If you’re a fan of lifting heavy things over and over again, then chances are you’ve heard of BCAAs. BCAAs are short for branched chain amino acids and are one of the most prevalent sports performance products on the market. Studies show that BCAAs benefit athletic performance by reducing muscle mass breakdown, improving recovery times, and stimulating muscle protein synthesis, to help you stack on more gains. If you’re looking for a supplement to help you crush your workouts, then you should start thinking about adding BCAAS to your routine.
What Are BCAAs?
Energy is derived from the foods you eat. As you digest macronutrients, such as protein, they are broken down into their simplest form which are amino acids. This is why branched chain amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein. Branched chain amino acids are composed of three essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Your body does not naturally produce these amino acids; therefore, it is essential to obtain them from the foods you eat, or from supplements.
What Do BCAAs Do?
Research suggests, that BCAAs have a positive impact on muscle protein synthesis, the muscle building process. BCAAs also prevent protein degradation or muscle mass breakdown. In order to build muscle your body must be in a net positive amino acid balance. If the rate of muscle protein breakdown is greater than the rate of muscle protein synthesis, your body becomes catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue for energy.
This is especially crucial for endurance athletes, or those that partake in high-intensity functional training modalities. Remember when I said, energy is derived from the foods you eat? Well, in addition to protein, carbohydrates and fats are also broken down into their simplest forms (glucose and fatty acids) after you ingest them. These molecules are transported through your blood stream and converted in your body as energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). At rest your body utilizes both glucose (carbohydrates) and fatty acids (body fat) for energy production. While you train, glucose and fatty acids, are utilized before amino acids for energy. Only when your body is near depletion of other preferred energy sources, does it shift to consuming amino acids.
BCAAs help promote your body to remain in an anabolic state, while performing prolonged exercise bouts, or multiple workouts per day. By supplementing with BCAAs you ensure your body is in a positive amino acid balance, which will support muscle growth, repair, and reduce muscle soreness post workout.
BCAA Benefits: Helps Build More Muscle
One of the many benefits of BCAAs include its defining role on building and maintaining lean muscle mass. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition determined that BCAAs particularly Leucine have anabolic effects on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation, or breakdown.
Muscle protein synthesis is a result of intense physical stress, caused by micro-tears and mini trauma done to the muscle tissue during training. By supplementing with BCAAs before or during your workout you will stimulate the process of protein synthesis to help build lean muscle mass and strength.
A well-rounded diet rich in lean protein sources, will contain a full spectrum of all the essential amino acids needed to build muscle and optimize recovery. Real food is always preferred over supplementation, however, BCAA supplements are highly concentrated and provide a faster absorbing form of the amino acids, to help promote muscle growth in addition to real food.
BCAA Benefits: Increases Power Output
Power is the rate of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) or energy used over a single or multiple maximal effort against a submaximal load. Peak power is the greatest output or production of work over a given amount of time. Peak power is a critical metric for endurance athletes and powerlifters performing at 90-100% of maximum heart rate capacity for a short period of time accounting for a combination of strength, velocity, force and neuromuscular adaptations.
The school of Kinesiology at Auburn University in Alabama performed a ten-week randomized double-blind controlled study to examine the effects of BCAA supplementation with trained cyclists on select body composition, performance, and immune health over a 10-week training season. 18 trained cyclists were administered 12g of BCAAs per day or a maltodextrin placebo. The results showed a 19% increase in peak power performance and average power.
More peak power is linearly related to a direct increase in athletic performance. If you can produce more power during a max effort, you’ll be able to improve time trials, sprint performance, load, and outperform the competition.
BCAA Benefits: Improves Post Workout Muscle Recovery
Resistance training and lifting weights causes micro tears in your muscle fibers, which leads to muscle soreness. Soreness can interrupt your regularly scheduled programming and have a dramatic impact on peak power, strength, and rep volume.
A study published in the Journal Nutrients, examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on recovery from resistance training. Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled research design, participants were enrolled into either a BCAA or placebo group. At 72 hours post workout, the BCAA group reported significant less muscle soreness than the placebo group.
