Foods High in Amino Acids

Amino acids are organic compounds that come together to form proteins in your body. There are 20 amino acids overall, and they each fall into one of three categories:

  • Essential
  • Nonessential
  • Conditional

Because your body cannot make the nine essential amino acids itself, you need to get them from the foods you eat.

The essential amino acids include: 

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Arginine is considered an essential amino acid for young people, but generally not for adults.

Why You Need Amino Acids

Amino acids are known as the building blocks of protein, which is an important component of every cell in your body.

Here are a few roles that amino acids play in your overall health:

Enhanced Athletic Performance

Athletes commonly use leucine, isoleucine, and valine to improve their performance. These amino acids can be metabolized in muscle to provide extra energy during exercise.

Reduced Muscle Breakdown

Research suggests that taking amino acid supplements during recovery days after exercise reduces muscle damage as well as the soreness that comes along with it.

Improved Liver Function

Evidence suggests that taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth can improve liver function in people with poor brain function due to liver disease.  

Foods With Amino Acids

Because many foods are rich in amino acids, it’s generally easy to get your daily requirement. However, the recommended daily intake is different for each amino acid.

Most foods from animal protein sources will provide all the essential amino acids you need, and many plant-based protein foods can be excellent sources of amino acids as well.

These five foods are some of the best sources of dietary amino acids available:

  1. Quinoa
    Quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains available today. In addition to being a good source of fiber, it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs from food. It also has a higher amount of lysine than wheat or rice, making it a better source of these amino acids than other grains.
  2. Eggs
    Eggs are an excellent source of protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Studies suggest that the amino acids provided by eggs are better utilized by your body than other sources like casein or soy.
  3. Turkey
    Turkey has high amounts of tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to make the B vitamin called niacin, which is necessary for digestion, healthy skin, and nerves. Tryptophan also helps produce serotonin, which affects your mood and can contribute to feelings of happiness and relaxation. Because they’re all high in protein, other meats are good sources of amino acids as well. 
  4. Cottage cheese
    One 100-gram serving of cottage cheese provides about 25% of your daily value of protein and contains significant quantities of several amino acids, including threonine and tryptophan.
  5. Mushrooms
    Mushrooms contain a total of 17 amino acids, including all of the essential ones. One study showed that supplementing a cereal diet with mushroom would help overcome lysine deficiency.
  6. Fish
    Most types of fish contain essential amino acids and other important micronutrients. Salmon is high in amino acids and Omega 3s (important fatty acids that support heart and other health).
  7. Legumes and Beans
    Legumes are a great source of high-quality protein — 20-45% of their protein is rich in the amino acid lysine. Peas and beans contain 17-20% high-quality protein while lupins and soybeans contain 38-45%. Legumes and beans include:
    • Peas
    • Chickpeas
    • Lentils
    • Soybeans
    • Peanuts
    • Cooked kidney beans
    • Black beans
    • Garbanzo beans
    • Edamame
       

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SOURCES:

American Egg Board: "Yes, It Really Is Incredible - The Indisputably Potent Protein Eggs Supply."

Applied Microbiology: "Amino Acid Composition of the Protein from a Mushroom (Pleurotus sp.)."

The Biology Project: "The Chemistry of Amino Acids."

Cochrane: "Branched-chain amino acids improve symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy."

Harvard Health Letter: "By the way, doctor: Isn't quinoa a supplier of complete proteins?"

HelpGuide: "Choosing Healthy Protein."

International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: "Effects of amino acid supplementation on muscle soreness and damage."

Improved Health Through Adequate Food: “The Role of Legumes in Human Nutrition.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Quinoa."

Medical West Hospital: "The Truth About Turkey & Tryptophan."

MedlinePlus: "Amino acids."

National Institutes of Health: "Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance."

NutritionValue.Org: “Cheese, 1% milkfat, lowfat, cottage.”

The World's Healthiest Foods: "amino acids."

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 30, 2020
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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