BCAA: Now get more out of your workouts with this miracle protein

BCAAs powder

Last Updated June 24th, 2019

What is BCAA?

BCAA is branched chain amino acids.  It contains the essential amino acids, namely the leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, which comprise around 35% of the body’s muscle protein.  It is called an essential amino acid because the body does not make them on its own and needs to get them from food and other supplements.

 Amino acids are known to be the building blocks of protein and BCAA is one of them.  The main function of BCAA is to help preserve muscle glycogen stores, which fuel the muscles and minimize protein breakdown during exercise.  Adequate reserves of glycogen mean the body has a reliable energy source during workout Abundant glycogen stores stop the body from breaking down muscle protein for energy.  BCAA can also enhance muscle protein recovery after your workout.

Benefits of branched chain amino acids

Increase muscle growth

BCAAs powder

The body is known to repair damaged muscle fibres, which is done through a cellular process and it combines muscle fibres together to form new muscle protein.  These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to form muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth.  The BCAA leucine activates a certain pathway in the body, which stimulates muscle protein synthesis.

Studies have shown that people who consumed a drink with 5.6 grams of BCAA after their resistance workout had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who consumed a placebo drink.  BCAA can increase muscle protein synthesis, but not without the other essential amino acids.  One of the most popular uses of BCAA is by body builders to increase muscle growth. 

Decrease Muscle Soreness

 It is very common to feel sore a day or two after a workout, especially after the exercise routine is new.  The soreness which is caused after a delay is termed as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  Delayed onset muscle soreness is the pain and stiffness felt in the muscles after a rigorous or strenuous exercise.  The soreness is usually felt strongly after 24 to 48 hours after the exercise.

Some research suggests BCAA can help decrease muscle soreness after a workout.  The exact cause of delayed onset muscle soreness is not clearly understood.  However, it is presumed to be the result of tiny tears in the muscles after exercise.  Several studies have shown that the BCAA decrease protein breakdown during exercise and decrease levels of creatine kinase, which indicated muscle damage.  Therefore, supplementing with BCAA before exercise can speed up the recovery time.

Reduce Exercise Fatigue

Exercise fatigue can be defined as exercise-induced decrease in the ability to produce force.  Everyone experiences fatigue and exhaustion after exercise.  How quickly we tire depends on several factors, including exercise intensity, duration, environmental conditions, nutrition, and fitness level.  BCAA levels in the blood decrease during exercise when the muscles use BCAA and due to the decline in BCAA levels in the blood, levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in the brain increases. 

Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which is a brain hormone that is responsible for developing fatigue or weakness during exercise regimen.  People supplementing with BCAA before exercise had improved exercise tolerance and less fatigue after the exercise.

Prevent Muscle Wasting

Muscle atrophy is when the muscles waste away.  Lack of physical activity can be considered a factor leading to muscle weakness.  Studies have shown that BCAA can help prevent muscle wasting or breakdown.  Muscle proteins are constantly broken down and rebuilt or synthesized.  The even distribution of muscle protein breakdown as well as the synthesis decides the amount of protein available in the muscle.  Muscle wasting or breakdown occurs when a protein breakdown exceeds muscle protein synthesis.  Muscle wasting can also be a sign of malnutrition, which occurs with chronic infections, cancer, periods of fasting, and as a natural phenomenon of the aging process. 

In humans, BCAA account for 35% of the essential amino acids found in muscle proteins and they account for 40% of the total amino acids required by the body.  Therefore, it is very important that the BCAA and other essential amino acids are replaced during times of muscle wasting.  Several studies have proven the use of BCAA supplements for limiting muscle protein breakdown.

Benefit People With Liver Disease

Liver disease is a medical condition, which damages the liver Approximately 50% of people suffering from cirrhosis are bound to develop hepatic encephalopathy where the liver loses its ability to discard toxins from the blood
Liver diseases include nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, hepatitis A, and hemochromotosis.

Certain sugars and antibiotics are usually used for the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy.  Hepatocellular carcinoma is generally caused from liver cirrhosis and is also considered as the major risk factor.  Several studies have shown that BCAA supplements may offer protection against liver cancer and recommend BCAA supplements as a nutritional intervention for liver disease to prevent complications.

Anorexia

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, with an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.  Even certain illness can also cause anorexia.  Supplementing branched-chain amino acids by mouth seems to improve appetite and overall nutrition in people with kidney failure, cancer, and liver disease.

Mania

Mania is a type I bipolar disorder in which the mood state is abnormally heightened and is also associated with hyper behaviour and lack of sleep.  Studies have shown that having a drink containing branched-chain amino acids reduce symptoms of mania.

Tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is a side effect of antipsychotic medications.  These drugs are used to treat schizophrenia and other mental health disorders.  Tardive dyskinesia causes stiff, jerky movements of the face and body, which cannot be controlled.  Consuming branched-chain amino acids by mouth seems to reduce symptoms of tardive dyskinesia.

Regulates glucose levels

BCAAs

Glucose levels are the amount of glucose of blood sugar present in the blood.  Branched-chain amino acids play an important role in regulating glucose levels.  BCAA is continuously released from the liver and other internal organs to the skeletal muscles to maintain blood sugar levels.  Having sufficient levels of BCAA in the body can help improve glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. 

Glucose levels are the amount of glucose of blood sugar present in the blood.  Branched-chain amino acids play an important role in regulating glucose levels.  BCAA is continuously released from the liver and other internal organs to the skeletal muscles to maintain blood sugar levels.  Having sufficient levels of BCAA in the body can help improve glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. 

