Amino acids are like legos. They come in many different shapes and sizes and they join together to form structures in our body called proteins. But these structures are constantly breaking down and falling apart, so your body needs a steady supply of them to repair and rebuild.
There are 20 amino acids, eleven of which you don’t need to worry about because you produce them yourself. But there are nine very special amino acids that your body desperately needs to function properly. They are called the ESSENTIAL NINE. These are the legos you don’t have in your collection; they are the missing ones you need to build magnificent, vital protein structures.
What do they help build?
The essential nine amino acids can be broken down into three groups. Without getting into too much technical detail–because that’s not how I roll–they form structures for your brain, skin and metabolism, and muscle.
Phenylalanine forms neurotransmitters that help us think, feel pleasure, and create adrenaline–a hormone that gives us a shot of energy.
Tryptophan produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, sleep, and mood.
Histidine is vital for immune function and producing histamine, a compound that responds to injury and allergens. Histidine protects us, but sometimes it can get fooled into thinking harmless allergens are foreign invaders, which is why some of us need to take antihistamines to prevent allergic reactions.
Skin and Metabolism
Lysine and Threonine mainly build collagen and elastin, which keeps our skin looking young and healthy. They also are important in immune and metabolic function.
Methionine helps produce DNA. It also builds molecules important for energy metabolism.
Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine are the famous branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). You’ve probably heard athletes and weight-lifting meatheads fantasizing about them at the gym. They are involved in muscle growth, repair, and wound healing. Valine stimulates muscle growth. Leucine repairs muscles and creates new ones. And isoleucine supports muscle metabolism.
Where can I find the Essential Nine?
Eat foods that are complete proteins, meaning they contain ALL of the essential nine amino acids. Examples are meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods. Basically, stuff from animals. If you’re a veg-head, you’ll have to be a little more creative. Soy, quinoa, and buckwheat are complete protein sources, but all other plants are incomplete proteins and do not contain all the essential nine. To ensure you’re getting all the legos your body needs to build–eat a variety of plants, or supplement your diet, and you’ll be well on your way to maintaining some of the most fantastical structures in the human body.