Essential amino acids – which are they and how does one get hold of them?

An essential or indispensiable amino acid is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized de novo (i.e. from scratch) by the organism, and thus must be supplied in one’s diet.

According to William Cummung Rose’s (1887-1985) work, as well as later studies, nine amino acids are essential for both adults and infants: valine, phenylalanine, threonine, thryptophan, leucine, elecine, lysine, hystodine, and methionine. Arginine is also essential for infants.

If one broadens the scope there is also semi-essential and non-essential amino acids which are all of more or less relevance, but I will mainly focus on the essential ones and and how one can absorb them by to eat properly.

Good sources of essential amino acids are for instance white fish, chicken, eggs and quark, as well as various plants and fruits such as apples, bananas, sesame, broccoli, soybeans, tofu, carrots and seaweeds. Thus, for a vegetarian it is somewhat more tricky in this respect and even more so for a vegan.

Perhaps the most optimal approach – especially if one is interested in fitness – is to have a diet akin to for instance this one. The important thing is to cover all the essential and semi-essential amino acids and to avoid both over-consumption and deficits. If one eats moderately of animal protein sources, and/or large amount of relevant vegetable sources, then it will be just fine with regard to essential amino acids.

Additionally, as the quotes below indicate – which are both taken from a relevant study – it is also about nutritional balance and to overall cover all the known amino acids:

Western diets are characterized by high omega-6 and low omega-3 fatty acid intake, whereas during the Palaeolithic period when human’s genetic profiles were being established, there was a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids as well as amino acids [1-3, 9-16]. Therefore, humans today live in a nutritional environment that differs from that for which our genetic constitution was selected. Cohort studies have demonstrated that European vegetarian diets of Seventh-Day Adventists, Mediterranean diet (fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, wine fish, chicken), Japanese diets; (vegetables, raw fish, whole rice), IndoMediterraneandiet (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and mustard oil) and the French paradox diet ( vegetables and wine) are protective against cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. All these diets are rich in amino acids as well as w-3 fatty acids, however, only omega-3 fatty acids has been considered in the mechanism of benefit without any consideration for amino acids. The total energy from proteins may be approximately 16% en per day which is closer to huntergatherers diet.


Essential and nonessential amino acids consist of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon atoms. These simple molecules play an important role in the human body [5, 17- 19]. The 22 known amino acids, essential and nonessential, affect a broad range of physical and mental processes. Recent studies have witnessed the discovery that amino acids are cell signalling molecules as well as being regulators of gene expression and the protein phosphorylation cascade [5]. Majority of the neurotransmitters can influence mind-body interactions and are composed of amino acids. Additionally, amino acids are key precursors for syntheses of hormones and low-molecular weight nitrogenous substances with each having enormous biological importance. Physiological concentrations of amino acids and their metabolites (e.g., nitric oxide, polyamines, glutathione, taurine, thyroid hormones, and serotonin) are required for the biological functions in our body. However, elevated levels of amino acids and their products (e.g., ammonia, homocysteine, and asymmetric dimethylarginine) are pathogenic factors for neurological disorders, oxidative stress, and cardiovascular disease. Thus, an optimal balance among amino acids in the diet and circulation is crucial for whole body homeostasis. There is growing recognition that besides their role as building blocks of proteins and polypeptides, some amino acids regulate key metabolic pathways that are necessary for maintenance, growth, reproduction, and immunity. They are called functional amino acids, which include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, leucine, proline, and tryptophan. Dietary supplementation with one or a mixture of these amino acids may be beneficial [5, 17-19] for ameliorating health problems at various stages of the life cycle (e.g., fetal growth restriction, neonatal morbidity and mortality, weaningassociated intestinal dysfunction and wasting syndrome, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, the metabolic syndrome, and infertility) [5]. Amino acids can also optimize efficiency of metabolic transformations to enhance muscle growth, milk production, egg and meat quality and athletic performance, while preventing excess fat deposition and reducing adiposity. Thus, amino acids have important functions in both nutrition and health.

De essentiella aminosyrorna är valin, treonin, fenylalanin, trypofan, leucin, isoleucin, metionin, lysin och hystin. För barn är även arginin essentiell.

För att få i sig en tillräcklig mängd av dessa krävs i allmänhet det som av experter vagt brukar kallas en “allsidig och varierad kost”. Mer specifikt handlar det om till exempel animaliska, proteinrika källor som vit fisk, ägg, kyckling och kvarg, samt vegetabiliska dito, som sesamfrön, chiafrön, sojaprotein/tofu, jordnötter, bönor, broccoli, morötter och sjögräs.

Man kan förslagsvis följa dessa riktlinjer, och därmed äta en högre grad av animaliskt protein om man är fitnessutövande.


5 diet principles for ecologically conscious fitness people

When it is a fact that the consumption of regular kinds of meat and close to all sorts of dairy products – whether from birds (poultry), cows, pigs, fish or some other category of animals – are continuously increasing in for example Brazil, China, certain countries and regions in Africa and Asia, it feels almost silly to try to influence the behaviors of other people on a micro level. Because even if for instance Swedes would drastically decrease their consumption of beef, pork, milk and cheese, it would only have a tiny effect on the world’s totality in this respect.

Still it is at least not wrong to make individual initatives and suggest concrete changes of diatary habits. Hence I have included five main tips with regard to a more ecologically sustainable and healthy diet. Like other posts with a tips-related angle – such as this one and this one – these are more or less interrelated and should thus be looked upon holistically.


1. Stop eating all kinds of red meat
Yet, is as simple as that. People do not really need red meat, especially pork. Overall this is also a good way to reduce the total calorie intake and thus beneficial for one’s own health.


