An Insight into Amino Acids - with Lexi McPhee

Amino Acids, BCAA, Gut Health, Immune Health, Sports Nutrition, Stress -

An Insight into Amino Acids - with Lexi McPhee

Lexie McPhee is a senior student of Naturopathy at Endeavour College – you can book a naturopathic consultation with her at Wellnation Clinic in Melbourne for as little as $20. Check her out on social media for more details.

Instagram: @lexie_naturopath



An insight into Amino Acids

How much do you really know about amino acids? You might be into drinking BCAAs at the gym, but amino acids are needed for a lot more than making gains! Let’s start at the start. There are twenty amino acids. Eleven of these, we can make ourselves (non-essential) and nine we can only acquire from the foods we eat (essential). Every food contains a different combination of amino acids, in different concentrations. It’s super important that we get enough of each amino acid because as you may remember from biology class, they are the building blocks for proteins. Once we’ve broken the protein from food down to the amino acid level, our bodies can remodel the aminos into different proteins. Yes, proteins are a source of energy for the body, but they’re also needed for a myriad of other functions such as:


  • Growth and repair of muscle tissue
  • Strengthening connective tissues such as cartilage and ligaments
  • Making enzymes and hormones to control metabolism
  • Building neurotransmitters for balance mood
  • Healthy skin, hair and nails
  • Liver detoxification and digestion
  • Fighting infections such as colds and flu


Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)

If you’re reading this article to get a better idea of what BCAA’s are/do, you won’t be disappointed. Basically, the BCAAs are leucine, valine and isoleucine and are classified as essential amino acids. They differ from other amino acids because they can be metabolised in skeletal muscle as well as the liver. But their selling point is their ability to accelerate muscle protein synthesis (that’s the leucine talking) and prevent muscle break down. There’s also some evidence that BCAAs may be a fuel source during exercise and help to prevent muscle fatigue. Sounds pretty good right? Aim for a BCAA product that delivers 2-3g of leucine per dose – this seems to provide the best outcomes for muscle synthesis and recovery.

Amino acids can also be used therapeutically as part of a holistic treatment plan to target specific health issues. It’s best to seek guidance from a qualified Naturopath or Nutritionist if you plan on taking amino acid supplements but don’t forget you are what you eat – you can eat your aminos!



Tyrosine is one of our non-essential aminos, however when it comes to mental health and the stress response it is one of the most important. This is because it’s a building block for the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, as well as dopamine – that feel good hormone which also plays a large part in motivation and a can-do attitude. In times of stress and illness, or when we are feeling particularly flat, we might need a little more tyrosine from our diet. Reach for foods like chicken and turkey, nuts, bananas, avocado, pumpkin and sesame seeds, fish and dairy foods. 


Sleep, anxiety and depression

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which is needed in order to make serotonin. Commonly referred to as ‘the happiness hormone’, serotonin also helps bring a sense of calm by enhancing the activity of a chemical called GABA, and can eventually be converted into melatonin which is responsible for the onset of sleep and circadian rhythm regulation. Phew! That’s a huge job. Luckily, we have lots of tryptophan rich foods available to us including quinoa, flax seed, lentils, turkey, nuts, beef, chicken, pork and asparagus.


Cold Sores

This is an interesting one! Especially if you suffer with cold sores. They seem to appear at the worst times – at the end of a long week when you have an even bigger weekend planned. It could be the wind or sun that triggers an ulcer, but they’ll pop up a whole lot less if you’re getting a nice healthy dose of lysine. Plot twist though – you should cut down on the arginine rich foods if you’re prone to cold sores. When the arginine and lysine balance is out of whack, the virus that causes cold sores are more easily activated. There are plenty of lists online detailing the lysine to arginine ratio of foods. The other thing to check out in terms of cold sores is your zinc and vitamin C intake. Ask in store for a good combination of zinc, lysine and vitamin C. Lysine rich foods include beef, poultry, pork, seafood, nuts and seeds, lentils and eggs.


Gut health

Glutamine is one of the go-to nutrients for gut health. If you’ve been told you suffer from ‘leaky gut’, this amino acid is essential. This is because glutamine helps to tighten the gap junctions between the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. In short? It reduces the ‘leakiness’ of the gut that has been attributed to an enormous number of health complaints such as IBS, IBD, autoimmune diseases, nervous system disorders, eczema, allergies, anxiety and depression. This is a medically recognised concept, so get cooking with glutamine rich foods and start juicing cabbage and kale alongside your fruit and vegetables. Even if you don’t suffer from those issues now, glutamine will help protect the integrity of your gut wall to prevent leakages and inflammation later on. Other high glutamine foods are beans, papaya, Brussels sprouts, celery, beets, eggs and lean meats.


I’ve compiled a list of the different amino acids. Check out what foods they can be found in, and include as wide a variety as possible. A hot tip is to include foods that contain different combinations with each meal, to ensure you’re are absorbing and utilising lots of different aminos throughout your day.   


Essential (9)

Non-essential (11)












Aspartic acid






Glutamic acid


















Visit Fithealth Nutrition for more advice on amino acid products or a qualified health practitioner before supplementing with individual amino acids.


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