Essential Amino Acids: What Are They and How Can You Get Them?

What nutrients from your food can be combined into thousands of different shapes that help every part of your body? What twenty little molecules get turned into the proteins your body needs? They’re called amino acids.

Read on to learn about essential amino acids, where your body gets them, and why they are so vital!

What Are Amino Acids?

Your body uses amino acid molecules to make proteins and help metabolism. The amino acids are like tiny Legos or building blocks, which get attached and linked together in different shapes to make proteins. There are only about 20 types of amino acids, but they can be used to make thousands of different shapes, including spirals, loops, and zigzag sheets, which then make up proteins.

What Do Amino Acids Do?

Amino acids can help with metabolism, muscle growth, and brain function. Some proteins made by amino acids, such as the hemoglobin in the blood, carry nutrients and other substances around the body. Other proteins allow molecules to enter and leave cells.

Does Your Body Make Amino Acids?
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There are 21 different amino acids. Your body manufactures about eleven of these. These are called non-essential amino acids because your body does not need to get them from food, your body can just make them naturally.

But there are nine amino acids that your body can’t make, called essential amino acids. You must get them from food instead. If you don’t eat foods with these amino acids, your body starts to break down muscles and other body parts to manufacture the amino acids.

How Do You Get Amino Acids?

Nutritionists say that you will get enough amino acids from your food if you eat a well-balanced diet. Some people also take amino acid supplements to promote muscle growth or brain health.


Foods with essential amino acids include meat, fish, dairy products, tofu, Brussels sprouts, quinoa, lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds. You need to eat a variety of foods to get the full set of amino acids. For instance, different types of nuts contain different amino acids.


Amino acid supplements are becoming more widely used, especially in athletes. Research has shown that some supplements have specific benefits.

BCAA: The body uses branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA, to increase muscle growth, decrease soreness, and reduce fatigue. The body cannot make BCAAs, but athletes can get these amino acids by eating lots of protein. One supplement, whey protein, made from cow’s milk, has been shown to stimulate muscle building and reduce the rate of muscle breakdown.

GABA: The amino acid Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, helps regulate mood, anxiety, and sleep. Early research shows that GABA might reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It may also lower blood pressure and increase insulin levels in diabetics, but more research is needed.

The body naturally produces GABA during yoga and other activities. Some people take GABA as a dietary supplement. Taking GABA does not cause serious effects.

Get Enough Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids affect every system in your body. If you eat a wide variety of foods and make sure you’re eating foods that contain protein, your body will get enough essential amino acids to keep functioning properly.

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