BCAAs, or Branch Chain Amino Acids are a popular supplement in the fitness industry. I never knew much about them and hence refused to take them. I didn’t think they were worth the money and they couldn’t be that good. But as with a lot of things I started to research them and found out a lot of useful information. I finally bought a bottle and included them in my training regimen and couldn’t be happier with the results.
What exactly are BCAAs you may ask? Well, lucky for you our next supplement profile will answer all the questions you have on BCAAs and give you good insight on whether they are right for you or not.
What Are They?
Amino Acids are the building blocks of muscle protein. Getting adequate amounts of amino acids is difficult for those who exercise. Exercise burns amino acids rapidly. Failure to replenish the body with proper amino acids can cause people who work out vigorously to make little or no progress. These do not require digestion and go straight into the bloodstream for immediate use by muscle cells. There are 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine.
How Are They Important?
According to research done by Dr. Layne Norton, dieting is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown, for several reasons. The leaner an individual tries to get, the more of a struggle it is to keep your muscle mass intact. As fat stores become depleted, the body will look for new sources of energy in order to not lose what little fat stores remain. In doing so, the body will turn to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. Unless you want to look like a cross country runner, this is no good and all your hard work can go to waste. During training, catabolism, or muscle breakdown, occurs in order to release fuel (amino acids) for the body to burn. When training you want protein synthesis (recovery) to be equal to or greater than protein breakdown. If the opposite occurs you start to lose muscle and your results will start to diminish. Dieting can cause one to “burn the candle at both ends” elevating the muscle breakdown and decreasing protein synthesis. Along with dieting, training can compound this effect in people. The leaner a person gets the more lethargic they can be. Hence why BCAAs are an important staple in your supplement program.
How Can You Avoid Breakdown?
In order to keep gaining, you need to combat the effects of training with BCAAs. BCAAs are taken to increase the rate of protein synthesis to make sure gains are made from your workouts. A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise found that BCAA supplementation can contribute to an anabolic environment in the body. There is evidence that supports a dose-dependent response to BCAAs, meaning the more you take the better the results. It has been suggested that you take them before, during, and after your workouts. Another great reason to take BCAA is if you take time off due to a injury or other reason, this supplement will limit the amount of muscle loss and fat gain. A study done by the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that giving BCAAs to rats with their hind limbs immobilized helped preserve protein synthesis that regulates muscle growth. The bottom line is that BCAAs sacrifice themselves as fuel in order to preserve muscle in the body, whether you are training or not, a high level of BCAAs in your system can do nothing but help your overall body composition.
While prevention of muscle breakdown is the main benefit of BCAAs, there are other benefits to this supplement. When you get sick it can be hard to train let alone grow. In order to make sure you are back on your feet you can put down some BCAAs. They reverse the effects of glutamine loss and help your immune system bounce back faster than without. Another intriguing effect of BCAAs is the stimulation of fat loss. In some studies the supplement has been shown to trigger significant and preferential losses of visceral body fat. Located in the deeper layers of the body under the subcutaneous fat, this visceral fat tends to be resistant to dieting and is hard to lose. In one study, 25 competitive wrestlers were divided into 1 of 3 diet groups: a diet high in BCAAs, a diet low in BCAAs, and a control diet. The wrestlers stayed on the diets for 19 days. The results showed that the high BCAA group lost the most body fat, 17.3% on average.
Where Do I Find BCAAs and How Much Do I Take?
Dairy products and red meat contain the greatest amounts of BCAAs, although they are present in all protein-containing foods.Whey protein and egg protein supplements are other sources of BCAAs. I would recommend going with the food sources first before having to rely on the powders but if you are pressed for time or need them in an instant, they can be a viable substitute. In terms of how much of BCAAs you should consume depends on your age and training intensity. For the average person I would recommend 5-10 grams before your workout and the same or slightly more after your workout. If you need them during a workout I would suggest 2-5 grams during the workout. The best cost effective BCAAs in my opinion are the Optimum Nutrition Superior Amino 2222. Two tablets provide about 2,000 milligrams of BCAAs and other amino acids needed for training.
In the fitness world the supplement industry is huge. Everyone claims to have the next cutting edge product that will make you a super human. The truth is there is no secret to success except hard work and a solid nutrition and supplement plan. If it’s not a staple in your plan, BCAAs need to have room made for them. Besides creating a fuel source for your body so muscle doesn’t get used, they can help stimulate fat loss, and help you get back in the gym after an illness. If you are serious about your training and getting results get yourself some BCAAs and you won’t be sorry.
Walker, D., Dickinson, J., et al. Exercise, Amino Acids, and Aging in the Control of Human Muscle Protein Synthesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. May 2011.
Bajotto, G., Sato, Y., et al. Effect of BCAA Supplementation During Unloading on Regulatory Components of Protein Synthesis in Atrophied Soleus Muscles. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111, 1815-1828
Norton, L., Layman, D., Wilson, G., Moulton, C., Rupassara, S., Barlick, P. Leucine Contents of Isonitrogenous Protein Sources Predict Changes in Body Composition and Muscle Mass in Rats. The Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. 2010 April. 24(97.5).
Expert Fitness “Amino Acids” 2003.
Elite Image Nutrition “What Are Branch Chain Amino Acids?” 2003.
Gastmann “Overtraining and the BCAA hypothesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” 30, 1173-8 (1998).