Amino Energy, as the name implies, is an amino-based pre/intra-workout supplement with the addition of Caffeine…[Skip to the Bottom Line]
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”. It’s unfortunate that Taurine has developed a sort of stigma because of it’s 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.
Optimum uses a micronized taurine which means that the particles are only a few micrometers (a micrometer is one millionth of a meter) in size. Study after study has confirmed that micronization generally improves bioavailability, and at this point we feel there is no excuse NOT to use micronized ingredients, especially since pharmaceutical companies have surpassed micronization and are now creating particles of only a few nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. It is roughly the distance your finger nail grows in three seconds).
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid (your body can make it) that is required for a lot of bodily processes, from immune health, to providing an alternative fuel-source for the brain. However, if you’re a regular at the gym (we assume you are if you’re reading this), you have probably heard of glutamine as it relates to working out. You may have also realized that glutamine, despite being one of the most widely used supplements, is also one of the most debated. It is true that some of the alleged effects of this amino acid are not quite as grounded in science as some supplement companies (or guys at the gym) might have you think, but to say that it’s completely useless is a gross misconception.
Because glutamine is an amino acid, some people assume that it may have a muscle sparing effect. However, these claims are far from substantiated, and while we won’t dispute them, we can’t believe them. So what is glutamine really good for? Glutamine has shown a lot of promise when it comes 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 proven 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, which suggests that higher levels of glutamine may help to prevent overtraining.
Arginine is a non-essential amino acid that pretty much anyone who has been in a gym has heard of. Supplement manufactures claim that, because arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, supplemental arginine may boost nitric oxide levels, resulting in vasodilation. However, recent studies have found that arginine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The human body is complex and, unfortunately for supplement companies, ingesting a precursor to a substance doesn’t necessarily increase the levels of that substance. There are rate limiting factors, and competition for pathways to keep in mind. A 2012 study in Nutrition and Metabolism found that Acute (one-time) L-Arginine supplementation with 6 grams did not increase plasma (blood) levels of nitric oxide in people with normal asymmetric dimethylarginine levels. Asymmetric dimethylarginine is a chemical that is chemically related to arginine and directly inferes with the production of nitric oxide. Furthermore, recent studies have questioned whether arginine may in fact be counter-productive during exercise. A 2011, placebo controlled study, found that subjects performed worse after receiving 3700mg of Arginine alpha ketoglutarate prior to resistance training. Due to the size of this study, it cannot be considered conclusive, but it certainly should warrant further studies. While most studies have failed to prove that L-Arginine supplementation increases strength, a 2012 double-blind placebo controlled study, found that supplementation with 6 grams of L-Arginine increased muscle blood volume post-workout, but did not increase intra-workout strength. While this may be disappointing to increase strength through supplementation, Arginine’s real benefits may lie in post-workout recovery, rather than intra-workout performance. More blood in the muscle’s after a workout means more nutrients to the muscle cells.
Leucine is an amino acid that belongs to the group known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). If you have ever purchased a BCAA product, you may have noticed that it contains more leucine than the other two BCAAs (isoleucine and valine). The ratio is generally something along the lines of 2:1:1, but we’ve seen as much as 8:1:1 in favor of leucine. The ratio found in Amino Energy is unknown, but is most likely along the lines of 2:1:1. While no study has ever proved that there is 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. Most recently, 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. While 12 grams is far more than the amount of leucine found in most BCAA containing supplements, these results simply lend credibility to the already established notion that supplemental leucine improves muscle protein synthesis.
Beta Alanine is an extremely popular supplement for body builders, primarily because of its ability to increase muscular Carnosine concentration. Carnosine is a dipeptide (combination) of two amino acids, Histidine and Beta Alanine. Since Histidine is always available to the body, the rate limiting factor in Carnosine synthesis is Beta-Alanine. Study after study has shown that Beta-Alanine supplementation (usually 3 grams or more) over a period of time (usually 4 weeks or more) results in a significant increase of muscle carnosine levels. So what does carnosine do? Carnosine has many properties, but body builders and athletes are particularly interested by carnosines ability as a pH buffer. In other words, carnosine regulates muscle pH (level of acidity in muscle cells), and increased muscle carnosine translates to increased buffer capacity, thus preventing acidosis (increase in acidity) and extending time to exhaustion. While increased carnosine doesn’t necessarily correspond to increased strength, most athletes and bodybuilders can appreciate the significant increase in time to exhaustion during high intensity exercise.
