Amino acids, what are they and how do I get them? This post will share all you need to know and provides a list of the seven best foods high in essential amino acids.
When I started my weight loss journey, it fuelled my love for healthy food and clean eating. Naturally, it got me hooked on researching almost anything and everything to do with food and fitness.
At the start, it can feel overwhelming to wanna learn everything. But if y’all have been following me, you know I like to keep things fun and simple!
So I’m breaking down for you one of the vital things we need to know more about; amino acids. Yay! Why do we need them, and what are the top foods you can eat to get a good daily dose of these bad boys? Let’s get to it.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins, commonly known as the “building blocks of life”. When proteins form, they help our bodies build muscle, repair tissue, and perform many other functions. They’re also a good source of energy!
Other amazing benefits of amino acids include:
- They help regulate our mood and sleep
- May promote weight loss
- Decreases muscle soreness (post-workout)
- Increases muscle growth
- Helps with liver health
What Are The Types Of Amino Acids?
There are 20 amino acids, categorized into three types: essential, non-essential, and conditional.
- Here, we will be focusing on the essential ones because our bodies can’t produce them. Luckily, we can get these AA’s from *drumroll* food!
What Are The 9 Amino Acids Only Found in Food?
The nine essential amino acids include:
- Phenylalanine: Aids your body by using other amino acids, proteins, and enzymes.
- Leucine: Helps with muscle repair and protein synthesis. It also helps your body stimulate wound healing, produces growth hormones, and regulates blood sugar levels.
- Isoleucine: Crucial for energy regulation, immune function, hemoglobin production, and muscle metabolism.
- Tryptophan: A neurotransmitter that’s responsible for your appetite, mood, and sleep. It is a precursor to melatonin (regulates sleep) and serotonin (for hunger, sleep, mood, and pain).
- Valine: Stimulates your muscle growth, energy, and tissue repair. Valine also links to calmness, focus, and muscle coordination.
- Threonine: Helps in fat metabolism, good for healthy teeth and skin. It’s also an integral part of structural proteins such as collagen and elastin — good for your skin’s anti-aging!
- Methionine: Helps take care of your nails and plays a crucial role in detoxification and metabolism. It also aids your body in absorbing zinc and selenium.
- Lysine: Good for building muscles, bone health, regulating hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. It also helps you recover from surgeries and injuries.
- Histidine: Good for tissue repair, and the creation of blood cells. If you’re familiar with histamine, the body metabolizes histidine into this. Histamine helps with digestion, immunity, and reproductive health.
Take note: Arginine is not usually an essential amino acid for adults but is considered essential for young people.
Do Any Foods Have All 20 Amino Acids?
Yes, the seven foods I list below are considered complete protein sources because they contain all 20 amino acids, including the nine essential ones! In contrast, some foods are considered incomplete proteins (meaning they may lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids).
What causes amino acid deficiency?
Several factors can cause the deficiency in amino acids, such as a poor diet, stress, an infection, environment, toxins, and other possible health concerns.
And just because you’re eating a lot of protein, it doesn’t mean your body can break it all down properly (it has to be broken down into amino acids for absorption).
Below are possible reasons behind poor amino acid absorption and synthesis:
- Digestive problems – Get enough fiber with the 21 Top Foods High in Fiber.
- An unhealthy diet
- Biochemical factors
- Allergic factors
- Diseases that may weaken your metabolic systems
Deficiencies may impact your body’s immune, digestive, reproductive, and nervous systems, so it’s great to be aware of what we can do to help our bodies increase absorption and consume amino acids.
What Foods Are High in Essential Amino Acids?
Here’s a list of the best foods you can eat to maximize the benefits of these life-giving compounds. Now that you know how vital they are for your body’s overall health and wellbeing, I hope you get to try some of the recipes I’ve linked in each section!
- Red meat: It’s gotten a bad rep over the years, but it’s a great source of protein, packed with essential nutrients when consumed in moderation.
I love cooking lean meats such as flank steak as a healthy alternative to unhealthy fatty or processed ones. Other more beneficial cuts are round steaks, filet mignon, and leaner burger patties!
- Fish: Another protein I love cooking! Fish is super healthy and loaded with proteins, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids (great for your body and brain health).
Are you looking for an easy dinner recipe to try? Try this pan-fried salmon. The rub will blow your mind. Salmon contains vitamin B12, which is an excellent fatigue fighter.
- Chicken: Also part of my most-cooked meals. (Not guilty at all!) Chicken is rich in protein and contains iron and zinc.
It also contains tryptophan, an amino acid linked to the production of serotonin, known as the “feel-good” hormone in our brains. It also helps regulate our mood and sleep patterns. Need more chicken recipes? Here’s 40.
- Eggs: I’ve talked a lot about the benefits of eggs. How can I not? They’re yummy, they fill you up fast, and they are nutritionally dense. They have essential proteins, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
Switch up your next breakfast with this avocado toast with soft-boiled egg recipe.
- Turkey: Turkey is a great and healthy way to load up on protein if you’re not getting enough. It has beneficial minerals such as niacin (great for your nervous and digestive system plus skin) and magnesium (muscle and nerve functions plus energy production).
No need to wait for thanksgiving! Try my Ground Turkey Meal Prep: Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash Noodles.
- Low-fat dairy: A great example would be greek yogurt. And this is close to my heart. So close that I’ve made a list of greek yogurt recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.
Greek yogurt is a nutritional powerhouse! It’s known to help reduce appetite, digestive health, mental health, plus more benefits. It’s also rich in protein, probiotics, calcium, iodine, and vitamin B12.
- Quinoa: A healthier alternative to white rice, quinoa is a complete protein that’s high in fiber, minerals and is gluten-free. A promising study shows it may also be good for your gut and may contain anti-inflammatory benefits.
I urge you to try eating more of this superfood! Here’s a list of my best quinoa recipes.
How Can I Get Amino Acids Naturally?
The body requires all 20 amino acids. Good news: 11 of them (non-essential amino acids), can already be produced by a healthy body.
So you will only need to get 9 of them (essential amino acids) from your diet. Make sure you add the foods listed to get your required intake! Other plant-based foods packed with essential amino acids are nuts, beans, legumes, and seeds.
And if you’re looking to level up your health on a whole new level, check out my 30-Day Healthy program. I’m sharing some of my favorite amazing recipes, health and fitness hacks that will help boost your energy, confidence, and zest for life!
This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.