Alpha Amino is Cellucor’s most recent Amino Acid based intra-workout supplement. We appreciate the emphasis placed on Leucine because, after all, Leucine is the most important Amino Acid with regards to stimulating muscle protein synthesis…[Skip to the Bottom Line]
Leucine is an amino acid that belongs to the group known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). In most BCAA products, there is a higher concentration of Leucine than the other two BCAAs. The ratio is generally something along the lines of 2:1:1, but we’ve seen as much as 10:1:1 in favor of Leucine. Post Jym contains the standard 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine respectively. While there is no reliable scientific evidence to indicate an “optimal ratio”, several studies have confirmed that Leucine is the most important BCAA in regards to muscle protein synthesis. Supplemental Leucine has been shown to increase protein synthesis in rats as well as humans in dozens of studies. A 2012 study found that supplementation with 12 g of L-leucine per day resulted in improved protein synthesis in elderly males consuming a low protein diet, indicating that it may be especially useful for those with low protein intake. Leucine is the most frequently studied of the three BCAAs and several studies now have demonstrated that the primary mechanism of action is via activation of Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) which is a protein that signals the body to synthesize protein. Leucine signals mTOR which in turn stimulates protein synthesis.
The term ‘instantized’ refers to the solubility of the powder in water. BCAAs in generally tend not to dissolve right away and may form clumps when stirred or shaken. Instantized Leucine will tend to mix better, though the effect once inside the body remains the same as standard L-Leucine. Ultimately, Instantized Leucine vs. regularly Leucine is simply a matter of convenience and personal preference.
Leucine Nitrate refers to Leucine that is bound to Nitrate, a precursor to Nitric Oxide. A 2012 study, published in “Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”, found that increased dietary nitrate intake improved running performance in healthy adults. A 2013 study, published in the “European Journal of Applied Physiology”, found that Nitrate supplementation) effectively elevated plasma Nitrate levels which translated to improved performance during high-intensity exercise in athletes. A 2013 Meta-Analysis, which looked specifically at 17 separate studies using doses of 300-600mg Nitrate from various sources, concluded that supplementation is associated with a moderate improvement in time to exhaustion at a given work load. The exact amount of Nitrate present in the Alpha Amino formula is difficult to pinpoint because even the total amount of Leucine Nitrate is undisclosed. So, while the addition of Nitrate may contribute to performance enhancement, we would consider Leucine Nitrate primarily just another source of Leucine.
The term ‘peptide’ simply refers to a chain of amino acids which are generally classified by length. For example, the term ‘dipeptide’ refers to a peptide that is two amino acids in length whereas the term ‘polypeptide’ refers to a chain consisting of an unspecified (though more than one) number of amino acids. A complete protein is generally considered to be a polypeptide that is atleast 50 amino acids in length. So, the term “Leucine Peptide” just refers to a chain of amino acids containing mostly Leucine. While peptides have become something of a buzz word in the supplement community for their alleged increased bioavailability versus free form amino acids, there are no studies comparing forms. It is alleged, mostly by supplement companies, that including peptides along with free-form amino acids increases bioavailability because peptides are absorbed through different receptors in the gut. However, as mentioned above, there are no studies directly comparing absorption rates of free-form versus peptide amino acids so, for now, we would consider Leucine Peptides just another form of Leucine and have no objection with their inclusion in amino acid supplements, as long as this is not used to justify an inflated price.
While Leucine is the most important with regards to muscle protein synthesis, Isoleucine appears to have unique benefits regarding glucose uptake by muscle cells (while lowering blood glucose). In several rat studies, isoleucine has effectively lowered blood glucose and increased glucose uptake into muscle cells. While the effect of Isoleucine (in isolation) on muscle glucose uptake has not been studied in humans, BCAAs in general due appear to induce glucose uptake. How much of this is due to Isoleucine as opposed to BCAAs as a whole remains unclear.
Valine appears to possess the least unique benefit, but there are claims circulating that Valine may reduce mental exercise-induced fatigue by reducing the amount of Tryptophan available for Serotonin (potentially responsible for fatigue) synthesis. A 2001 study concluded that Valine lowered the amount of exercise-induced 5-HT (Serotonin) in mouse hippocampuses. During exercise Tryptophan is transported to the brain where it is converted into Serotonin. It is hypothesized that Serotonin is primarily responsible for the mental fatigue often experienced after extended exercise. It has also been established that BCAA directly compete with tryptophan for the same pathway to the brain, and therefore may reduce the amount of Tryptophan available for Serotonin production. This would explain certain subjective anti-fatigue effects of BCAA supplementation noted in a few studies. However, the claim that Valine is solely responsible for this effect is unsubstantiated by human studies. Given the current literature, it is a safer bet that BCAAs in general help to attenuate fatigue.
