Amino Acids: Definition & Explanations

Aminosäuren: Definition & Erklärungen

We encounter amino acids in our daily life. Numerous processes in our body only work thanks to these microscopic substances. They make us powerful, give athletes great biceps and keep our hearts beating every day.

In our article on amino acids we offer you all the important information about amino acids. We will explain to you what amino acids actually are, what their role is and what you should pay attention to when it comes to amino acid supply in your diet. Have fun while reading!

the essentials in brief

  • Amino acids count as a precursor of protein. As a macronutrient, this is subsequently responsible for numerous processes in our body, for example for muscle building.
  • There are over 20 different amino acids in total. These are divided into essential and non-essential amino acids.
  • Amino acids are absorbed on the one hand through food and on the other hand through the body's own amino acid production. However, unlike other nutrients, amino acids cannot be stored in the body.

Glossary entry: The term amino acids explained in detail

In order to provide you with comprehensive information on the subject of amino acids, we have summarized the most frequently asked questions in the next section and explained them with simple explanations. So much in advance: Without amino acids there would probably be no soccer World Cup and women could only dream of beautiful long hair.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are important building blocks in our body that ensure that sufficient protein is available. Protein is one of the macronutrients that the body needs to live. Without amino acids and therefore without proteins, there would be no muscles, bones or skin in our body.

Man deadlift

Amino acids are very important, especially for athletes, to ensure muscle regeneration. (Image Source: Victor Freitas / Unsplash)

Furthermore, amino acids are responsible for certain processes in the human organism. For example, amino acids are needed for fat metabolism. The body can produce many of these amino acids on its own, while others have to be ingested through food.

Unlike the macronutrients carbohydrates and fats, the body cannot store protein. Depending on requirements, the required amount of proteins is metabolized and the rest is excreted again.

What is the difference between the essential and non-essential amino acids?

A distinction is made between essential and non-essential amino acids. This determines whether the body can produce this amino acid independently or whether it is necessary to ingest it through food.

In between there are amino acids, which represent a kind of middle ground. They can be provided by the body itself, but in small amounts. These so-called semi-essential amino acids include L-arginine and histidine. With these two amino acids, it is necessary to provide the body with sufficient certain foods so that it can produce enough of the two amino acids. These include pumpkin seeds, almonds, soybeans, chicken, salmon or lentils.

Essential Amino Acids

Essential amino acids must be ingested through food because the body cannot produce them itself. This category includes eight amino acids that are absolutely necessary for the body to remain efficient.

amino acid Where is it included?
isoleucine Walnuts, Salmon, Eggs, Chicken
leucine Walnuts, Salmon, Eggs, Chicken
lysine Pumpkin seeds, tofu, chicken, eggs
methionine Broccoli, spinach, salmon, sesame
phenylalanine Peas, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, pork
threonine Beef, salmon, whole wheat flour
tryptophan Soybeans, unsweetened cocoa powder, peas, cashew nuts
valine Cheese, whole wheat flour, peas

Non-Essential Amino Acids

Non-essential amino acids do not have to be ingested through food because the body can produce these amino acids itself. Here the body uses the essential amino acids to produce the numerous non-essential amino acids.

A balanced diet is also necessary for this group. Because only if the body is sufficiently supplied with the essential amino acids can a smooth production of the non-essential amino acids take place.

What is the role of amino acids in the body?

Amino acids are the basic building blocks for proteins. Almost a quarter of the human body is made up of proteins, most of which are found in skin, muscles and bones. Due to the nitrogen contained in the amino acids, the body can constantly recreate this tissue, for example in the muscles.

Furthermore, amino acids form messenger substances such as hormones and enzymes. These neurotransmitters initiate various metabolic processes in the body. On the one hand, these ensure a functioning cardiovascular system, on the other hand they are sometimes also responsible for an intact digestion. The hormone melatonin, which is responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, also depends on your body's supply of amino acids (1).