Citrulline is an amino acid that acts as a precursor to arginine, which acts a precursor to nitric oxide. Citrulline has recently gained recognition in the supplement community for its ability to increase plasma (blood) arginine levels better than supplemental l-arginine itself. How is this possible? The problem with supplemental l-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 nitric oxide. Citrulline, on the other hand, is able to bypass the liver and is metabolized elsewhere, where not as much arginase is present. Thus, more of the arginine is able to convert into nitric oxide. In addition to increasing nitric oxide production, supplemental citrulline has been shown to enhance the use of amino acids during exercise, which makes it a perfect addition to an amino acid formula.
ISOLEUCINE AND VALINE:
Isoleucine and Valine belong to a group of amino acids known as the branched chain amino acids, as discussed in the L-Leucine section above. The reason they are distinct from other amino acids is that they are metabolized in the muscles, as opposed to the liver. BCAA’s play an important role in that they assist in the manufacturing of other amino acids. Amino acids are rapidly depleted during intense exercise, so replacing BCAA’s allows for more protein synthesis to take place. 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.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid and a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. For this reason, supplement companies have made claims that supplementing with tyrosine can increase these neurotransmitters. While it is true that increasing these neurotransmitters may effectively increase workout capacity, unfortunately, studies have failed to show an increase in these neurotransmitters followed tyrosine supplementation. This is an indication that there may be rate limiting factors present, which prevent tyrosine from simply being converted into neurotransmitters. Other than the fact that Tyrosine is one of the 9 essential amino acids that form complete proteins, we don’t really understand why Optimum chose to include it in the Amino Energy blend.
Histidine is one of the 9 essential amino acids that make up complete proteins. 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 (see Beta-Alanine section for implications of carnosine). However, studies have shown that, while Beta-Alanine supplementation increases carnosine synthesis, histidine supplementation does not. We’re not sure if Optimum is taking a “just in case” approach by including histidine along with beta-alanine, or if they just include histidine because it is an essential amino acid.
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, a balanced diet should provide adequate amounts of lysine.
Phenylalanine is a precursor to tyrosine, which in turn is a precursor to Dopamine. View full conversion cycle here. The alleged benefits of tyrosine, 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 dopamine cycle. However, no study has proved that consuming phenylalanine results in greater dopamine release. The appetite suppression claims are with a little more merit. Studies have shown that supplementation with L-phenylalanine stimulates the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which tells the brain that the stomach is full.
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, by supplementing with extra L-Threonine, it will strengthen these tissues. For that reason, the inclusion of threonine in Amino Energy should be viewed as nothing more than necessary in order to provide all the essential amino acids. Threonine has also been alleged to improve absorption of other nutrients.
Methionine is one of two sulfur containing amino acids, the other being cysteine. Aside from being an essential amino acid, and thus completing the Amino Energy formula, it has antioxidant and may help protect the liver.
CAFFEINE (GREEN TEA):
Caffeine has long been established an “ergogenic aid” meaning it has the ability to increase exercise capacity. A popular belief, up until recently, was that caffeine’s ergogenic properties were due to its ability to affect fat oxidation (burn fat). However, recent studies have shown that caffeine has no substantial effect on fat oxidation. So, while caffeine may not directly burn fat, it increases focus and energy in most people and generally leads to more intense workouts (which would certainly burn fat), as well as curbing appetite, at least slightly, in most. At a dosage of 100mg/serving there is enough caffeine present in the formula to provide some pre-workout energy. However, do to the fact that it contains caffeine, caution must be used when stacking with a pre-workout product, like you might do with a BCAA product.
GREEN TEA EXTRACT (EGCG):
Epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG) is an antioxidant found in green tea, and is a member of the group of antioxidants known as catechins. In addition to its antioxidant properties, EGCG has shown much promise as a weight loss supplement. While the exact mechanism of action is debated, there are two primary theories. One, EGCG actually increases fat oxidation. Two, EGCG reduces energy (calorie) absorption from food, as evidenced in a 2005 study in which the feces energy content of rats who had been fed EGCG was higher than those who had been fed a similar diet with no EGCG. Either way, the evidence does support EGCG as a weight loss supplement.
GREEN COFFEE EXTRACT:
Green Coffee Extract has recently become a very popular weight loss supplement because it has shown promise in many studies. However, the exact mechanisms of action are unknown and the actual weight loss affect may be less pronounced than some supplement manufacturers may claim.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Amino Energy by Optimum Nutrition is a unique supplement in that it tries to bridge the gap between BCAA supplements and pre-workouts. It contains all eight essential amino acids, including the three BCAAs: Leucine, Isoleucine, and valine. However, the product isn’t just marketed as a pre-workout. Optimum recommends taking it first thing in the morning, between meals, pre-workout, post-workout, as well as in the afternoon for a ‘pick me up’. Because of the caffeine content, the product makes more sense for those who work out in the morning, because it can be taken pre and post workout without interfering with sleep.
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