Amino acids are the potent building blocks of the protein in our food as well as our muscles and vital organs. Their importance in health is undeniable, but our understanding of the ideal intake of each amino acid for different contexts and goals remains limited.
With a particular focus on amino acids for weight loss, this article employs a data-driven approach to demystify:
- The ‘bliss point’ for each amino acid that correlates with overeating.
- The optimal intake of each amino acid that aligns with satiety and facilitates weight loss.
Dive in to unravel the enigma of amino acids and elevate your journey to weight loss and satiety.
- Satiety Response to Protein: Decoding Amino Acids for Weight Loss
- Should You Restrict Protein for Weight Loss?
- Satiety Response to Each Essential Amino Acid
- How Much of Each Amino Acid Do We Need?
- Which Amino Acid is Most Important for Satiety?
- Do I Need to Worry about Amino Acids?
- Nature’s Weight Loss vs Satiety Settings: Dialling Up Amino Acids for Weight Loss
- Amino Acid Supplements and BCAAs for Weight Loss
- Levelling Up Your Amino Acid Targets
Satiety Response to Protein: Decoding Amino Acids for Weight Loss
The chart below shows the satiety response to protein % in your food, created from data from 838,686 days of data from free-living people, just like you.
Protein Bliss Point for Rapid Weight Gain
The most fascinating observation from this analysis is the ‘bliss point’ that we see at 12.5% protein.
While the term ‘bliss point’ usually refers to the perfect combination of sugar, fat and salt in ultra-processed food, we also have a bliss point for protein, where we eat the most. Most ultra-processed junk food contains around 12.5% protein.
The lower limit of the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein (i.e. 10% or 0.8 g/kg) is just below the bliss point. So, by treating the official minimum protein intake as an ‘acceptable’ target, you are setting yourself up for maximum energy intake.
Protein Restriction Leads to Weight Loss
Towards the left of the protein vs energy chart above, we can see that we eat less when our food contains minimal protein (e.g. fruitarian, therapeutic keto or high starch, low-fat plant-based diets).
Compared to hyperpalatable foods optimised to hit our bliss points, very low-protein foods taste bland and less appealing, disrupting our normal appetite regulation.
Should You Restrict Protein for Weight Loss?
However, while you might eat less, a very low protein intake tends to align with a lower nutrient density and could put you at risk of losing precious lean muscle mass.
Ensuring adequate protein to support your lean mass during weight loss is critical, so restricting protein is not necessarily the ideal way to lose weight over the long term.
If you choose to follow a very low-protein diet for weight loss, you will need to pay particular attention to the mineral and vitamin content in your diet and track your body fat % and lean mass trends over the long term (e.g. using a bioimpedance scale).
Protein Leverage: Harnessing Amino Acids for Weight Loss
It’s well known that higher protein intakes can promote fat oxidation, aiding in weight loss. But how much is enough?
Towards the right of the protein vs energy chart, we’ve noted an Optimal Nutrient Intake for protein at 40%. Once you get 40% protein, you’d likely be better off focusing on your other priority minerals and vitamins rather than trying to pack in more protein.
While getting more than 40% protein is possible, it’s hard to achieve and even more challenging for most people to sustain. As you can see in the frequency distribution chart below, most people gravitate back to around 12% protein.
Satiety Response to Leucine
When we dig deeper into the data, we see a similar satiety response curve that reveals the intake of each amino acid that aligns with greater satiety and, hence, weight loss.
To illustrate, let’s look at leucine. This branched-chain amino acid amino acid plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial for muscle hypertrophy.
The leucine vs energy chart reveals a bliss point for leucine at 4.7 g/2000 calories. This appears to be the minimum that we need and that our bodies crave.
- If we don’t get at least this amount, our appetite will ensure we continue to eat until we get this minimum amount (i.e. we’re stuck in the ‘craving zone’).
- However, towards the right, we can see that, in line with protein leverage, we will eat less as we pack in more leucine per calorie.
Based on this analysis, we’ve set an Optimal Nutrient Intake for leucine at 14 g/2000 calories, which is three times the bliss point (minimum) for leucine. While it’s possible to get even more leucine, you’d be better off chasing your other priority micronutrients.
The data also shows that people who reach the Optimal Nutrient Intake for leucine tend to consume 24% less energy than those consuming the bliss point amount of leucine.
It’s interesting to see how this ‘bliss point’ (minimum) amount aligns with research by Professor Donald Layman, who suggests we require at least 3-4 g of leucine per meal to trigger muscle protein synthesis. However, while leucine is the amino acid we consume in the largest quantities, it’s not just about leucine.
Satiety Response to Each Essential Amino Acid
As we delve deeper into the benefits of amino acids, it’s clear that they play pivotal roles beyond muscle maintenance, including fat burning, muscle gain, appetite suppression, and metabolism boost, which are all crucial factors for individuals on a weight loss journey.
Now, let’s look at the satiety response to all the essential amino acids for weight loss. The chart below shows the satiety response for all the essential amino acids combined, showing that getting more of all the essential amino acids aligns with eating less. For clarity, we’ve truncated the satiety response for each amino between the bliss point and the Optimal Nutrient Intake.
