Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend. He said that consuming proteins and amino-acids is different. He said that those who grow muscles would agree on that. I wanted to argue against that statement, but I lacked arguments... As far as I know, amino-acids are part of proteins. So, when proteins go to our body with food, we digest it and make amino-acids. Then they can form any kind of proteins we need. The same would happen when consuming amino-acids directly, not in protein form. Maybe then the process would be faster. But from my point of view, there is no much of a difference. Could anyone please give me a more sound opinion on why is consuming proteins and amino-acids different, if it is?

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    $\begingroup$ I am not an anabolic expert, but I bet that for growing muscle specific aminoacids are needed more than others. Hence, consuming aminoacids may give the body builder the opportunity to provide targeted supplements? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Essential amino acids are important for muscle synthesis. The only benefit I could draw from consuming amino acids is that there's some time-dependent benefit vs digestion time of whole protein. On the flip side, however, you find that amino acid supplements can require half the bottle to get the same output as, for example, a whey powder. Some of these pills are sometimes simply whole protein anyways. Consuming essential amino acids should be the goal, and how to time this for best performance could be a legitimate literature search. $\endgroup$
    – CKM
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ What bodybuilders usually consume are not pure amino acids (which would usually be too expensive) but protein powders prepared from various sources - wheat, soy bean and so on. It helps building up muscle mass when training accodingly. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 12, 2015 at 9:36

1 Answer 1


To put it shortly:

  • Proteins have properties that individual amino acids that make up the protein does not have.
  • Similarly the individual amino acids have properties that the protein does not have.

This is analogous to elements vs compounds.

The site referenced below quotes 3 experiments done to examine this phenomena.

All experiments compared effectiveness of whey protein with that of essential amino acid (EAA) supplements. Experiments 1 and 2 involved old people while experiment 3 involved young people.

Conclusion of experiments is as follows:

  1. Both EAA and whey protein (15 g of EAA and 15 g whey was taken by the respective groups) induced muscle growth, however EAA had better anabolic effect as compared to whey.
  2. In this 3 groups were compared. 15 g of whey vs 6.72 g of EAA vs. 7.57 g of non-essential amino acids. Whey had higher anabolic effect as compared to EAA while the third group showed no improvement. This additional anabolic effect is attributed to unknown mechanisms. The anabolic effect was measured using a different method add compared to the first experiment. So results may not be comparable.
  3. In this 3 groups of young men were compared. The first group was given carbohydrate (30 g) and EAA (15 g) drink, the second group liquid meal containing same quantity of EAA and total 850 calories while the third group was given both. The conclusion:
    • The third group, as expected had the highest anabolic rate
    • The first group (protein and carbohydrate drink) had better anabolic rate when compared with the liquid meal group though they both took the same amount of EAA. The difference was in carbohydrate content. The liquid meal had higher carbohydrates content when compared with the first group.

Whey has insulinogenic effect invitro. Whey also has the same effect whether taken before or after exercise while the protein drink has better effect when taken before exercise.

Among amino acids leucine, when taken alone has anabolic effect comparable to a mixture of EAA.

In conclusion:

However, whey contains various bioactive peptides that act to enhance recovery and potentially in other ways that positively effect the adaptive process to exercise (12). These bioactive peptides are not found in EAA, BCAA, or Leucine, and appear to be a unique quality to dairy proteins. So what we can't say is that these aminos are the deciding factor in whey's effects...or that we can use one in place of the other (interchangeably) in all cases.


Please read the article which has more details and graphs and references for further study.

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    $\begingroup$ I have only quickly skimmed this article, but I would be very cautious about relying on it. It is full of claims without supporting references, and it's written by the company that sells these supplements. The studies cited are small, short-term and measure wildly different things. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 7:40

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