The following is a discussion with Hugh Dunstan (InnovAAte Scientist) focusing on the principles behind how the OptiomAAte and ElectrAAte amino acids work for supporting exercise and recovery – and an explanation of why proteins don’t make the cut.
Why doesn’t taking protein supplements help during exercise?
When you are exercising, your digestive capacity is greatly reduced, because the blood is primarily diverted away from the digestive tract to the muscles. As a result, the capacity to digest proteins is impaired and the protein can sit heavily in your stomach.
Will taking protein supplements help if I take them straight after exercise?
Digestion remains impaired for some hours after the exercise, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise. Taking protein supplements after exercise will provide no immediate advantages because they need to be digested to release the amino acids.
Why do proteins need to be digested?
Proteins are very large structures which are built by linking amino acids together in a specific order. As an example, albumin, one of the main proteins in our blood, is made from 585 amino acids, linked together in a specific order and folded in a special configuration.
The ingested proteins must first be digested before they can be utilised in the body. This means that the proteins need to be broken down to release the individual amino acids that can then be absorbed into the body. These absorbed amino acids can then be used by the body to build new proteins.
The protein supplements will ultimately provide some benefit after exercise, but this will take some hours before the proteins can be digested to release the amino acids for uptake by the body.
What is the need for providing amino acids straight after exercise?
During exercise, you cannot digest food, and so the body has evolved a process known as “the catabolic response”, whereby certain body proteins, primarily in the muscle tissues, are broken down to provide amino acids to support the exercise. The body essentially sacrifices its own proteins to provide the amino acids required to support energy metabolism, recovery and repair.
After exercise, the body is generally in a protein deficit or negative nitrogen balance.
If we can provide “free” amino acids either during or immediately after exercise, then we can potentially reduce the demand for the body to break down its own proteins.
Why would we want to reduce the protein breakdown in the body?
If we can minimise the need for protein breakdown in the body, then there is a better capacity to maintain and build muscle mass.
This can be linked to reducing muscle soreness, fatigue and reducing the risk of injury.
Reducing the amount of protein breakdown, means less work has to be done by the body to replace it. Recovery from exercise should theoretically be quicker and more efficient.
Is this what the branch chain amino acids (BCAA) do?
Taking the BCAA as free amino acids has certainly been beneficial in many applications. These are key amino acids in the muscles. This has been a key step in advancing our understanding of amino acid biotechnology.
However, we are much more advanced now in our understanding of what happens to amino acids in the body. We can now offer a new generation of amino acid supplementation products.
What is the basis to the new InnovAAte products?
Our research has taken us to understand that the body loses six key amino acids at faster rates than other amino acids.
These amino acids are used in multiple aspects of metabolism, including:
- Hormone production
- Formation of neurotransmitters
- Formation of DNA
- Folate metabolism
Certain amino acids are lost in very high abundances in urine and sweat.
The key strategy to the new InnovAAte product range is simply to replenish this key group of amino acids which have been identified to be lost at disproportionately faster rates than others during exercise.
Why can’t the amino acids be made by the body to meet demand, if we have a good diet?
Some of these key amino acids are “essential” amino acids which means the body cannot make them and we need to take them in from the diet. Our research has found that two of these amino acids are lost in higher proportions than they are delivered in the meat and plant proteins. Generally, more of these key amino acids are provided from meat sources.
Some of these key components can be made by the body, but under certain conditions of high intensity exercise and training, the body can’t make them sufficiently quickly to meet demand.
- Under these conditions these amino acids become “conditionally essential”.
What happens if the body cannot make them fast enough to support the exertion?
The body instigates the “catabolic response” to break down the body proteins to provide what it needs when it needs it. For example, the amino acid serine is lost in great abundance via sweat and general metabolism. If the body needs to top up supplies of serine during exertion, then the catabolism of endogenous proteins in muscle can release what is required.
The down side of this is that many of the other amino acid components present in the protein that is broken down are not required in the same quantities, and thus get utilised as an energy source or converted to fats.
If we can supply precisely what is needed at the critical time that it is needed, then we can minimise the requirement for catabolism in the body and reduce wastage of other amino acids.
Does this product include the BCAA?
The original InnovAAte formulation does not include the BCAA. The InnovAAte product is designed to replenish the key amino acids that are lost in greatest abundance during exercise.
- The aim is to reduce the internal demand for these amino acids and in doing so, reduce the process of muscle catabolism.
- As a result there will be smaller losses of the BCAA
- Less wastage of other amino acids.
Can this product be taken during exercise?
Yes. The product contains the key factors required to support exertion as well as electrolytes.
Because the amino acids are in a free form, they do not need to be digested and can be rapidly absorbed for effective use by the body.
The OptimAAte and ElectrAAte amino acids come as a powder mix which can be mixed with water to carry in a hydration bottle.
Are any of these components illegal for professional sports?
The amino acids and the electrolyte components are normal dietary components that are found in foods. There are no drugs or banned substances. The product is made via an allergy free manufacturing process which means they are clean as free from peanuts and milk products.
- Different sporting bodies have varying restrictions and competitors should check specific limitations available at the Global DRO website for your nominated sport.
- OptimAAte and ElectrAAte have been tested for 200 substances banned by WADA and a certificate of testing is available on request.
What is the difference between an amino acid, a polypeptide and a protein?
Amino acids are joined together via linkage called a peptide bond. When two amino acids are joined together, this is called a “dipeptide”. If three amino acids are joined together, this is called a “tri-peptide”. When multiple amino acids are joined together, this is called a polypeptide.
A protein, by definition, is thus a polypeptide. Proteins are often very large, like the example of the albumin protein with 585 amino acids joined together. Some proteins are much smaller, and some of these small proteins are hormones – for example growth hormone and erythropoietin.
These are sometimes referred to as peptide hormones or polypeptides, and there is often great confusion in the use of these terms.
- The InnovAAte products only contain amino acids and electrolytes
- There are no peptides or polypeptides in the formulations
Why haven’t these amino acids been discovered before?
Amino acids have been known to exist in sweat for several decades. However, little research has been done to understand why they are there and how they could impact on health and performance.
Our research has quantified the potential losses of amino acids in sport and then modelled these losses to determine the key factors in demand during exercise.
This required a research background with investigations in sweat and urine losses and a deep understanding of amino acid metabolism in relation to fatigue.
Our InnovAAte range of products originates from ground-breaking research since 2014, where we adopted a new approach to measuring sweat losses during exertion. We then developed computer-based models of protein turnover and amino acid metabolism to arrive at a product line that is built totally on science.