JUNE 21, 2016
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) refers to three amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine which account for 33% of muscle tissue. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Of these, nine are considered essential. When a substance is said to be essential for the body it means without it you will die. Essential amino acids therefore are ones we cannot survive without. Likewise essential fatty acids are necessary for us to thrive.
BCAAs are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. Leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, while isoleucine induces glucose uptake into cells. In recent years, branched-chain amino acid supplements have come back into vogue in the bodybuilding and fitness community, and with good reason. There’s more research that supports the use of BCAAs than most other supplements on the market. New studies have shown that dieting groups supplementing with BCAAs increase muscle retention and maximize fat loss much more effectively than non-supplemented groups. BCAAs are especially helpful for maintaining muscle mass while on a calorie-deficit diet. They’re particularly useful for bodybuilding competitors who take their physiques to the lean extreme. During exercise, serotonin levels rise and can (among other things) increase the perception of fatigue—that means a less intense workout for you. BCAA supplementation reduces the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain, and therefore reduces the amount of serotonin produced. This might allow you to work harder, longer. BCAAs are often touted to help repair damaged muscles, decrease muscle soreness and increase muscle function. BCAAs have been shown to have benefit primarily for recovery post-training, either from muscle damage or fatigue. Given their cost the best way to use them seems to be in a recovery drink mixed with a low dose of carbohydrate. This can be either used during the training session itself or post-training.
Dieting is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown, for several reasons. The leaner a body gets, the more likely it is to lose muscle mass as the body tries harder and harder to hold onto body fat stores. In doing so, the body will turn to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. Muscle loss occurs because the body increases protein breakdown in order to liberate muscle amino acids for fuel. If you’re dieting, you may be burning the candle at both ends: elevating muscle breakdown and reducing protein synthesis. BCAAs work in your favor by reducing the rate of protein breakdown. They do this by decreasing the activity of the components of the protein breakdown pathway, and also by decreasing the expression of several complexes involved in protein breakdown. When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don’t gain or lose muscle. If the rate of synthesis exceeds the rate of breakdown, you gain muscle. When the rate of breakdown exceeds the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle. If you’re dieting, you may be burning the candle at both ends: elevating muscle breakdown and reducing protein synthesis. BCAAs have even more positive benefits than reduced breakdown and increased protein synthesis. They might also help improve workout intensity!