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Do Amino Acids Work for Fat Loss?

Using amino acids for fat loss and muscle building has become a popular trend in the nutrition industry.

When it comes to losing weight, shredding fat and optimizing body composition, diet is key.

The foods you eat will either make or break your progress – it really is that important.

If you’ve ever seen the muscular guys in the gym parading their luminous green shaker drinks like a badge of honor, you’ll have seen amino acid supplements before.

You might have even tried them yourself.

But do these building blocks of protein provide any benefit or are they an expensive supplement best left on the shelves?

In this article we take a detailed look at the research.


What are Amino Acids?

If you’re a regular reader of this website we’re guessing you’re pretty familiar with protein – the macronutrient responsible for growth, maintenance and repair of human tissue.

Amino acids are the component ‘building blocks’ of protein. They join together like links in a chain to form peptides- and these peptides connect to form proteins. All of your muscle, hair, skin and so on are made from these strings of peptides.

Essentially, you are just a walking bag of amino acids.

Essential and non-essential building blocks

There are literally hundreds of amino acids. But in the context of human dietary metabolism there are 20.

From these 20, you can split them into two categories:

  • Non-essential – there are a total of 11 amino acids that your body prefers to obtain from food but can make itself if it needs to. These include glutamine, tyrosine and arginine for example.
  • Essential – there are 9 amino acids that you can’t manufacture yourself and have to get them from your diet. These include leucine, valine and tryptophan.

Interestingly, some nonessential aminos are also classed as conditional. 

This means that your body can make them, but only when you are fit and well. If you are ill they become essential.

Foods such as meat, seafood and eggs contain all of the essential amino molecules, and are therefore classed as complete protein foods. Grains, nuts and beans only contain some essential amino acids and are therefore classed as incomplete proteins.

Why are amino acids important?

These human construction blocks are more important than simply forming muscle. They provide life support for pretty much every aspect of your body.

They are biological catalysts that help to synthesis everything from proteins and hormones, to enzymes, antibodies and neurotransmitters.

Amino acids also represent the largest relative group of nutrients available to the human body [1].


Youn, dark-haired woman in the gym drinking BCAAs

Amino Acids for Fat Loss and Muscle Building

When it comes to a diet rich in protein, it’s a well known fact that maintaining a positive net protein synthesis is important when both building muscle and trying to lose fat.

When trying to improve your body composition and training in the gym regularly you should be aiming for around 0.7-1 g per lb of body weight [2]. That’s the equivalent of only 122 g of protein for an average weight male. 4 chicken breasts if you want to know how much in food.

To maximize protein synthesis it is important to obtain as many essential amino acids as possible. Focusing on complete protein foods help you achieve this.

What are amino acid supplements?

When you eat protein your body digests it using various mechanical and chemical processes. It chops and churns the food up and eventually breaks it down into small usable parts – peptides; and then amino acids.

They are then shipped off to different parts of your body to do what they do best.

Some will make eyelashes. Others will make finger nails. Some of course will contribute to maintaining or stimulating bicep or quad gains.

Taking off-the-shelf amino acids for fat loss make sense at face value. They are high in essential protein building blocks – especially the acids referred to as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA).

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

Because these supplements provide you with the smallest usable parts of protein, manufactures of amino acids for fat loss claim that they are absorbed quicker and can therefore help to stimulate protein synthesis quicker than if you ate an egg or a chicken breast for example.

But the science doesn’t really back up these claims…


  • Key Point: The three branched chain amino acids are called leucine, isoleucine and valine.

Amino Acids for Fat Loss: What Do The Studioes Say?

When it comes to fat loss, there are a number of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that can accelerate your results. Instant Knockout of course is the most potent, powerful and reliable of them all.

But when it comes to amino acids for fat loss, you’ll likely be left disappointed.

Here’s what the current evidence has to say…

No benefits to BCAA supplements during fat loss dieting

In a recent letter to the editor of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [3], expert researcher and writer Brad Dieter suggested that recent studies showing some benefits to BCAA supplementation were inaccurate.

He showed that there were flaws in previous statistical analyses suggesting a ‘significant decrease in fat mass’ with BCAA use, but ‘quizzical’ decisions with data meant that benefits were reported when they shouldn’t havebeen.

Amino acids don’t boost muscle mass

Many new methods of fat loss focus on strength training as away of maintaining muscle mass during aggressive dieting.

The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate runs. And it appears that one BCAA – leucine – is the main molecule responsible for elevating protein synthesis via a mechanism as mToR [4].

Amino acids for fat loss via muscle building though just doesn’t work according to research.

The fact that leucine in food builds muscle is undisputed. But it appears that BCAAs don’t stimulate muscle as much as whole protein does [5].

Let’s not forget – amino acids for fat loss are high in calories

One part of calorie tracking that is often neglected is factoring in the energy value of amino acid supplements.

Protein gives you 4 kcal per gram – the same for carbs. Fat on the other hand gives you a higher energy yield of 9 kcal per gram

BCAAs provide a surprisingly high amount of energy though…

  • Valine – 6 kcal per gram
  • Leucine – 6.5 kcal per gram
  • Isoleucine – 6.5 kcal per gram

When you’re on a diet you need to monitor all incoming calories. Being reckless with BCAAs leaves you much more likely to ruin your calorie deficit.

BCAAs can stimulate appetite… not suppress it

When you’re on a calorie deficit diet you want to feel as full as possible for as long as possible.

Calorie restriction is key to stimulating fatty acid release from adipose cells. Without a deficit, fat loss can’t take place.

Using amino acid for fat loss is contradictory as all current research points to an appetite stimulatory effect [6]. And the last thing you want is to feel hungrier when you’re trying to monitor your food intake.

Amino acids have no benefit if you’re eating enough protein

Unless you’re insistent on following a low-protein diet, BCAA supplementation offers zero benefit.

If you look at the studies [7], the only time BCAAs have been seen to offer any muscle-maintaining benefits is in cancer patients, kidney disease patients and suffers of anorexia.

All of these groups are associated with low-protein, low-calorie diets.

In healthy adults with sufficient protein there’s just no point. It’s like trying to add more water to an already full bucket.

And when it comes to choosing an expensive amino acid for fat loss or a reasonably priced complete protein there’s no question which better for overall nutrition.


Young woman in pink sports top drinking sports top

Summary – Are Amino Acids for Fat Loss Worth it?

Protein is an important part of any weight loss diet. It keeps you full and helps to maintain protein synthesis.

But amino acids just don’t provide any benefits if you’re already hitting your protein recommendations. Amino acids for fat loss are just a waste of money and time.

Instead, you should just focus on maintaining a calorie deficit, include strength training in your program and achieve 0.7-1 g of protein per pound of body weight.


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References

  1. Christensen, HN. Role of amino acid transport and counter transport in nutrition and metabolism. Physiol Rev. 1990; 70(1): 43-77
  2. Phillips, SM et al. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011; 29 Suppl 1: S29-38
  3. Dieter, BP, The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13: 21
  4. Kimball, SR et al. Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis. J Nutr. 2006; 136(1): 227S-31S
  5. Hulmi, JJ et al. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010; 7: 51
  6. Bachmanov, AA et al. Genetics of amino acid taste and appetite. Adv Nutr. 2016; 7(4): 806S-822S
  7. Laviano, A et al. Therapy Insight: cancer anorexia–cachexia syndrome—when all you can eat is yourself. Nature Clin Prac Oncol. 2005; 2: 158-165


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