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Benefits of BCAA Supplements – More Than Just Amino Acids

BCAA’s stands for branched chain amino acids and are among the most popular supplements like protein powder, creatine and glutamine but for a good reason. As well as protein powder, creatine and glutamine have certain benefits and have been proven to work; BCAA’s also have their place among these “classic” supplements. Like in the post on glutamine I won’t go very deep into stuff like the different pathway protein synthesis is activated through and other metabolic processes because I think showing practical functions and effects of supplementing with BCAA’s is more helpful and beneficial for persons who don’t know anything about it.

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids?

As you might have guessed BCAA’s are amino acids; the building blocks of muscle tissue as well as other body tissue. BCAA’s are among the 8 essential amino acids which means your body can’t synthesize them and you have to ingest these amino acids through food or supplementation. All amino acids are needed in adequate levels for protein synthesis (muscle growth) but non-essential amino acids can be created by the body. BCAA’s are highly abundant as a structural element in the interior of proteins and enzymes. The 3 essential branched chain amino acids are valine, leucine and isoleucine but what makes them so special?

Benefits of BCAA Supplements

Well, BCAA’s are metabolized primarily in the muscles and not in the liver like the other 17 amino acids. Therefore BCAA’s serve as fuel for the muscles and is supplemented to improve sports performance, increase lean muscle mass as well as to treat various diseases. About 30% of muscle tissue consists of branched chain amino acids and if there aren’t enough available to meet the demand e.g. during exercising our body start’s to break down BCAA’s from muscle tissue (i.e. muscle loss) because it can’t create them itself (like all other essential amino acids). Since BCAA’s are already split up they can be absorbed immediately compared to the ones found in whey protein, which take about 45min after reaching your guts to even start being extracted and absorbed.

BCAA’s also stimulate insulin release which stores glycogen in muscle cells to be used as energy. Insulin also increases amino acid uptake by the muscles which makes BCAA’s both anabolic and anti-catabolic since they improve protein synthesis, prevent muscle protein breakdown, assists the release of growth hormone, igf-1 and insulin as well as it helps maintaining a positive testosterone (anabolic hormone) to cortisol (catabolic hormone) ratio.

BCAA’s serve as a precursor for glutamine and alanine, both amino acids which are needed in increased amounts during exercise and not meeting these demands means your body must get its BCAA’s by breaking down muscle tissue. Using BCAA’s supplements is an effective way to give your body the required building blocks for glutamine and alanine, thus you’ll save muscle tissue from being broken down.

Another positive effect is that BCAA’s decrease secretion of serotonin in the brain’s interior, and therefore reduces mental fatigue during training while performance and endurance increase.

Current research as well as experience shows that BCAA’s are quite effective protein synthesis stimulators besides having lots of other beneficial effects for athletes.

Furthermore BCAA’s might be useful for people in calorie restricted diets because BCAA’s (especially leucine) activate release of leptin. Leptin is a quite complex hormone which is involved in the control of metabolism, appétit and body weight. Lower body fat is connected with lower leptin levels and as a result your body starts craving for food. Leucine activates leptin release, so it makes the body think like getting enough calories and keeps your metabolism running. Beware of supplementing leucine alone since it creates BCAA imbalance.

How Much and When Should You Take BCAA’s?

Due to the fact that BCAA’s are rapidly depleted when training with high intensity it makes sense to consume them pre, during and after workout. Taking BCAA’s with carbs (maltodextrin or dextrose) around workout time leads to a synergistic effect and increases glucose and amino acid uptake into muscle tissue.

Common doses are 5g before working out and 5g after working out but you can also consume another 5g during training. Keep in mind that BCAA’s have several effects and are needed for different tasks in the body which are determined by their availability.

On non-workout days you might take 5-10g of BCAA’s together with meals but this might be expensive for some people like students and it’s a lot more important to use them on workout days.

Side Effects of BCAA’s

There are no side effects and it’s completely safe.

Personal Experience with BCAA Supplements

I’ve to admit when I started using BCAA supplements I didn’t know much about it. I just heard from other bodybuilders that they’re a great supplement with lots of potential. They were right. Supplementing with BCAA’s can result in measureable gains in muscle mass and strength if your diet and training is right. I’ve been taking them regularly for about 7 months and indeed I experienced recognizable changes in my body composition and strength. The short-term effects like decreased mental and physical fatigue are also present and actually I noticed these effects after taking 10g BCAA’s pre-workout the first time.

Personally, I take 10g pre-workout, 5g during workout and 5g after training. There are lots of BCAA supplements on the market but my favorite is Optimum BCAA 1000, highly dosed and of high quality at a favorable price. However, a high quality product should present a composition of leucine, isoleucine and valine in ratios of 2:1:1.

As for all supplements, I recommend buying on bodybuilding.com or amazon.com since they’re botch well-established companies with great service.

Sources:

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/134/6/1583S.short

http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/281/2/E365.short

http://www.springerlink.com/content/t318e548atu1qcar/

https://www.thieme-connect.com/ejournals/abstract/sportsmed/doi/10.1055/s-2007-971136

http://www.springerlink.com/content/vrr2501n8mgnnn86/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/350636

http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/267/6/E1010.short

2 Responses to Benefits of BCAA Supplements – More Than Just Amino Acids

  • Phil,

    Supplementing with BCAAs looks good on paper, and you’ve outlined a pretty good case on how it can affect insulin to help putting the body into anabolic mode. But I think it depends greatly on the person’s needs and goals. Not everyone can get the best out of what BCAAs have to offer.

    Mitchell

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