2. Stop eating all dairy products besides quark
Dairy products, often produced by the breeding and exploitation of cattle, is something that one should eat selectively. This is not the same as to say that it is bad to eat milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products to a reasonable extent, but if one looks at both a human being’s individual health and a more ecologically sustainable way of living, to only eat quark is a way to gradually reduce the demand for cattle breeding and exploitation. In a long-term perspective, the best option would be to stop cattle breeding overall.

3. Support all kinds of initiatives of non-animal and synthetical essential amino acids
There are a lot interesting things going on within the fitness industry with companies such as Nocco and to some extent also Vemma, which offer drinks that include branched chain aminco acids and/or other kinds of essential nutrients.

Within various scienctific fields a plethora of different studies – that add to already existing research – may lead to the possibility to produce and consume wholly non-animal BCAA-bars and/or drinks which consist of a limited amount of calories (less than 100 per 100 grams) but still with a good taste. So regardless of who do take more initiatives in this respect, in the present or in the probably not too distant future, one should look out for relevant options and support the best alternatives that are available. These kinds of products may completely or at least largely replace animal products.


4. Absorb influences from the Okinawa diet
The Japanese prefecture Okinawa is known for being one of the ‘blue zones’ in the world where many of the worlds centenarians – i.e. those who have lived 100 years or more – reside.

Okinawans eat a lot of fresh vegetables, seaweeds and moderately of fish, octupus and other marine animals, and do generally have a calorie deficit. It appears that this dietery approach is largely beneficial for one’s health.

If one is into fitness, one can add a small or moderate amount of chicken, turkey, eggs, quark and branched chain aminco acids to one’s regular diet and thus create a synthesis of the Okinawian diet and a more conventional fitness diet.

5. Do only eat non-endangered fish species
One can use for example this list as a point of departure and reference. Thus do not consume Atlantic cod, seabass, tuna (bluefin), salmon (연어 in Korean), flounder, eel etcetera. Instead, pick other and often smaller fish species and keep yourself updated in this regard. Fish species that are okay to eat is for instance Alaska pollock, wild salmon, bluefish and tuna (yellowfin).


När det är ett faktum att konsumtionen av alla sorters vanligt förekommande kött och nästan alla slags mejeriprodukter – oavsett om de kommer från fåglar, kor, grisar, fiskar, får eller någon annan kategori inom djurriket – ökar i många länder och regioner i världen, känns det nästan löjligt att försöka påverka människor på mikronivå. För även om svenskar förändrade sina dietmönster i mycket stor utsträckning skulle det likväl endast ha en mycket liten inverkan på den totala konsumtionen i världen.

Dock är det aldrig fel att göra individuella förändringar för att äta mer ekologiskt hållbart, vilket också går hand i hand med den egna hälsan i mycket stor utsträckning. Följaktligen har jag listat fem stycken konkreta åtgärder ur ett fitness-/wellnessperspektiv. I likhet med tidigare artiklar som listar fem saker – som denna och denna – hänger dessa samman och utgör därmed en helhet.


1. Sluta ät alla sorters rött kött
Ja, svårare än så är det inte. Människor behöver inte äta rött kött över huvud taget, och detta kan också bli ett sätt att minska den totala kalorimängden. Och om det verkligen “inte går” att sluta äta helt så minska åtminstone konsumtionen väldigt mycket.

2. Sluta ät alla sorters mejeriprodukter förutom kvarg
Mejeriprodukter, som ofta produceras genom att föda upp och exploatera nötkreatur, är något som man bör äta selektivt av. Det är inte samma sak som att säga att det är direkt dåligt i sig att äta yoghurt, filmjölk, ost, ägg och keso, men om man ser till både ekologisk hållbarhet och individuellt välbefinnande är det lämpligt att försöka minska efterfrågan på alla produkter förutom just kvarg. På lång sikt kan förhoppningsvis uppfödningen och exploateringen av djur som sker i samband med storskalig mejeriproduktion upphöra men det är en lång väg dit, inte minst på global nivå.

3. Stöd produktion och konsumtion av alla sorters syntetiskt framställda aminosyror och liknande
Det pågår mycket intressant inom fitnessindustrin med företag som Nocco och i viss mån även Vemma, som erbjuder grenade aminosyror och/eller andra slags essentiella näringsämnen.

Inom olika vetenskapliga ämnesområden – som bygger vidare på redan befintlig forskning – kan nya studier leda till att det blir möjligt att producera och konsumera helt icke-animaliska BCAA-bars och/eller -drycker som innehåller färre än 100 kalorier per 100 gram men med god smak. Oavsett vem eller vilka som tar dessa initiativ till nästa nivå bör man hålla utkik efter och stödja de bästa befintliga alternativen. På länge sikt kan detta ersätta en väldigt stor andel av den animaliska kosten.

4. Absorbera inslag från Okinawadieten
Den japanska prefekturen Okinawa är känt för att vara en av väldens så kallade “blå zoner” där flest 100-åringar lever.

Okinawainvånare äter mycket färska grönsaker, rotfrukter och sjögräs, och måttligt av fisk och andra havslevande animaliska källor. Om man har en fitnesslivsstil kan man komplettera en sådan diet med en rimlig mängd kyckling, kalkon, ägg, kvarg och grenade aminosyror och på så sätt skapa en syntes mellan Okinawadieten och en mer konventionell fitnessdiet.

5. Konsumera endast fisk och andra havslevande arter som inte är utrotningshotade
Man kan till exempel använda denna lista som utgångspunkt och komplettera med andra förhållningssätt. Konsumera därför inte torsk (annat än i liten utsträckning), havsabborre, tonfisk (de arter som inte är utrotningshotade), lax, svärdfisk, haj, flundra, ål etcetera. Gulfenad tonfisk, alaska pollock, blåfisk och atlantisk och kalifornisk lax är några av de arter som dock kan ätas.