Amino acids for weight loss: Which ones and how much?

While many people are familiar with vitamins and minerals, most of us don’t give much thought to the individual amino acids that make up protein.

Following on from the analysis of the essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, this article looks at our satiety response to the individual amino acids to determine optimal stretch targets that will maximise benefit in terms of health and satiety.

Current targets 

Each of the amino acids have important and distinct functions in your body. The table below shows the minimum levels set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the individual amino acids to prevent deficiency. 

Amino acid(s)WHO mg per kg body weightWHO mg per 70 kgUS mg per kg body weight
Histidine1070014
Isoleucine20140019
Leucine39273042
Lysine30210038
Methionine+ Cysteine10.4 + 4.1 (15 total)1050 total19 total
Phenylalanine+ Tyrosine25 (total)1750 total33 total
Threonine15105020
Tryptophan42805
Valine26182024

Protein 

If you’ve been keeping up with this series, you’ll be aware that we have a powerful satiety response to a higher proportion of energy from the protein in our diet.  

The chart below shows the percentage of protein versus calorie intake divided by the basal metabolic rate (BMR) for forty thousand days of food diary logs from more than a thousand people.  A person who eats 35% of their energy from protein is likely to be consuming 20% fewer calories per day than someone getting 20% of their energy from protein.

The average protein intake of Optimisers is 28%, while the 85th percentile intake is 40%.  There is a wide distribution of protein intake represented in the data.  Very few people are consuming less than 10%, while at the other extreme, only a handful of people are getting more than 50% of their energy from protein.  If you are looking to lose weight by increasing satiety, you could aim for a stretch target of 40% protein.    

It’s difficult for most people to consume a protein intake of greater than 50% for long as our appetite for easy energy from carbs and fats kick in. Our nutrient density analysis of different diets also indicates that once we go over 50% protein nutrient density starts to decline. So, unless you’re doing a short term Protein Sparing Modified Fast there’s not much benefit in trying to push protein beyond 50% of calories.

Before we go on, it’s important to highlight that it’s not just a matter of consuming more protein in absolute terms. As shown in the chart below, simply eating more protein tends to align with a higher energy intake.

The satiety benefit comes from reducing the fat and carbs in your diet which will increase the percentage of protein in your diet.

To think of it another way, it’s about manipulating your protein to energy ratio.

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To dig a little deeper into the satiety response to protein, the rest of this article looks at the satiety response to an individual amino acids.  

Satiety response to amino acids

The charts below show the satiety response to the individual amino acids, along with:

  • the average intake of Optimisers, and
  • our recommended stretch target.

In a few cases, you will notice an inflection point where a higher intake does not provide significantly more benefit.  Where this is the case, we have used this to define our stretch target. Where there is no distinct change, we have set the stretch target to align with the 85th percentile intake of Optimisers.  This will be a challenge, but still achievable with food. 

The charts below are accompanied by a brief description of the function of each of the amino acids.  If any of the benefits or deficiency conditions are more important to you, you could focus on achieving the stretch target for those particular amino acids.

Cystine 

Cystine is required for the synthesis of insulin, skin, hair, biotin, glutathione, taurine and sulphate.  It also helps with the detoxification of chemicals and has antioxidant properties and lowers insulin resistance. 

A lack of cystine is associated with poor immune function, aging, cancer, a decreased ability to process drugs and toxic chemicals, and poor wound healing.  

Foods that contain more cysteine include egg whites, beef, pork and whey protein.

Histidine 

Your body uses histidine to regulate and use iron, copper, molybdenum, zinc, and manganese. 

A lack of histidine is associated with allergies, poor hearing, heavy metal toxicity, schizophrenia, hypertension, Parkinson’s Disease, poor memory, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid issues.

Foods that contain more cysteine include beef, venison, ham and pork.

Isoleucine 

Isoleucine helps to heal muscle tissue, boost energy levels and assists in recovery from strenuous physical activity.

Foods that contain more cysteine include egg white, soy protein, haddock, beef and shrimp.

Leucine 

Leucine is critical for muscle protein synthesis, stimulates the release of anabolic hormones that help in the regulation of blood sugar, promotes the growth and the recovery of muscle and bone tissues, as well as the production of growth hormone.  

Foods that contain more leucine include egg white, seaweed, cod and cottage cheese.  

Lysine 

Lysine is a necessary building block for all proteins in your body and plays an important role in calcium absorption. 

Lysine is essential for muscle growth and is used to form carnitine, which helps transport fats across your cells to be used for energy. 

A deficiency of leucine is associated with anemia, fatigue, poor concentration, loss of bone calcium, tiredness and infertility.  

Foods that contain more lysine include haddock, beef, shrimp, prawns, chicken, turkey and halibut.

Methionine 

Methionine contains sulphur and can produce other sulphur-containing molecules in the body.  

Foods that contain more methionine include egg white, egg, haddock, prawns, shrimp and cod.  

Glycine 

While we don’t have data from Optimisers on glycine, it is worth a mention as a conditionally essential amino acid that is contained in connective tissue.  

