Branched Chain Amino Acids aka BCAAs are made up of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Amino Acids are what all proteins are made of, and essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body – they must be consumed in your diet. Branched Chain Amino Acids BCAA’s make up 40 percent of the daily requirements for all nine amino acids.
As the name implies BCAAs have a branched chain that simplifies the job of converting each amino avid into energy during intense exercise. The make up about 35 percent of all muscle, and the more BCAA’s a muscle contains the more they will be used for energy which slows the breakdown of muscle.
BCAA’s are contained in many proteins including meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and in very high quantities in whey protein. They can also be taken in supplement form which has the advantage because free form BCAAs bypass the liver and gut and go directly into the blood stream quickly upon ingestion.
Is BCAA Supplementation helpful or necessary?
The greatest benefits for muscle building and maintenance seem to come from maintaining a high enough overall protein intake (1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight) AND having a high BCAA content along with effective resistance training.
That being said there are some very real benefits to BCAA supplementation:
BCAA’s increase muscle protein synthesis – Taking BCAA’s with resistance exercise results in maximal protein synthesis because they both trigger the MTOR signaling pathway which is essential for building muscle. Supplemental BCAA’s also minimize muscle loss during times of inactivity, injury or illness. Now an even better supplement for this purpose is HMB which is an amino acid derivative of the BCAA Leucine. In fact, it is so powerful in this respect that is often given to cancer patients to minimize loss of lean tissue.
Leucine in particular can increase protein synthesis by as much as 145 percent when taken after strength training, but taking it as part of a complete BCAA supplement will provide even more benefits. A ratio of 2 – 4 to 1 parts leucine to the other BCAA’s provides optimal benefits.
For aging adults BCAA’s are very important because muscle loss known as sarcopenia occurs with aging and it becomes increasing hard to maintain an anabolic, muscle preserving environment in the body. This combined with lower levels of activity and a tendency towards reduced overall protein intake can create the perfect storm for significant losses of muscle mass.
Specifically, BCAAs with 40% leucine have been sown to elevate protein synthesis in seniors in a dose depending fashion.
BCAA’s support fat loss – in particular taking BCAA’s during dieting or fasting can help increase fat loss while helping to maintain muscle mass. For those on a low carb or ketogenic diet BCAA’s mixed with MCT (medium chain triglycerides) provide an ideal pre-workout shake that will not raise blood sugar or insulin but provide quick and sustained energy during workouts while minimizing muscle breakdown.
BCAAs can help maintain proper hormone balance during intense training. A study showed that taking 6 grams of BCAAs daily resulted in higher testosterone to cortisol ratio. The BCAA group also showed lower levels of inflammation. This means they help to maintain an anabolic, muscle building environment while attenuating the negative effects of stress from working out.
BCAAs can also increase endurance and decrease fatigue – This is where BCAA’s really shine! Research has shown that BCAAs can be burned for energy and enhance the ability to burn fat – both of which directly improve endurance and decrease fatigue. BCAAs also minimize fatigue by inhibiting the uptake of tryptophan into the brain which lowers serotonin temporarily. Fatigue is a mental phenomenon caused by the brain. In one trial people who took BCAAs for three days and then did an exhaustive exercise test had 17.2 percent greater resistance to fatigue.
BCAA’s Decrease Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - Studies have shown that BCAAs reduce DOMS allowing people to train intensely more frequently.
BCAAs are used medically to treat liver disease; prevent muscle loss with aging, illness and injury; and reduce mortality with cancer. They also help increase the formation of mitochondria (the energy producing organelles of cells!).
There are many effective BCAA supplements but one stands out among the rest: Scivation Xtend BCAAs are research proven and available from Amazon and Vitamin Shoppe.