Adding amino acids to your daily supplement intake is a great way to take advantage of individual types of amino acids so you can maximize muscle recovery and muscle gains. If you truly want to get the most from amino acids, you need to think about when you’re using them.
Protein intake is a source of heated debate in the fitness community, at least when it comes to how much protein an athlete needs and from what sources. While protein quantity might be up for debate, when it comes to timing, there’s really no wrong time to consume protein, be it from supplements or food sources. Generally speaking, after exercise, with meals, between meals, and before bed are all great times to use protein supplements. When using individual amino acids, it’s not quite as simple, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Amino Acid Timing and Food Combining
To get the most from amino acids, the timing of your intake takes a bit of planning. Generally speaking, most amino acids are best utilized when taken on an empty stomach, which would mean approximately two hours after a meal and/or 30 minutes before a meal. The reason you use individual amino acids or combination formulas is to take full advantage of them as building blocks for proteins, but taking them with meals can cause the separate amino acids to compete with dietary protein for receptor sites.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which include L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine, can be taken with protein-containing meals, and the same is true for others, but it’s best to take them alone for optimal absorption when they aren’t bound to other amino acids.
Certain amino acids, such as L-arginine found in nitric oxide formulas, should always be taken without competing proteins to get the full benefit. That means combining your pre-workout drink with a protein shake could be negating some of the pre-workout effects you’re paying for. Don’t throw your money away and potentially miss out on the benefits of your pre-workout formula.
Nothing “bad” will happen when combining amino acids with protein-containing meals, but you won’t be getting the full value by doing that. If you want to boost protein intake at your meals, a protein shake is a much better option.
On the other hand, if you’re eating a meal without any protein, amino acids will work fine. And if it’s a carbohydrate-based meal, you’ll likely get the advantage of an insulin boost that can help with absorption, enhancing protein synthesis so you get the most from amino acids.
For optimal timing, particularly with BCAAs, they should be taken on an empty stomach before and during exercise, and between meals is also a good option. When it comes to protein intake with meals, solid food and high-quality protein powders are best.
For post-workout nutrition, amino acid combinations or BCAAs are great, but to get the full benefit of that post-workout recovery window of opportunity, whey protein is best (or it can be timed to be taken 30 minutes after your aminos). Plus, whey protein increases insulin levels, so it’s ideal for a post-workout shake.
Speaking of insulin, for those times when you just can’t say “no” to a sweet treat, take some amino acids at the same time. If you must have some sugar, at least take advantage of that insulin spike, but don’t use it as a thinly-veiled excuse to indulge.