What are BCAAs?
There are 22 standard amino acids, 3 of them are referred to as branch chain amino acids. They are leucine, valine, and isoleucine and are the focus of today’s article. These amino acids are not produced in our body, and are therefore referred to as essential. We get them through food and supplements.
BCAA’s make up 40% of our daily requirements for essential amino acids. This percentage increases depending on your daily activity level or if you exercise strenuously. A professional athlete will have greater requirements than someone who doesn’t exercise at all. However, everyone needs BCAAs whether your an athlete, work 8 hours a day, 5 days per week, or simply enjoy a weekend hike. They keep us healthy!
Say for example you eat a piece of steak. The steak is broken down to protein, water and fat. Protein is digested through your gastrointestinal tract and breaks down to amino acids. These amino acids are then broken down, mostly in your liver, to be used as fuel by your muscles. BCAAs provide 35% this energy.
There are 6 amino acids that your muscles use for energy. The BCAAs have the greatest potential for energy used by muscles. So during your workout, BCAAs are providing this fuel. The more intense the workout, the greater amount of BCAAs that are needed for fuel. Of the three amino acids leucine is the most important for muscle building. It stimulates the muscle building process promoting protein synthesis. It has the highest rate of oxidation of the BCAAs which makes it the most efficient at metabolizing carbohydrates, fats and protein into energy.
And lastly, Leucine is the precursor, to alanine and glutamine, which convert to glucose. We use glucose for energy stores in our cells. So even without eating carbohydrates, your body can now create and store glucose for energy!
Leucine is so important to the body, that it breaks down muscle when your body requires more! Studies show a decrease in leucine blood levels after aerobic exercise by 11-33% ,anaerobic by 5-8% and 30% after strength training. After a strenuous activity, glycogen has degraded and needs to be restored or else your body will begin breaking down muscle to find leucine! And leucine is the source for energy since it converts to alanine, a glucogenic amino acid that converts into glucose. One study examined athletes performing intense resistance training, supplementing with 3 grams of leucine per day. It increased their muscle mass and strength! Researches have suggested a BCAA containing 76% leucine and moderate exercise can generate fat loss and help sustain high levels of performance!
Although athletes take BCAAs prior to exercising for energy and performance, it’s certainly not limited to physical activity! This writer supplements with BCAAs for enhanced focus, as they help with
mental fatigue as well!
BCAAs Fight Fatigue
Fatigue occurs when serotonin levels have increased. For example, after an endurance exercise, serotonin levels increase and it has been shown to also increase fatigue. Tryptophan is another essential amino
acid in your body which chemically changes into serotonin. During endurance training, tryptophan increases, and produces more serotonin in the brain. The increase of serotonin causes fatigue and sleepiness. Serotonin levels are important to manage. Anti-depressant medication’s are actually used to keep it in check. That’s because too much can cause depression, reduced energy, and drowsiness!
BCAAs can also help manage serotonin levels. They do this by blocking the uptake of tryptophan to the brain and therefore decrease serotonin levels. This results in much less mental and physical fatigue!
Researchers found this effect to benefit athletes too. A group of marathon runners were given BCAAs during their run. They took a mental test prior to the race and before ingesting a BCAA supplement. During the marathon they were also given BCAAs. At the conclusion of the race, their time improved and so did their scores on a mental exam!
Fatigue also occurs when ATP is lost or when your cells lose energy during a strenuous workout. Glucose is an important source of energy to your cells. It is a simple sugar that’s derived from complex carbohydrates and found in many foods including bread.
Instead of eating pastas, breads, and rice for carbohydrates to refuel, BCAAs can help with cellular energy or with ATP levels in your muscles. Leucine can be used as fuel in two ways: either to sustain ATP levels in your muscles or to maintain glucose levels in your body. Leucine chemically converts into alanine and glutamine, in the kidneys and liver, generating glucose and keeps your body from ‘crashing.’ Sufficient levels of glucose help to support intense levels of activity during exercise. Isoleucine and valine use oxygen to combine with fat cells and are used for energy as well. So all three amino acids are available to be used for power, instead of breaking down muscle for fuel!
BCAAs Help Recovery And Your Immune System
During exercise, muscle tissues are breaking down to produce energy. Even muscles, like your eyes, reduce the amount of energy used to compensate for what’s being used during physical activity. During
post-workout, your muscles continues to breakdown when you are recovering. This is the reason athletes use BCAAs before and after they exercise, to decrease the amount of muscle tissue continuously breaking down for energy. And although leucine plays a central role in protein synthesis, it is all three amino acids in combination that help your cells repair, grow and provide energy.
Researchers found that after an intense workout, muscle damage can occur. The damage causes muscle soreness 24-48 hours after exercising and effects physical performance. They also discovered supplementing with BCAAs help recovered cells that have deteriorated after a long distance run and preserved glutamine levels. Your immune system is often suppressed after an exhausting workout, and cytokines frequently appear to protect your body from getting sick. While supplementing with BCAAs pre and post workout, scientist have observed a decline in the appearance of cytokines after a
workout. This indicates your immune system is healthy!
What if your bedridden, should you still be supplementing with BCAAs?
Protein synthesis remains an important body function for the production of amino acids used to create muscle. Researchers studied the effects of 37 patients in the surgical intesive care unit. An intravenous fluid of BCAAs was administered to them within 24 hours of major surgery, injury or bacterial infection. Either extra leucine or valine was added to the BCAA solution for the
patients. In the group receiving the leucine enriched BCAA blend, there was evidence of maintaining protein synthesis. They also required fewer insulin injections to preserve blood glucose levels.
