When determining how much of a nutrient you need a day, it is customary to consider macronutrients in the diet (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) as a percent of total caloric intake. But when it comes to how many grams of amino acids you need in a day the dose is generally referred to in gram amounts. The number of calories in a pure essential amino acid (EAA) supplement, for instance, is insignificant in the context of total caloric intake, and for this reason supplements are generally sold in gram (g) units.
The Standard 3-Gram Dose
How the body responds to EAAs depends on how many grams it gets. A dose of as little as 3 grams can stimulate muscle protein synthesis significantly. Consuming a 3-gram EAA supplement can generate almost 6 grams of muscle protein—the perfect balance of EAAs enables the muscle to incorporate every single one of the EAAs into protein. The body also reuses readily available nonessential amino acids to contribute to the total amount of protein produced.
While a 3-gram dose can be effective over time, the amount of muscle protein made from that small dose is limited to the amount of EAAs consumed relative to the size of the muscle mass. While the production of 6 grams of muscle protein from 3 grams of EAAs is impressive, it is not a large amount of new muscle protein when compared with total muscle mass. Muscle mass can range from 25-80 pounds depending on your gender, size, and body type. Certain EAA benefits, such as the anti-inflammatory effects, are immediately activated with a dosage of 3 grams, but it will take some patience before you see the benefits in terms of muscle size and strength—at least a month of regular consumption, preferably twice per day, to achieve noticeable gains in muscle mass and function.
The Maximum 15-Gram Dose
The amount of muscle protein produced in response to EAA intake increases linearly up to a dose of 15 grams. Quite simply, a bigger dose will give you a bigger response, but more than 15 grams is unnecessary. Also, as long as you wait at least one hour after one dose before taking another dose, you will get the same response to each of the multiple doses in one day.
So, there is a big range of possible doses of EAAs. The appropriate dose depends on your desired results, and how fast you want to achieve them. If you are on the smaller side and are seeking to support muscle health, a basic dose of 3 grams is reasonable. For example, a petite woman of around 100 pounds with about 30 pounds of muscle will get a robust response and over time see positive effects with a 3-gram dose of EAAs. A young healthy man who weighs 200 lbs and has a muscle mass of about 80 pounds would be better off with a 6-gram dose of EAAs. (A 3-gram dose would be just 0.008% of the muscle mass, so 6 grams would be more appropriate in order to account for the larger muscle mass.) Two doses per day, between meals, is optimal, but you will still get beneficial effects if you only take one dose per day.
The important point to keep in mind is that EAAs are required nutrients with many roles in the body beyond acting as components of muscle protein. A small dose of 3 grams can have beneficial effects in a number of respects in addition to building muscle, so even a large muscular man will benefit from a small dose. The activities in which one participates, and the desired results from the EAA supplement, are probably more important than a person’s size or physical makeup.
How to Take EAAs
EAAs can be consumed either as powder dissolved in water, as capsules, as a beverage, or a combination of all three. EAA supplements usually contain amino acids and some flavoring. It is common that about 20-25% of the weight of a supplement is flavoring. When determining the right EAA dose for you, be sure you are using the weight of the active component of the mixture (i.e, the EAAs), and you are not including the weight of the flavoring. If you are using a supplement that has a mixture of free EAAs and protein, add the EAA component of the protein to the amount of free EAAs to determine the dose you are consuming. For example, if you are using a supplement containing 3 grams of free EAAs and 1.5 grams of whey protein you’re consuming approximately 4.5 grams of EAAs, since whey protein is roughly 50% EAAs.
If you are taking EAA supplements because your regular diet falls short in meeting the recommended intake of high-quality protein, then, in addition to the between-meal doses, I recommend taking supplements with your meals to enhance the physiological effectiveness of the consumption of the incomplete protein food sources in your diet. The dosage with meals to make up for dietary deficiencies depends on how far short your diet falls of the goal intake of high-quality protein. In the case of a vegan diet, this could be up to 15 grams of EAAs with each meal to obtain optimal results.
Optimal nutritional supplementation with EAAs will help maintain an adequate supply of amino acids in the blood throughout the day to support various physiological functions without the interruptions that normally occur when food is not being absorbed. Best results are therefore obtained by taking an EAA supplement twice per day, between meals or before going to bed.
If you are still unsure how many grams of amino acids you personally need in a day, don’t worry about it. The beauty of essential amino acids is that there are no known adverse responses to a balanced formulation of EAAs, so you don’t have to be concerned that you are taking too much. A very small dose has proven benefits for stimulating muscle protein synthesis, so you likewise don’t need to worry that you are taking too small of a dose to elicit beneficial results. The recommended dosages are meant as guidelines; if you find successful results with a different dose, stick with it.