In its simplest form, protein is comprised of amino acids. Often referred to as the building blocks of protein, all twenty amino acids are found in and create a complete protein. Nine of the twenty are considered essential amino acids (EAAS) and three of those nine, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are known as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS); responsible for enhancing muscle growth and reducing muscle mass breakdown to improve recovery. But if protein is made of amino acids, should you still be supplementing with BCAAs, protein, or both? Keep reading to find out.
What Is Protein?
Protein is one of three macronutrients, which helps in enhancing muscle growth, muscle repair, synthesizing enzymes and maintaining your hormonal balance by stimulating the process of muscle protein synthesis (the muscle-building process), while decreasing the rate of protein degradation or catabolism (muscle-mass loss).
Protein is comprised of amino acids, specifically eleven non-essential and nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are responsible for providing the fuel you need to adequately build lean muscle mass and recover faster post-workout.
When considering protein sources either from food or from supplements, it’s important to determine two things; whether or not that protein source is a complete protein, and the leucine content of the protein you’re consuming.
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Complete proteins contain all twenty essential amino acids and are most commonly found with animal proteins, or supplements like egg protein, whey, whey isolate, and casein. The majority of plant protein sources are incomplete proteins, however, some plant protein supplements do contain complete amino acid profiles, due to a combination of different plant protein sources.
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An ever-growing body of evidence has shown that supplementing with protein powder post or pre-workout, will help build more muscle mass, enhance the muscle-building process, optimize body composition, and increase satiation. Protein supplements such as whey isolate are considered, “fast-acting” proteins due to the quick rise of plasma amino acid concentration after ingestion.
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Benefits Of Protein
Protein Builds Lean Muscle Mass
Whey Protein Isolate is the most anabolic protein source, and is rich in the essential Branched Chain Amino Acids (Leucine, isoleucine, and Valine), which are directly responsible for increasing the rate of the biological process of muscle protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation. BCAA's are the building blocks of protein. Whether you love lifting weights, or crushing times at the CrossFit box, your body utilizes amino acids for fuel, which increases the rate of protein degradation and BCAA oxidation. When you workout, BCAAs are expended quickly, and without a positive balance of BCAAs, the rate of protein breakdown will be greater than the rate of protein synthesis, meaning you’ll actually lose muscle mass, rather than gain it.
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In a study published in the Journal Of International Society of Sports Nutrition, thirty college-aged male and female subjects were administered 46g of Whey Protein Isolate immediately the following exercise for a period of 8 weeks. According to Dual emission, x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) used to determine changes in body composition and maximum strength assessed by one-rep-max (1RM) for bench press (upper body) and deadlift (lower body) the results were astounding. Lean body mass increased by 4.7%, with an 8.3% decrease in body fat, coupled with a 19.3% increase in the bench press, and 17.6% increase in deadlift max [R]. If you want to build lean muscle mass, then you should probably get some Whey Protein Isolate. Gains!
Protein Is Good For Weight Loss
Is whey protein isolate good for weight loss? Absolutely! Supplementing a protein shake made with Whey Isolate will always contain fewer calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sugar than any other type of whey protein, or casein. Drinking a liquid form of protein, will provide the vital nutrients you need, to further optimize body composition and deliver the nutrients you need. Protein also helps with satiation (keeping you full) and will help you hit your protein intake.
In a randomized, controlled, double-blinded trial, published by the Journal Of International Society of Sports Nutrition, 86 male subjects were given 30g of Whey Protein Isolate immediately following resistance training, for a period 12 weeks. The subjects were randomized into three groups. One group received Whey Protein Isolate, one group Carbohydrates, and one group Whey Protein Isolate + Carbohydrates.
Protein Benefits Muscle Recovery
Ensuring quick and efficient muscle recovery is one of the most important components to optimizing your training. If you can actively recover faster, then you can increase your training volume, which translates into better athletic performance and better results. Supplementing with Whey Protein Isolate before, during, or after your training, stimulates protein synthesis and minimizes protein breakdown (proteolysis), which are the two biological processes that are essential for muscle recovery. Compared to regular protein supplements, whey isolate is more effective at increasing blood amino acids and protein synthesis due to its different absorption kinetics and amino acid profile. The high availability of amino acids in whey protein isolate, especially branched-chain amino acids, is important for protein synthesis in the hours immediately after ingestion [R]. Whey Isolate also contains high amounts of L-Glutamine, which is a conditionally essential amino acid, which helps decrease muscle mass breakdown, and exercise-induced muscle soreness.