If the body is not sufficiently supplied with the important amino acids, there can be problems with digestion and thus with the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.

, the body would have fewer and fewer amino acids available. A dangerous cycle would ensue if one did not intervene through dietary supplements (5).

Many athletes consume protein powder after training. It contains many amino acids.

Amino acids are also an exciting topic for athletes. As mentioned above, the body cannot store protein to access it later. Especially after an intensive workout, the muscles need proteins and subsequently amino acids to regenerate.

If not enough amino acids are made available, the body begins to break down muscle mass. Studies show, however, that even competitive athletes can cover their protein needs through their diet, and there is basically no need for additional dietary supplements (2).

Which foods contain amino acids?

Amino acids are found in many foods. Therefore, your amino acid level is usually covered by normal nutrition. Many animal foods are often mentioned in guidebooks for the supply of amino acids. But you don't have to worry about a vegetarian or vegan diet either. With a balanced diet, enough amino acids are also ingested from plant-based foods (2).

Top 5 - animal amino acid suppliers (3,4)

  • Meat (especially beef, pork, chicken)
  • Fish (salmon and tuna)
  • eggs
  • Cheese
  • milk

Top 5 - vegetable amino acid suppliers (3,4)

  • Nuts (especially walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts)
  • Soybeans (e.g. in tofu or soy milk)
  • sesame
  • spinach
  • oatmeal

In any case, make sure you eat a varied diet with lots of variety. This will ensure that you get enough amino acids from food.

What happens if the body is not sufficiently supplied with amino acids?

In an average lifestyle, a lack of amino acids is very rare. However, there are certain circumstances that can favor a deficiency. These include stress, an unbalanced diet or in the case of chronic diseases. Even competitive athletes have an increased need for amino acids.

The symptoms of an amino acid deficiency can be very complex. Some of the most common manifestations of the body include (5):

  • a weakened immune system
  • problems with digestion
  • weakness and listlessness
  • no muscle building during sports
  • concentration problems
  • worse wound healing

A doctor can determine a lack of amino acids by means of a blood test. Dietary supplements are then usually prescribed to compensate for the deficiency.

Can an overdose of amino acids occur in the body?

With a normal metabolic function of the body and supply with a balanced diet, there are usually no side effects or an overdose. However, if dietary supplements are also taken, for example to support muscle building, this can lead to an imbalance in the body (6).

An overdose is often noticeable with gastrointestinal problems. If too many amino acids are ingested over a long period of time, further health problems can arise. For example, the liver and kidneys, as the body's detoxification organs, are heavily stressed in the event of an overdose (1).

Overdoses are common in competitive athletes.

Certain amino acids can delay muscle fatigue during exercise, increase blood flow, and otherwise increase performance. Therefore, in addition to training, in many cases protein powder, amino acid mixtures such as BCAA's or individual amino acids are taken. However, this intake should definitely be discussed with a trained trainer or doctor to prevent an overdose (7).


It is very important that our body is supplied with sufficient amino acids. Otherwise, a smooth flow of metabolic processes, as well as muscle maintenance and regeneration would not be possible. Amino acids are found in many types of meat, nuts and green vegetables, among other things. In some cases, your body can even produce amino acids itself as needed.

With a lack of amino acids, the body loses muscle mass and problems with digestion arise. The performance also decreases sharply and you feel weak and drained. However, you should not overdo it! Because with an increased dose of amino acids, the body cannot simply excrete them, as with some vitamins. In this case, the kidney and liver are heavily loaded.


  1. PharmaWiki (2020): Amino acid effect
  2. Verbraucherzentrale (2019): Amino acids for recreational athletes
  3. Luise Rau (2018): Amino acids in food
  4. Leonie Leber (2020): Amino acids: effects, foods and importance in training
  5. Naturheilzentrum Breidenbach (2020): Amino acids
  6. Maik Thies (2020): Do amino acids have side effects?
  7. Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (2011): Market study on the subject Amino acids and their uses
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