Amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of proteins, are compounds that play many critical roles in your body.
They're needed for vital processes like the building of proteins and synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Some may also be taken in supplement form for a natural way to boost athletic performance or improve mood.
They’re categorized as essential, conditionally essential or nonessential depending on several factors.
This article tells you everything you need to know about essential amino acids, including how they function, possible food sources and the benefits of taking a supplement.
What Are Essential Amino Acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, along with a variable side chain group.
Your body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Though all 20 of these are important for your health, only nine amino acids are classified as essential.
These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Unlike nonessential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet.
The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins like meat, eggs and poultry.
When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids, which are then used to help your body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function.
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
There are several nonessential amino acids that are classified as conditionally essential.
These are considered to be essential only under specific circumstances such as illness or stress.
For example, although arginine is considered nonessential, your body can’t meet demands when fighting certain diseases like cancer.
That’s why arginine must be supplemented through diet in order to meet your body’s needs in certain situations.