Let’s face it: Deep down inside, every gymgoer fantasizes about finding that magic bullet, the secret sauce that can build muscle, burn fat, and generally help you realize fitness goals faster and more efficiently. Thousands of exercise supplements promise just that, but let’s face this: If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that few are based on actual science and that the ones that do “work” owe their effectiveness to the magical ingredient known as placebo.
But there is one nutritional supplement that proponents say truly speeds the muscle-building process: amino acids.
A quick biology refresher: Muscle, we know, is tissue that’s made up of protein. That tissue is composed of fibers—and those fibers comprise chains of amino-acid molecules.
All told, there are 20 amino acids that build protein. The body produces 11 of them on its own (the so-called nonessential acids); the remaining nine, the essential amino acids (EAAs), come from food. So when you tuck into a T-bone steak (or some edamame pods), the digestive system breaks down the protein into amino acids, transporting the little guys via the bloodstream to the muscles so they can get to work on building new muscle fibers.
Now think about what happens at the gym. You’re breaking down muscle fibers; muscle building is the healing process. More amino acids, more muscle, the thinking goes. But most guys rightfully don’t want to gnaw on a steak between sets.
But it’s not only brute strength. Some people who supplement their diets with amino acids say they have more energy to push through hard workouts and bounce back from those bouts quicker.
The exercise science community has, for decades, studied the effectiveness of amino acid supplements, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), in particular. They comprise leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Still, there’s little consensus in the scientific community on the supplement’s effectiveness. A study out of the University of Charleston which appeared to show that BCAAs helped guys maintain muscle mass during periods of calorie restriction was criticized for drawing sunnier conclusions than the data would suggest. (The study authors would later revise their findings, acknowledging that more work needed to be done.)
Meanwhile, there is new, promising research into amino acid supplements that looks beyond BCAAs.
Robert Wolfe, a professor and clinical nutrition researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has turned his attention on the entire string of essential amino acids. He’s spent his career attempting to suss out the right formula, the proper ratio of all the aminos that just might boost results.
“The number and quality of muscle fibers are key to muscle health, and consumption of EAAs is the most effective way to positively impact muscle fiber number and quality,” Wolfe says.
Wolfe got interested in EAAs early in his career, caring for the youngest of patients at the Shriners Hospital for Burned Children at Harvard Medical School. With their metabolisms severely hindered, how could he help them get the muscle- and tissue-building nutrition they needed to heal, he wondered.
Decades of research and 23 human clinical trials later, Wolfe has devised a finely calibrated ratio of EAAs that his studies suggest build muscle and reverse age-related strength decline. (A new product is expected to be released this year.)
Wolfe’s EAA blend—which he and the University of Arkansas have patented—is one of the first true innovations in dietary supplementation and muscle health in recent years. Learn more at aminoauthority.com.