Protein Benefits In Summary
- Builds More Muscle
- Reducing Muscle Mass Breakdown
- Boosts Metabolism
- Improves Recovery
- Increases Strength
- Helps Maintain Weight Loss
What Are BCAAs
Branched Chain Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein. These building blocks refer to the three essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. The human body cannot manufacture essential amino acids; therefore, they must be obtained from food sources in your diet, or through supplementation.
Much like protein, research suggests that BCAAs have a positive impact on enhancing muscle growth and preventing muscle mass breakdown. Leucine, in particular, has been suggested to play a larger role in building and rebuilding muscle mass.
Benefits Of BCAAs
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.
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
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 In Summary
- Reducing mental fatigue
- Improving muscle growth
- Reducing muscle breakdown
- Delaying muscle fatigue
- Improving recovery times
- Increasing strength
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What’s The Difference Between BCAAs Vs. Protein
Molecularly, BCAAs and protein are the exact same, just a bit different in composition. Protein contains all twenty amino acids, while BCAAs contain three essential amino acids. All amino acids perform countless biological and enzymatic reactions as opposed to BCAAs which primarily support muscle protein synthesis. BCAAS are essentially protein, in its simplest form - amino acids.
BCAAs Vs Protein Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need BCAAs If I Take Protein?
Although protein is comprised of amino acids the biggest difference between the two in terms of supplementation are situational. Below you’ll find a list of commonly asked questions, in which we would recommend supplementing with protein, BCAAS, or both.
Should I Take Protein Or BCAAs On A Calorie Restricted Diet?
Dependent upon your specific dietary needs and macro calculations, protein powder such as whey protein isolate, will deliver a large amount of protein content, with fewer carbohydrates and fat, to support optimal body composition. BCAAs, however, don’t have any caloric energy, meaning they have zero calories. Therefore, you get the benefits of promoting muscle growth and preventing muscle mass breakdown without the calories. Thus, on a calorie-restricted diet, you can supplement with both whey protein isolate and BCAAs. It really just depends on if you’re getting enough protein through your diet and hitting your protein intake or not. If you’re hitting your protein goals, then you really don’t need to supplement with protein. You can, however, continue to supplement with BCAAs to support muscle growth and recovery.
Should I Take Protein Or BCAAs While Fasting?
Does Protein Or BCAAs Help Build Muscle Mass?
Studies have consistently shown that both protein and BCAAS increase lean muscle mass, growth, and repair.
Should I Put BCAAs In My Post Workout Protein Shake?
Considering that protein is a complete protein that already contains the branched-chain amino acids, I would recommend holding off on adding more BCAAS to your protein shake, since it would not be the most optimal use of your supplement.
Should I Take BCAAs Before Or After My Workout?
BCAAs can be taken at any time pre, post, and intra-workout. By supplementing with BCAAS or sipping on them throughout the day, you are essentially playing your body in a positive amino acid balance, or muscle building state. Therefore, when you work out your muscle tissue can utilize BCAAs as fuel during your workout to build and rebuild lean muscle mass. My suggestion is to supplement before and during. If you need help with post-workout recovery, supplement one scoop of BCAAS after your workout with added L-Glutamine for faster muscle recovery and repair.
BCAAs Vs Protein: Takeaway
If you’re serious about your training and performance, then supplementing with both BCAAs and promote will provide the most optimal benefits to build and rebuild lean muscle mass. BCAAs help delay muscle and mental fatigue during exercise, which can promote higher volume workouts and translate into better performance. Swolverine’s BCAAS also contain added electrolytes and L-glutamine for intra-workout hydration and optimal recovery.
If you’re already meeting your daily protein intake goals through whole food sources, supplementation of protein is unnecessary. However, when you’re unable to hit your macro calculations through whole food sources, protein supplementation incorporated with a healthful diet and training regimen can help optimize your fitness and nutrition goals.
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