Branched chain amino acids are a must for muscles (and more!)
Branched chain amino acids are a direct source of energy for skeletal muscles.
At the same time they are ATP-producing via the citric acid cellular energy cycle.
They have a lot to do with how much lean muscle mass you have. They stimulate the building of protein in muscle, help reduce muscle breakdown during exercise, and regulate protein metabolism throughout the body.
The Basics of Branched chain amino acids:
The branched chain amino acids (BCAA’)s are made up of three essential amino acids. Those are: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Branched chain amino acids make up 40 percent of the daily requirement of all nine essential amino acids. This shows you how important they are, right?
BCAA’s are found in foods containing protein, with the highest concentrations in eggs (specificaly the whites) and whey protein.
- Chicken, beef and salmon contain good amounts too.
- Note that these are all foods that give you energy.
- Branched chain amino acids can also be supplemented, which means faster pre-workout delivery to the bloodstream for all athletes including those who use them most-the bodybuilders.
- Free form BCAAs bypass the liver and gut to go directly into the blood stream.
- The more branched chain amino acids that are present in the muscles, the more they will be used for energy, slowing the breakdown of muscles cells and preventing muscle loss.
Here are some fun points and the I’ll get into more details:
- BCAAs trigger protein synthesis in muscles and inhibit the breakdown of muscle cells.
- Branched chain amino acids increase energy production during exercise, which is the reason that they are often used during workouts.
- They reduce muscle soreness from intense muscle-damaging exercise.
- People who consume essential amino acids that contain branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) with every meal have less visceral belly fat and more lean body mass.
- In healthy people, BCAAs improve glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity.
- In diabetics, BCAA dietary intake with other therapeutic interventions may improve disease control and “markers.”
- BCAAs convey many health benefits and a higher dietary intake has been identified as a predictor of longevity.
BCAAs Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis:
Branched chain amino acids trigger protein synthesis. When you combine branched chain amino acids with resistance exercise you get maximal protein synthesis.
This is because combining these because they both trigger something called the mTORC1 signaling pathway that is crucial to build muscle.
The branched chain amino acids along with l-glutamine and to a lesser extent l-alanine and l-aspartate are all taken into muscle tissue for energy.
Muscles burn BCAAs for energy during exercise, making a large pool of branched chain amino acids absolutely essential for performance.
Another benefit of branched chain amino acids is that if you have to take time off from training , increasing your BCAA intake will minimize muscle loss.
In addition, because branched chain amino acids trigger protein synthesis even without exercise, lean muscle tissue is preserved to then keep up metabolism up and help prevent fat gain.
Foods high in BCAA’s are then by definition metabolism boosting foods.
BCAA’s May Improve Strength Development With Training:
A recent large-scale analysis of training studies showed that protein supplementation led to much greater increases in leg press strength. This review included a variety of protein sources with high branched chain amino acid content.
A study of untrained young men taking 4 grams per day of the “main” branched chain amino acid-leucine showed remarkable results. After 3 months of weight training, the “leucine group” gained signifigantly more strength than the control group who received a placebo.
The leucine group increased strength by an average of 31 percent more on all exercises compared to the placebo group.
This study hasn’t been replicated with branched chain amino acid supplementation. However high BCAA-protein supplementation has indeed been found to lead to greater strength development when paired with strength training.
This evidence all suggests a diet rich in amino acids from multiple sources including eggs, whey protein powders, meat and branched chain amino acid supplements will maximize strength as well as size results.
BCAAs Enhance Endurance Performance and Decrease Fatigue:
Branched chain amino acids perform quite impressively to enhance endurance. There are ways branched chain amino acids do this.
First, BCAAs can be burned as energy to maintain ATP energy levels during glycogen-depleting exercise.
Branched chain amino acids may also enhance the body’s ability to burn fat when then increases the accessible energy pool.
Second, BCAAs prevent brain fatigue to indirectly improve brain health.
Tryptophan, which is the amino acid used to make the sedating, calming brain chemical seratonin is blocked from entrance to the brain,thus reducing “mental fatigue.”
Many scientists who study the limits of human performance believe that the real limiting factor in performance is when the brain tells you “I’m done.”
In one well done study, participants who took 300 mg/day of branched chain amino acids for 3 days and then completed in a full-out exhausting exercise trial had 17.2 percent greater resistance to fatigue compared to a placebo.
BCAAs Prevent Muscle Loss During Long-Duration Exercise:
Branch chained amino acids ALSO prevent muscle loss during ultra-endurance exercise.
Studies suggest that providing nutritional support with BCAAs or a high-BCAA containing protein will prevent catabolism by improving the overall energy-burning pool so that amino acids aren’t released from muscle tissue.
