What are amino acids?
Amino acids, often referred to as ‘building blocks of life,’ are compounds that combine to build proteins. Proteins provide structural support and functional properties to all living things, including the human body.
The body uses amino acids to build proteins that constitute muscle, bone, hormones, tissue, skin, hair, nails, blood and enzymes. Amino acids are either consumed through the diet or synthesised by other amino acids or compounds.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid that is abundant in skeletal muscle, assisting various metabolic and physiological mechanisms.
Food sources of taurine include:
Most food sources of taurine are animal-based, making it difficult to consume adequate amounts for those following a plant-based diet. However, taurine can be synthesised by the body, utilising cysteine. Cysteine is abundant in a range of food sources including poultry, meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains.
There is often a poor reputation associated with taurine consumption due to its presence in energy drinks. Taurine often appears in these drinks to complement the effect of caffeine, including to counteract fatigue and enhance muscle contraction. However, energy drinks often comprise of large amounts of sugar, caffeine and other discretionary ingredients that should not be consumed regularly. The amino acid itself is considered a safe compound and is often found in infant formula to support growth and development.
Endurance and muscle strength
Various studies have observed the effect of taurine supplementation on athletic performance, in both endurance- and strength-based activities. Studies found muscular strength and function were improved with taurine supplementation by reducing oxidative stress during exercise. High levels of oxidative stress during exercise is not ideal for the body as it can lead to muscle damage and poor performance. This mechanism also found to support muscle recovery and reduce fatigue in both anaerobic and aerobic physical activity.
Taurine plays a role in calcium homeostasis, where it can increase calcium-binding proteins during muscle contractions. Research has observed the correlatioin between taurine supplementation and improved muscular strength and endurance, based on supported calcium regulation.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity
Exercise is known to induce a proinflammatory state in the body, based on the increase of inflammatory mediators; TNF-a, CRP and IL-6. During the recovery period, there is an influx of anti-inflammatory agents to regulate inflammation, repair muscle tissue and promote performance adaptations. Research has observed unchanged inflammatory markers following physical activity in those who supplement taurine, suggesting it could act to reduce and/ or prevent exercise-induced inflammation. Although there is no conclusive evidence to date, taurine is predicted to be involved in muscle damage repair processes and potentially the inhibition of oxidative stress, suggesting the role in the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators in relation to exercise.
Oxidative stress is increased in response to exercise, due to the flux of oxygen to working muscles. Oxidative stress can cause a variety of implications to not only general health, but also performance. Diminished performance, muscle fatigue, poor recovery and reduced muscle contractability can result from high levels of oxidative stress. Taurine supplementation has been observed to act as an antioxidant, particularly in regions of the body that are prone to oxidative stress following physical activity.
Fuel utilisation changes
Taurine is a modulator in fat metabolism and may be responsible for changing fuel utilisation from glucose to fat during physical activity. This mechanism increases fat metabolism (lipolysis) and decreases glycolytic metabolism during exercise, resulting in this change of fuel utilisation.
Taurine has been observed to induce fibroblast growth factors (FGFs), which play an important role in energy balance. FGFs act as hormones that reduce carbohydrate metabolism, blood glucose levels and fat mass, resulting in the potential to reduce body weight. Supplementing with taurine to increase plasma levels can increase the metabolic efficiency of exercise, leading to improved outcomes of weight loss.
Impaired levels of specific FGFs may play a role in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Taurine assists in regulating FGFs by switching fuel utilisation during exercise, from glucose to fat. Research has also observed a positive influence of taurine supplementation on glycaemic indices, including fasting blood glucose levels, HbA1c and HOMA-IR in diabetic patients, when compared to placebo groups. This suggests taurine may be an emerging diabetes management option, however further research is required to understand the responsible mechanisms .
Lifespan and longevity
Throughout the lifespan, taurine levels begin to decline. Taurine is responsible for a wide range of metabolic processes that are also hallmarks for aging. These include mitochondrial function, epigenetic changes, intercellular communication, proteostasis and nutrient sensing. Research has observed those who supplement taurine have greater lifespans and reduced risk of metabolic disease. Although rare, taurine deficiency is associated with a range of conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, inflammation, hypertension and impaired glucose/ insulin functions.
Recommendations for supplementation
Research around taurine supplementation recommends 3-10g per day. If supplementing taurine for physical performance, it is important to consider plasma levels begin to rise after 10 minutes of ingestion, with a peak at around 1 hour following.
Kurtz JA, VanDusseldorp TA, Doyle JA, et al. Taurine in sports and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021;18(39). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00438-0
Chen Q, Li Z, Pinho RA, Gupta RC, Ugbolue UC, Thirupathi A, Gu Y. The dose response of taurine on aerobic and strength exercises: a systematic review. Front Physiol. 2021;12. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.700352
Singh P, Gollapalli K, Mangiola S, et al. Taurine deficiency as a driver of aging. Science. 2023;380:6649. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abn9257