What is Phenylalanine?
You may have seen phenylalanine listed on your supplement panel, or have seen it on the side of diet sodas reading “Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine.” So does that mean it’s dangerous?
If a warning is necessary, should our pre-workout or intra-workout supplements have it?
Well, let’s find out, fit friends.
Phenylalanine is an Essential Amino Acid
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, which means the body cannot make it but does need it. You can get it consuming most foods with protein. Chicken, beef, fish, pork, milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese and soy products contain it.
Oh, and so does anything with aspartame, the artificial sweetener.
When you consume it, the body converts it into tyrosine. We wrote all about tyrosine here, but to recap, it is vital to the production of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, including dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
When you take pure tyrosine it crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters the central nervous system. There, tyrosine is converted it into other chemicals to create dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine.
Tyrosine is also involved in making thyroid hormones like T3 and T4. While not its primary function, it can assist in thyroid function.
So, back to phenylalanine.
Phenylalanine: Depression, Energy and Focus
Because it is involved in creating mood boosting neurotransmitters, some forms of phenylalanine are used to treat depression.
Because it is involved in making epinephrine, it is often touted as a energy-enhancing focus-boosting badass.
The more focused you are while working out, the more you can accomplish, right? You can put your mind to the muscle, make it through with perfect form and get results faster in a perfect world, yes?
It is also purported to help with chronic pain. Athletes may find pain relief during recovery after intense training with phenylalanine although the studies are few and far between that support it.
But wait–what about that warning we talked about? It is important.
Some people are born with a metabolic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). They don’t possess the enzyme needed to convert phenylalanine into tyrosine. Thus, it builds up in their system at toxic levels and can cause intellectual disabilities, seizures, behavioral problems, and psychiatric disorders. So, yes, if one has PKU, they should be able to identify foods and beverages that contain phenylalanine so they can maintain their health.
Infants are tested upon birth and those with it must avoid phenylalanine and supplement with tyrosine since their bodies can’t convert phenylalanine into tyrosine.
So there you have it, curious minds. Phenylalanine is essential to our body’s functions, and only harmful if you have been diagnosed with PKU. Boom. Now that you are done growing your brain for the day, go hit the gym and build some muscle. Need a lil motivation? Go here.