It’s crucial to get adequate glycine to balance your methionine intake.  Glycine provides a range of benefits, including sleep and improved skin.  It’s also has a sweet taste, so it can be used as a sugar replacement in their drinks.

Foods that contain more glycine include chicken breast, molluscs, lungs, pigs feet, pigs ears, lobster, shrimp and prawns.  

Phenylalanine 

Phenylalanine is a precursor of tyrosine that works as an appetite suppressant.  It helps with the production of dopamine with improves your levels of satisfaction with your food (as well as the rest of your life) and also enhances your learning and memory.  

Foods that contain more phenylalanine include egg white, prawns, shrimp, haddock and cottage cheese.  

Threonine 

Threonine supports cardiovascular, liver, nervous system, and immune system function.  It also plays a role in the formation of tooth enamel, collagen and elastin in your skin and is a precursor to glycine.  

A lack of threonine is associated with confusion, digestive issues, agitation, fatty liver and depression.  

Foods that contain more threonine include beef, haddock, pollock, cod and tuna.  

Tryptophan

Tryptophan has a powerful initial satiety response that levels out once you get more than around 2 g/2000 calories. 

Tryptophan is a precursor of niacin, melatonin (which helps you sleep) and serotonin (which makes you happy). Tryptophan also suppresses sweet cravings and appetite

Deficiency of tryptophan is associated with anemia, anxiety, depression, decreased serotonin, fatty liver, insomnia, poor concentration and suicidal thoughts.  

Tryptophan is contained in egg whites, Greek yogurt, crab, mozzarella cheese, and crayfish.

Tyrosine 

Tyrosine improves cognition and working memory under stressful conditions, improves exercise tolerance in heat, and is a precursor to thyroid hormones. 

A lack of tyrosine is associated with low blood pressure, low body temperature, restless legs, stress, exhaustion, poor memory and apathy.   

Foods that contain more tyrosine include cottage cheese, salmon, shrimp and beef.  

Valine 

Valine calms emotions, enhances immune function, and improves muscle coordination.  

Foods that contain more valine include egg white, cottage cheese and halibut.  

Comparison of response to amino acids 

The chart below shows the satiety response curves for all the individual amino acids combined.  Generally, the amino acids tend to behave as a group with a similar response. To the right of the chart, we see lysine and leucine, which make up a large proportion of the amino acid intake.  

Zooming in on the smaller amino acids (i.e. excluding lysine and leucine), we see that we get more of a “bang for buck” satiety response from cysteine, methionine, and phenylalanine, while we reach a minimum effective dose-response for tryptophan, histidine and threonine. 

Stretch targets for amino acids 

While all of the amino acids are important, you are likely to be getting enough of all of them if you are consuming an omnivorous diet with adequate protein (i.e. at least 1.4 g/kg LBM).

Repeatedly we find that if you are getting the vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids from your food you will be getting plenty of protein and the individual amino acids. When people run analyse their diet with Nutrient Optimiser they rarely find that they need to prioritise amino acids (unless they are intentionally following a strict plant-based diet).

However, if any of the conditions associated with each of the amino acids may resonate with you so you may choose to initially focus on a couple of amino acids.

To help you apply this information, the table below shows:

  • a suggested stretch target for increased satiety for males (assuming 2000 calories per day) and females (assuming 1600 calories per day) for each amino acid,
  • a suggested target in terms of g/kg body weight, and 
  • a comparison between the stretch target and the WHO minimum Dietary Recommended Intake to prevent disease.

The stretch targets that align with greater satiety are around six times the recommended minimum levels to prevent deficiency!

amino acidONI (male) (g)ONI (female) (g)
cystine2.31.9
glycine4.03.0
histidine4.93.9
isoleucine8.06.4
leucine13.610.9
lysine13.510.8
methionine4.33.5
phenylalanine7.15.7
threonine7.25.8
tryptophan1.91.5
tyrosine5.94.7
valine8.87.1

How is this useful?

If you are focusing on complete proteins from nutrient-dense whole food sources, there may not be a lot of use in focusing on individual amino acids.  A nutrient-dense that contains plenty of vitamins, minerals and essential fats tends to provide plenty of protein.

If your goal is to achieve optimal health (rather than just avoiding diseases due to nutrient deficiencies), you should initially refine your diet to hit your minimum protein target protein intake (which can be calculated using the Nutrient Optimiser Free Report).      

Once you can routinely achieve your protein target, you can enter these amino acid stretch targets in Cronometer and work to level up your nutrient density using Nutrient Optimiser.   The example below is for a male (assuming 2000 calories per day).

The target amino acid intake for a female (consuming 1600 calories per day) is shown below.

You can then track the individual amino acids in Cronometer to see whether you are meeting the stretch targets. In the example below, we can see that we could focus on getting more histidine and lysine (i.e. the amino acids shown in yellow, not green)

Where do I start?

After four years of digging into the theory, we’ve created some exciting tools to help you optimise your nutrition:

Up next…

In our next instalment, we’ll summarise the optimum nutrient intake levels for all of the essential nutrients.  

To kickstart your journey towards optimal get your free program and one of 70+ food lists personalised just for you!  

Marty Kendall
 

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