BCAA’S IN GENERAL:
A major criticism of BCAA supplements is that Leucine alone can achieve a significant increase in muscle protein synthesis, and the other two BCAAs are unnecessary. While Leucine does appear to be the most critical in regards to muscle protein synthesis, a 2009 study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” concluded that BCAAs (2:1:1) have a more pronounced effect on protein synthesis than the same amount of Leucine alone. So, if you have to choose of course go with Leucine, but taking all three is more beneficial than strictly Leucine. A 2004 study conducted by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences found that BCAA requirement was significantly increased by exercise and that supplementation had “beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis”. A second study, published in the “American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism”, found that while BCAA intake did not seem to affect amino acid concentration during exercise, it did have a protein-sparing effect during recovery.
Another common criticism of BCAA supplements is that if you eat a balanced diet with enough protein, you already receive enough dietary BCAAs to fulfill their function. While it is true that a BCAA-rich diet can decrease the need for dietary BCAAs, that doesn’t mean individuals who consume enough dietary protein cannot benefit from BCAA supplementation. A 2009 study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” tested the effects of BCAA supplementation in comparison to whey protein supplementation or simple carbohydrates (from a sports drink) in athletes. All subjects consumed the same diet and participated in the same physical training regimen. At the end of the 8 week study, the BCAA group significantly outperformed both the whey group and carbohydrate group in terms of lean body mass as well as strength. Results like these make us question whether skeptics of BCAAs have even bothered to read the literature. There is more than enough evidence to conclude that BCAA supplementation can have a significant anabolic effect in both protein deficient AND non-protein deficient humans.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid (your body can make it) required for a wide range of bodily processes, from immune health to providing an alternative fuel-source for the brain. Because glutamine is an amino acid, some people assume that it may have a muscle sparing effect, but these claims are largely unsubstantiated. That being said, the benefits of Glutamine may instead pertain to fighting exercise induced immune system suppression. While it is true that our immune systems ultimately benefit from regular exercise, in the short-term, exercise actually temporarily lowers our immune system, thus making us more susceptible to infection during that time-frame. This temporary compromise of the immune system has been shown to correlate with lower levels of Glutamine. For this reason, it is suggested that increased uptake of glutamine may help keep the immune system strong post-exercise. In addition, lower glutamine levels have been recorded in over-trained athletes, suggesting that higher levels of glutamine may help to prevent overtraining.
L-Alanine is an amino acid, the primary functions of which (aside from building proteins) pertain to glucose metabolism and the transport of nitrogen to the liver. In a 2010 double-blind placebo controlled study published in the “FASEB Journal”, it was shown that L-alanine supplementation slightly reduced delayed onset muscle soreness. There is some controversy as to whether including l-alanine with other amino acids may result in absorption issues due to competition, but this controversy is based primarily on assumptions, not practical evidence.
Citrulline is a precursor to the amino acid Arginine, which is a precursor to Nitric Oxide (NO). Citrulline has recently gained recognition in the supplement community for its ability to increase plasma (blood) Arginine levels better than supplemental Arginine itself. A 2009 study, published in the “Journal of Free Radical Research”, found that 6 grams of Citrulline Mallate given to male cyclists before a race increased “plasma Arginine availability for NO synthesis and PMNs priming for oxidative burst without oxidative damage”. You may be wondering: How can Citrulline be more effective at increasing Arginine than Arginine itself? The problem with supplemental Arginine is that it is metabolized in the intestines and liver into other substances such as Ornithine and Urea. The intestines and liver contain relatively high levels of Arginase, the enzyme that converts Arginine to Ornithine and Urea. As a result, very little goes on to be involved with the synthesis of NO because it is being diverted. Citrulline, on the other hand, is able to bypass the liver and is metabolized into Arginine elsewhere, where not as much Arginase is present. Thus, more of the Arginine is able to convert into NO. A 2002 study, published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” found that Citrulline supplementation (6g/day for 15 days) significantly increased ATP production during exercise in healthy adult males. A 2011 study, the subjects of which were rats, found that supplemental Citrulline increased muscular contraction efficiency (less ATP was required for the same amount of power), in-line with the findings of the above-mentioned human study.
Arginine is classified as a non-essential amino acid and is a precursor to Nitrix Oxide. At one time Arginine was one of the most popular additions to pre-workouts aiming at increasing muscular blood flow via Nitric Oxide, but in recent years Arginine has lost popularity to Citrulline which tends to be a better means of increasing plasma Arginine levels than supplemental Arginine itself. That being said, supplemental Arginine has been shown to increase NO production in both rats and humans. A 2010 study, published in the “Journal of Applied Physiology”, found that 6 grams L-Arginine increased NO and increased time to exhaustion in trained cyclists. However, these findings directly contradict those of a previous (2009) study which found that 6 grams of supplemental L-Arginine had no effect on NO production or exercise performance. A 2011 meta-analysis from “Sports Medicine” concluded that, while Arginine does show promise, the results tend to be unreliable so it cannot necessarily be recommended as an ergogenic aid. Ultimately, Citrulline is more reliable as an ergogenic aid, but given the inclusion of Citrulline in the Alpha Amino formula a little Arginine can’t hurt.