BCAA Benefits: Delays Fatigue and Improves Energy Levels
Several factors are known to cause fatigue during intense bouts of exercise such as workout intensity, duration, and fitness level. Research suggests that BCAAs can delay muscle fatigue, by restoring tryptophan levels, a chemical that converts to serotonin, that can cause fatigue
Changes in the brain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) level is one mechanism that has been suggested as a potential factor to cause fatigue. During exercise, tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it is then converted to 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), or what’s better known as serotonin. Having higher serotonin levels during exercise signals the brain that your body is fatigued, which translates into less muscular endurance and strength.
Transport of 5-HT is influenced by the available amount of tryptophan and other available amino acids including BCAAs, which are transported along the same carrier pathway. While BCAAs and tryptophan compete to get across the blood-brain barrier, BCAAs typically win the battle every time. That means that by supplementing with BCAAs before or during your workout, less tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, meaning less tryptophan gets converted into serotonin, resulting in greater muscular endurance and less fatigue.
What’s The Best BCAA Ratio?
BCAAs are composed of L-Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine and the ratio of BCAAs conveys how many parts of each amino acid creates a product.
For example, Swolverine’s BCAA contains a 2,000 mg L-Leucine, 1,000 mg L-Isoleucine, and 1,000 mg L-Valine which creates a 2:1:1 ratio.
The reason why most BCAA supplements contain a greater amount of L-Leucine is that it has a higher oxidation rate than isoleucine and valine. Leucine is also the most critical branched-chain amino acid in the muscle building process and ignites protein synthesis. But, before you go shopping for a 4:1:1 BCAA, you’ll want to keep reading.
We know that Leucine has the greatest anabolic effects on muscle protein synthesis. Therefore having a larger ration of leucine, to isoleucine and valine should increase muscle strength and improve recovery even better, right? Not necessarily. Studies show that taking a 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs stimulates protein synthesis even better than taking leucine in higher ratios or leucine alone. Therefore a 2:1:1 ratio will be better to activate protein synthesis than a 4:1:1 or 10:1:1 ratio.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted at Baylor University, 30 participants were administered BCAAs, Leucine, or placebo. The supplements were consumed in three equal doses, immediately before resistance training, and post-workout. The results indicated that both leucine and BCAA supplementation led to greater levels of phosphorylated 4E-BP1 and cell signaling of the mTOR pathway, a serine/threonine kinase that stimulates protein synthesis through amino acid activation. These findings suggest that the other two BCAAs [isoleucine and valine] may contribute to greater activation rates than leucine alone. Furthermore, the study concluded that supplementing BCAAs had greater effects on mTOR than taking greater amounts of leucine alone.
RELATED ARTICLE The Best BCAA Ratio
BCAA Recommended Dosage
To achieve maximum performance benefits clinical studies, suggest a daily intake between 4-10g twice per day, pre and post-workout. Using BCAAs for a longer duration in combination with your training plan is also critical to increase overall athletic performance.
BCAA Benefits: Takeaway
If you’re looking to maximize your training results, supplementing with BCAAs is a key component to your overall success. BCAAs benefit critical factors to your athletic performance, and build more muscle, strength, and optimize workout recovery. The name of the game is to build and preserve as much lean muscle mass as possible regardless of your goals, and adding a quality BCAA supplement can ensure you preserve your hard earned gains.
High-intensity training for a prolonged period of time, can put your body into a catabolic state, therefore, supplementing with BCAAs and maintaining a positive amino acid balance is crucial to maintain, build and repair muscle mass.
When you’re looking for a BCAA supplement, make sure it has a 2:1:1 ratio, and at least 4g of BCAAs per serving. You can get these essential amino acids from the food you eat with a protein rich diet, however adding a BCAA supplement to your routine will, ensure you remain in an anabolic state and active muscle protein synthesis.
Ready to take your performance to the next level and add some BCAAs to training?
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 Eva Blomstrand, Jörgen Eliasson, Haåkan K. R. Karlsson, Rickard Köhnke, Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 1, January 2006, Pages 269S–273S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.1.269S
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