Protein synthesis helps your body make muscle tissue, enables cell growth, and the manufacturing of protein. Insulin prevents muscle break down, aids in absorption of all amino acids and regulates blood
glucose levels. And lastly, leucine converts to glutamine and is stored as glucose, providing cellular energy.
There’s balance in your body’s cells, and being sick tilts that balance. When your sick, you probably don’t have a appetite, so getting the right nutrients can be difficult. In fact, our food today lacks many nutrients because of the over usage of hormones we use in our meat and food in general. Supplementing with BCAAs can give us some of the nutrients we need.
BCAAs Prevent Protein Breakdown After Strenuous Workouts
Exercising is a great way to build muscle, get stronger and slow the aging process. However, without the proper nutrition, your body breaks down muscle for energy and it weakens your immune system! Athletes often take BCAAs after they workout, and studies have shown that these BCAAs actually prevent protein breakdown after training. Proteins can continue breaking down 20 hours after your done with your
last exercise as this study proves.
Nineteen men, ages 19-22, participated in swimming and rowing, 1.5 hours per day, for 14 days. Nine were given a placebo consisting of 12 grams of glucose; ten were taking 12 grams of BCAA capsules per day. They were all on the same diet. Urine and blood samples were taken before, during and after they exercised. The last day of the experiment, day 15, they finished with 25 minutes of breast stroke and competed in a 600 meter crawl stroke. Twenty hours after the competition was finished, they found a significant increase in protein breakdown in the placebo group whereas the BCAA group had none.
After a strenuous workout, the protein in your body will begin to break down if your diet doesn’t have a sufficient amount of protein for the energy you used. And it can continue happening almost a full
day later! You might say that you eat a lot of meat, but many factors can impeded the actual protein your body uses as fuel for energy. The amount you need also varies depending on your activity level.
BCAAs for Fat Loss, Lean Mass And Strength
Leucine takes fat cells and oxidizes them for energy. There are two types of fat cells: subcutaneous and visceral fat. The subcutaneous fat can be found just beneath the skin above the abdominal wall; visceral fat exists beneath the abdominal muscles and is more difficult to eliminate. When the BCAAs oxidizes fat for energy, it’s the visceral fat that gets burned off!
There are several studies showing these results, although many of them are done on rats. I did come across one of the more interesting and convincing studies, performed on 36 men, already strength training as part of their daily routine. In a double blind study, researchers tested the effects of supplementing with BCAAs during 8 weeks of resistance training. The men were placed into three groups, 12 supplementing with 14 grams of BCAAs, 12 took 28 grams whey protein (6 grams BCAAs), and 12 were given 28 grams of carbohydrates in a sports drink. During 8 weeks of resistance training, they exercised all major muscle groups, 4 days per week and ate the same nutritional diet. Before and after the 8 weeks of conditioning, evaluations were assessed using 10 repetitions of bench press and squats until exhaustion. Body weight and composition were also measured.
Results showed significant gains for the the BCAA group in muscle mass and lean mass. Their percentage of body fat also decreased considerably more than the the whey group and the carbohydrate group! The BCAA group were also considerably stronger at performing squats and bench press at the end of the study! So, supplementing proved greater results than did whey protein or a carbohydrate drink!
Supplementing With BCAAs
Using BCAA pills, capsules or powders can be a quick method to getting BCAAs. They travel straight to the blood avoiding the liver and stomach. They effect glycogen levels, giving you a spike of energy
within 15 minutes of dosage. This is why athletes take them prior to and after a strenuous workout, for maximum energy, recovery, to trigger muscle tissue growth and spare muscle waste. You’ll find a list of the best BCAA supplements at this link.
Depending on your goals, your dose may increase if your physical activity is very high. To inhibit protein break down during exercise, studies show .035grams/LB x Body Weight is required. For example, if you weigh 150 LBS, the dosage would be .035grams x 150 LBS.= 5.25 grams. So before you workout take 5.25 grams and another 5.25 grams post workout. One study showed supplementing with 12 grams per day for a group of 8 cyclists reduced muscle damage, after just 5 days. To prevent soreness, 5 grams before you exercise, is recommended.
BCAA Food Sources
BCAAs can be found in pork, beef, chicken, eggs, most cheeses, milk. Some of the values are listed below. You can find the BCAA values in dozens of other foods at this website.
Food sources of Leucine
Beef, round, top round, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 1/8″ fat,
select, raw 1.76
Salami, Italian, pork 1.63
Fish, salmon, pink, raw 1.62
Food sources of Valine
Parmesan cheese 2.853 g
Grilled sirloin steak 2.749 g
Fish, whitefish, dried (Alaska Native) 2.610 g
Salami, Italian, pork 1.63
Fish, salmon, pink, raw 1.62
Food sources of Isoleucine
Chorizo, pork and beef 2.206 g
Cheese, parmesan, shredded 2.202 g
Milk, nonfat, calcium reduced 2.148 g
Milk, whole, with added vitamin D 1.592 g
BCAAs are 3 very important amino acids that everyone need in their diet. So next time you need some energy for focus, would like to take a weekend stroll, or simply want a boost before work, try some BCAAs!
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