Aside from being an essential amino acid, Threonine is one of the primary components of elastin and collagen. Although Threonine is vital for the proper formation of these connective tissues, no studies have proved that Threonine supplementation influences connective tissue health. For that reason, the inclusion of Threonine in Alpha Amino should be viewed primarily as just another amino acid, not necessarily serving a specific purpose.
In addition to being an essential amino acid (therefore required for protein synthesis), lysine improves calcium absorption and is a necessary component of collagen (a major component of connective tissue). However as with Threonine, in the context of the Alpha Amino formula, we would consider L-Lysine just another amino acid, not necessarily serving one specific purpose.
Phenylalanine is a precursor to tyrosine, which in turn is a precursor to the catecholamine neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. View full conversion cycle here. The alleged benefits of phenylalnine, aside from being an essential amino acid, are elevated mood, cognitive enhancement, as well as appetite suppression. The mood elevation and cognitive enhancement claims stem from the fact that phenylalanine is the first step of the catecholamine conversion cycle. However, no study has proven that consuming phenylalanine results in greater catecholamine release. The appetite suppression claims carry little more weight. A 1994 human study found that supplementation with L-phenylalanine stimulated the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which tells the brain that the stomach is full, resulting in a decrease in appetite. However, this study used a dose of 10 grams, which is far more than what could possibly be present in the Alpha Amino formula.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid which serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, the three of which are collectively referred to as ‘catecholamines’. A 1981 study found that subjects who consumed 100mg/kg of Tyrosine experienced a significant increase in catecholamine levels (measured from urine), but supplemental Tyrosine has failed to produce the performance enhancing effects commonly associated with increased release of catecholamines. This is because Tyrosine does not instantly get converted into noradrenaline, dopamine, or adrenaline. It forms a pool, and when there is a deficit of catecholamines, the pool is drawn from to create more. So rather than directly improve physical performance, Tyrosine has demonstrated the ability to improve aspects of cognitive function in the presence of a stressor (sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, and possibly exercise) which would normally deplete catecholamine levels. In other words, Tyrosine may restore levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline when necessary, but does not increase them beyond baseline.
Histidine is one of the 9 essential amino acids, meaning the body cannot synthesize it and must acquire it through diet. You may have also come across histidine while looking into beta-alanine, since Histidine and Beta-Alanine are the two amino acids necessary for Carnosine synthesis. However, studies have shown that, while Beta-Alanine supplementation increases carnosine synthesis, histidine supplementation does not.
Methionine is one of two sulfur containing amino acids, the other being cysteine. Aside from being an essential amino acid, it functions as an antioxidant to some extent. However, as with most of the amino acids present in the Alpha Amino formula, we cannot determine the exact dose and therefore would prefer not to speculate on its potential efficacy with regards to individual function. For now, let’s just say Methionine is an amino acid that helps to complete the formula.
Considered a beta-amino acid, Taurine plays a variety of roles in the body. It is most concentrated in the brain and liver, but is found in some amount virtually everywhere in the body. What makes Taurine so interesting is that it possesses antioxidant properties. In a 2011 study, Taurine was shown to significantly decrease oxidative stress in skeletal muscle following exercise. Prior to that, a 2004 study showed that Taurine may decrease exercise induced DNA damage, as well as “enhance the capacity of exercise due to its cellular protective properties”. A recent 2013 study noted a 1.7% improvement in 3k-time trial of runners after supplementing with Taurine, but noted that more research would be required to determine the exact mechanism of action. It’s unfortunate that Taurine has developed a sort of stigma because of its inclusion in energy drinks. While Taurine does not provide “energy” in the way that caffeine does, several studies have shown its effectiveness as an antioxidant with workout-enhancing properties, and while the exact mechanism of action remains unclear, it is likely that Taurine may improve exercise performance by reducing some of the oxidative damage that generally leads to fatigue.
RAW COCONUT WATER EXTRACT:
Coconut Water has become quite popular in the beverage (specifically sports drink) industry because of its natural electrolyte profile. Yes, electrolytes are incredibly important for proper inter-cellular communication, and the need for electrolytes may increase with prolonged exercise. However, it is unclear whether there is any benefit of the “natural” electrolytes found in Coconut Water beyond those conveyed through synthetic electrolyte supplementation. There is likely no difference, but Coconut Water does provide an all-in-one source of electrolytes so it shouldn’t be viewed as a negative either.
Chia Seeds have become the next big thing in the all-natural food and beverage industry in recent years, due to an impressive nutrient profile which includes omega-3 fatty acids. While Cellucor may simply be trying to capitalize on all the previously established Chia hype, Chia Seeds are a pretty good source of several vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, we are unable to gauge any potential efficacy of this ingredient because the exact dose is undisclosed.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Alpha Amino is a BCAA-based supplement fortified with additional amino acids, as well as Taurine and a full electrolyte spectrum. While the formula is not particularly revolutionary in any sense, it is well-rounded and provides an alternative to traditional BCAA supplements which only contain the three BCAAs. At about $1 per serving, Alpha Amino is competitively priced as it contains a standard 5g dose of BCAAs, as well as several other ingredients which may up the value beyond that of the average 5g BCAA supplement.
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