    Now for the bad news: if you’re an average American who partakes in moderate physical activity and you utilize $30 jars of protein powders to “enhance” your workout experience, then you’re probably producing expensive urine just like your meathead friend. Even if you’re like me, an individual who works out on a daily basis with workouts that range from running to aerial silk acrobatics to weight lifting, you still do not need protein supplementation.

    The fact is that very few individuals within the total population legitimately need any form of supplementation outside of a daily multivitamin. Individuals who may generally need additional supplementation, in the form of protein and the like, includes collegiate athletes, professional athletes and vegetarians (depending on the type). Please realize that this list is by no means extensive.

    Your Body is a Mansion: A Continued Analogy

    In my previous post I utilized the mansion analogy to explain what a vitamin is and its impactful role within the human body. To reiterate, vitamins are like the maids and butlers that help maintain the property while calories are the electricity that supplies the mansion with energy and minerals are the mortar and bricks that strengthen the frame of the mansion. With that being said, amino acids are the framework of the mansion, the building blocks upon which everything else is build.

    Recall your childhood days when you used to eat alphabet soup. Proteins have a specific spelling in the same way that words must be spelled a certain way in order for us to know what they are and what they mean. Therefore, amino acids are like the individual letters that comprise a word.

    In the same way that the order of the letters determines what word is spelled and what it means, the manner in which the frame of the mansion is laid down determines how the mansion will look. After all, the human body is 20% protein just like how the frame of a mansion is not a majority of the materials that comprise it, but it has a tremendous impact on the shape, size and functionality of the mansion.

    And yes, I just used an analogy in order to explain an analogy in order to explain amino acids and proteins.


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