How Much of Each Amino Acid Do We Need?
The bliss point amount (i.e. the minimum that your body craves) and the Optimal Nutrient Intake stretch target to maximise satiety for each amino acid are summarised in the table below, with the ‘satiety response’ column showing the reduction in energy intake when we move from the bliss point to the Optimal Nutrient Intake.
|Amino acid||Bliss Point (g/2000 cal)||ONI (g/2000 cal)||Satiety Response|
Which Amino Acid is Most Important for Satiety?
While increasing your intake of all the essential amino acids in your food aligns with eating less, methionine appears to have the largest satiety response of all the amino acids.
As shown in the chart below, moving from the bliss point to the Optimal Nutrient Intake for methionine aligns with a 27% reduction in energy intake. Moving to the optimal nutrient intake for histidine aligns with a smaller 24% reduction in energy intake.
This increased satiety response to methionine maybe because it is more prevalent in animal-based foods, and the protein tends to be more bioavailable.
Do I Need to Worry about Amino Acids?
If you get adequate protein from an omnivorous diet, you’ll get enough amino acids. But if you’re following a vegan or plant-based diet or relying on BCAA supplements, it would be smart to track your amino acid intake and ensure you’re getting enough (but not too much) of each amino acid in your diet.
While animal-based proteins (e.g. meat, seafood, dairy, eggs and whey protein) are complete proteins, plant-based protein sources are incomplete, meaning they do not contain all nine essential amino acids in the ratios we require to build and repair muscle. To address this, some people combine complementary plant-based protein sources to create a more complete protein profile to ensure they obtain enough of each amino acid.
If you are consuming mainly incomplete plant-based protein, you can use the bliss point amino acids targets to ensure you get minimum intake of all the essential amino acids.
Nature’s Weight Loss vs Satiety Settings: Dialling Up Amino Acids for Weight Loss
Harnessing the power of amino acids for weight loss can significantly impact your weight loss journey by aligning your nutrient intake with nature’s satiety settings.
In nature, different foods are available at different times, which allows animals like Beadnose (pictured below, three months apart) to gain fat quickly to survive winter hibernation.
You can think of the bliss point nutrient intake as the perfect ‘autumnal setting’ to maximise growth and fat gain. This is perfect if you’re a farmer wanting to fatten cattle quickly in a feedlot, but not so great if you have weight to lose.
The Optimal Nutrient Intakes align with spring or our high satiety, weight-loss setting.
Nutrient-dense foods and meals provide more of each nutrient per calorie. They give your body what you need more efficiently, with less energy and provide greater satiety per calorie. So, if you have weight to lose, you can dial up your protein and amino acid targets towards the Optimal Nutrient Intake targets.
Unfortunately, most of us are stuck in autumn and need to move towards spring. Moving towards the Optimal Nutrient Intakes also ensures your body has enough raw materials to thrive without the excess energy you probably don’t need.
But rather than simplistically aiming for the optimal amino acid stretch targets, it’s better to view these targets as a sliding scale, where:
- The bliss point aligns with growth and weight gain while
- The optimal amino targets align with greater satiety and aggressive weight loss.
Amino Acid Supplements and BCAAs for Weight Loss
Amino acids supplements — like branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or protein powders —can be helpful for those struggling to meet their minimum protein needs through diet alone (e.g. if you’re currently getting less than 12.5% protein).
These supplements provide essential amino acids that support muscle growth and maintenance, help regulate appetite, increase energy expenditure and potentially reduce weight.
However, if your goal is to increase satiety for weight loss, getting most of your protein and amino acids from whole food sources will be ideal. Protein powders and isolated BCAA supplements are effectively pre-digested and hence will not keep you as full for long.
When you get your amino acids from complete protein sources, not only are they more satiating and harder to overeat, but they also come with the full spectrum of amino acids that your body needs to thrive.
Levelling Up Your Amino Acid Targets
If you’re tracking your food to track your protein and amino acid intake, the screenshot below shows how you could update your amino acid targets in Cronometer if you wanted to target the full-strength Optimal Nutrient Intakes and are consuming 2000 calories per day.
However, at least initially, most people will find these targets too challenging, so moving from your current intake towards the Optimal Nutrient Intake is better. To streamline this process, we provide Optimisers in our Micros Masterclass with a spreadsheet that automatically calculates their target micronutrient intakes based on their typical energy intake.
While dialling in your intake of each amino acid may be fascinating, the first step is to ensure you are getting adequate protein.
Increase Your Protein Intake
Our high-protein foods lists, which provide more protein per serving, can assist if you struggle to meet your minimum protein requirements (i.e. less than 12.5%).
Increase Your Protein %
If you’re ready to dial up your satiety to crush your craving with fewer calories, check out our protein-rich food lists, which provide protein with less energy from fat and carbohydrates.
Need Some Extra Help?
- Finally, our Macros Masterclass is here to guide you in adjusting your diet to meet protein needs without excess energy.
- When you’re set to elevate your dietary standards and reach for the Optimal Nutrient Intakes for all the essential nutrients, our Micros Masterclass awaits.