In another well done study, trained athletes who performed a 24-hour-long gruelling exercise trial experienced significant muscle protein degradation.
- On biopsy and lab testing, they had evidence of metabolic stress and muscle damage.
- There was a marked drop in blood levels of BCAAs over the exercise trial as well.
- Bottom line-for sure BCAA’s help with endurance efforts.
BCAAs Decrease Muscle Soreness & DOMS:
BCAAs preserve the integrity of muscle fibers and reduce post-workout soreness so you can train at a higher intensity more frequently.
A study of athletically trained men found that dosing BCAAs before and after doing 100 muscle-damaging drop jumps significantly reduced muscle soreness.
Maximal strength was decreased 33 percent less than a placebo.
Maximal strength was decreased 33 percent less than a placebo.
The dosing protocol had trainees take BCCAs for 7 days before and for 2 days after training as well as 20 grams before and after the workout for a total of 280 grams. Researchers point to the steady stream of BCAA’s as what made them so effective.
BCAAs Support Hormone Balance During Intense Training:
BCAAs support the overall balance of hormones, which (of course) play a role in an athlete’s ability to respond to advanced training loads.
Another well-done study looked at the effect of loading BCAAs with SIX grams of BCCA’s DAILY for 3 weeks followed by a week of high-intensity resistance training.
Compared to a placebo group, the BCAA group had higher testosterone and lower cortisol.
This is where you want to be if you are a bodybuilder-in the anabolic NOT catabolic zone.
In addition, the BCAA group had lower biomarkers of inflammation, indicating that they were responding to the training load effectively.
BCAAs Increase Fat Burning to Support Fat Loss:
Surveys show that people with a higher BCAA intake in their diets have less body fat, more muscle, and better body composition.
A very large study of 4,429 subjects found that those with higher BCAA intake were the slimmest and had significantly less chance of being overweight compared to those with lower BCAA intake.
In a review of the role that the essential amino acids play in body composition, researchers wrote that the BCAAs have unique obesity-reducing effects because they decrease food intake and body weight by increasing the gene signaling of muscle building pathways.
BCAAs May Reduce Diabetes Risk:
- The trio of BCAAs can improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic rate for improved body composition in non-diabetics.
- By keeping fat mass down and lean mass up you decrease your risk of developing diabetes.
- In one recent study,individuals who were in a weight loss trial who lost the most weight had the greatest improvements in insulin sensitivity and the highest BCAA levels.
- Please note that diabetics have dysfunctional BCAA metabolism-and for them, taking BCAA’s elevates insulin, so they should not be used as a treatment for diabetes.
BCAAs Correlate With Longevity and Are Therapeutic:
I love “anything” that can increase longevity. BCAAs have an anti-aging effect because they increase the formation of new mitochondria which is where energy (ATP) is made.
In rodent studies, BCAA’s have been found to extend lifespan in the same way caloric restriction does.
Dosing,ratios and source of BCAA’s:
BCAAs are a collection of three amino acids with a side chain that is branched. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine (usually in a 2:1:1 ratio in supplements if done correctly).
Naturally, it would make sense for athletes to take BCAAs.
But your needs depend more on how much protein you’re eating during the day.
AND where you are in the bodybuilding cycle, if you compete or if you are an endurance athlete where you are in your training and competition cycle.
If you are a fitness lover and want to be lean and mean then you’ll just take a dose prior to workouts and be done with it.
Your muscles need and want BCAAs for growth or holding onto muscle when losing weight. But how you receive your BCAAs—from foods, protein powders, or straight BCAA powder supplements—is ultimately up to your preference and bank account and “athletic seriousness” if that is a term.
Most if not all serious bodybuilders know whey protein is the most efficient way to take in protein calories and just add a serving of BCAA’s to the best whey protein shakes such as those we carry in our store.
By the way, be sure you’re getting the right whey protein such as the one we have.
If you are getting sufficient BCAA’s in your diet you might not need to supplement.
However for a professional bodybuilder or someone trying to drop fat-calories and thus protein is restricted so supplementation is a good idea.
The amino acid known for muscle growth and nicely sealed GI tract linings called L-glutamine helps the cause too which is why our BCAA powder has 2 grams of l-glutamine per serving as well as 2.5 grams of leucine, 1.25 grams of isoleucine and 1.25 grams of valine.
If nothing else it’s a good idea to take these prior to a weight training or endurance session.
If you are trying to lose body fat and restricting calories prior to competition you might benefit from up to 3 servings daily…again best in your whey protein shake.
For the average athlete, my recommendation is to put a serving into a good whey shake 20 minutes prior to your workout and “you’re good to go.”
If you get a lot of DOMS then see dosing guidelines above and decrease until your soreness allows you to train the way you wish.
Same for endurance.
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