Branched chain amino acids are responsible for a large portion of blood sugar production during workouts.  When we have a balanced carbohydrate, high-protein, and amino acid beverage after a workout, it is helpful in promoting an insulin reaction.  The insulin reaction aids in the transfer of aminos into cells to repair muscle damage as well as build muscle tissue.  This helps in replenishing the anabolic building blocks which the body needs to repair itself after a workout and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.

Side effects of BCAA

Branched-chain amino acids are safe when taken by mouth appropriately.  There are some side effects, which are known to occur, such as fatigue and loss of coordination.  Branched-chain amino acids are also responsible for GI problems namely nausea, vomiting, loose stools, and stomach puffiness.  There are some rare cases in which branched-chain amino acids may cause high blood pressure, headache, or skin whitening.

Safe for children?

Branched-chain amino acids are generally safe for children when taken by mouth, short-term. Branched-chain amino acids have been used safely in children for up to 6 months.

Not for ALS patients

The use of branched-chain amino acids can also lead to severe health conditions such as lung failure as well as increases the death rates when ALS patient consumes it.

Branched-chain related ketoaciduria

Branched-chain amino acids are known to cause severe medical problems such as seizures and severe mental and physical retardation due to the increased levels.  People suffering from this condition need to avoid branched-chain amino acid supplements.

Hepatic encephalopathy

Dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in people consuming alcohol has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).

Surgery

Branched-chain amino acids regulate the blood sugar levels, and this might obstruct the blood sugar control during and after surgery.  It is advised to stop using branched-chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

How BCAA Supplements Help Fitness Regimen

BCAAs tablets

One of the main benefits of branched chain amino acids is their effectiveness in the exercise regimen.  The following mechanism can be explained in five ways
Reduce fatigue during exercise:  Higher levels of branched chain amino acids help limit the entry of tryptophan into the brain.  The body uses tryptophan to make serotonin, which may contribute to exercise fatigue. :

Reduce muscle damage and soreness:  Branched chain amino acids relieve soreness caused by the strain and inflammation of exercise.

Promote muscle building after exercise:  Branched chain amino acids stimulate the synthesis of protein in the muscles and suppress the breakdown of muscle protein.

Provides a source of energy during prolonged exercise:  When glucose, which is the main energy source becomes low, branched chain amino acids can serve as a source of energy.

Supports immunity:  Strenuous exercise can result in reduced immunity, which may be due to a decrease in the amino acid glutamine, which is the fuel for immune cells.  Branched chain amino acids can be converted into glutamine in muscles and support immunity.

BCAA mechanism of action

BCAA is the essential amino acids, namely the leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, which comprise around 35% of the body’s muscle protein.  To understand the mechanism of action, we need to understand the properties of these amino acids.

Leucine:  Leucine has the greatest influence on muscle growth and recovery.  When we do any type of workout such as lifting weight, swimming, rock climbing, we create tiny tears in the muscle fibres.  These tiny tears can often cause soreness and even moving can be difficult.  The leucine amino acid prevents major muscle damage and assists the body to recover faster.

Isoleucine:  Isoleucine increases the body’s capacity to use glucose, especially during a workout, which means there will be more energy during workouts and the glucose we ingest is efficiently urilized and is not just stored.  When we consume carbohydrates, it is either used as energy or stored as fat, which can account to accumulation of fat.  Isoleucine manages blood sugar levels and stops any abrupt highering or lowring of insulin.

Valine:  Valine on the other hand tend to have properties similar to Leucine as well as Isoleucine and is generally used with the combination with either of them.  Valine, like Leucine, helps the body recover and stimulates muscle growth.  Like Isoleucine, Valine helps with the absorption and usage of glucose and is also very effective for muscle coordination and normal brain function.

BCAA supplements are convenient enough to consume them shortly before or after a workout.  Studies have shown that BCAA levels in the blood peak 30 minutes after consuming the supplement.  If the person has already eaten a meal or taken a protein supplement 1 to 2 hours before exercise, the timing of post-exercise BCAA or other protein supplements may be less important as compared to when the person had exercised without recently eating, such as in the early morning.

Natural source of branched chain amino acids

Milk:  235 ml contains 2.2 grams BCAA

Parmesan cheese:  50 grams contains 4.5 grams BCAA

Canned tuna:  100 grams contains 5.2 grams BCAA

Beef:  100 grams contains 6.8 grams BCAA

Eggs:  2 eggs contains 3.28 grams BCAA

Chicken breast:  100 grams contains 5.88 grams BCAA

Greek yogurt:  140 grams contains 2 grams BCAA

Whey protein powder:  1 scoop contains 5.5 grams BCAA

Soy protein powder:  1 scoop contains 5.5 grams BCAA

Salmon:  100 grams contains 4.9 grams BCAA

Turkey breast:  100 grams contains 4.6 grams BCAA

Brush up on BCAA

Branched chain amino acids are essential amino acids, namely the leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine and are known for various health benefits.  BCAA supplements are helpful to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue, and alleviate muscle soreness.  They are also used in a hospital setting to prevent or slow muscle loss and to improve symptoms of liver disease.  However, since branched chain amino acids are abundantly available naturally, supplementing with BCAA may not be so beneficial.  Again, it is always advisable to supplement with the help of a medical professional.

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