I want to address this issue of BCAAs and insulin spike at once here. Mainly because there’s a lot of language mis-appropriation which ultimately results in mis-information or should I say fake news on the relationship between insulin and BCAA supplements.
BCAAs and insulin have a funny relationship. Insulin is a responsive hormone to BCAAs. Meaning, BCAAs provoke an insulin response.
With that in mind, the question on your mind and indeed all BCAA users mind is probably this: Do bcaas spike insulin? The short answer is; No, BCAAs don’t spike insulin. Surprised? You probably are because that’s not what you’ve been told. I shall explain this to you with the relevant science.
Do BCAAs Spike Insulin?
Let me explain.
Yes, BCAAs and insulin do have a relationship.
And what would the nature of that relationship between insulin and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) be? That’s what this page is about. Keep reading…
The truth of the matter is this. BCAAs do trigger the release of insulin. That much is true.
But here is the good news.
Yes, BCAAs do cause insulin secretion but it is NOT a spike. BCAAs do not spike insulin on their own when taken in isolation, contrary to what you may have been told elsewhere.
I will illustrate what actually happens when BCAAs are taken alone with 2 studies that looked into this issue shortly.
I see weight loss and exercise enthusiasts worrying about this concept of an insulin spike all the time. Well, let me reassure you that bcaas do trigger insulin release but it is NOT an insulin spike.
I needed to repeat that to emphasize the point. A spike is a sudden rise of a biological marker (could be a hormone, enzyme, inflammatory substance) above the basal level and usually sustained for a variable length of time.
It could be a brief rise but the magnitude of the rise has to be significant to be considered a spike.
The rise has to get past a threshold for it to be clinically relevant. Any rise below that threshold is a considered a sub-clinical event.
A sub-clinical rise is not a spike. That is wrong use of the word, spike.
A sharp increase in the magnitude or concentration of something
What happens with bcaas and insulin does not fulfil those criteria. Whether you examine the insulin secretion secondary to BCCA use from the clinical standpoint or from the Grammarly angle, the rise does not qualify to be referred to as a spike.
It is usually a small rise of insulin initiated by the bcaa supplement. Certainly not huge rise that is sustained.
Okay, let me illustrate my point further with the graph below. It’s from a study by Kalogeropoulo and his colleagues.
To understand that graph, you have to know that leucine is the main amino acid in BCAA. Leucine is the most potent of the 3 amino acids in BCAA. BCAAs are made up of 3 amino acids – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.
Now if you noticed, I have been talking about BCAAs not causing an insulin spike, when taken alone in isolation.
If you take your BCAA with glucose from whatever source for example with a sports drink, then of course you will have an insulin spike as you can see on the graph.
The spike is more than the rise initiated by having a glucose drink in isolation.
The researchers concluded that a combination of BCAA and glucose has a synergistic effect. Meaning both leucine and glucose will help each other to cause a significant rise in insulin levels.
Now look at the insulin rise with leucine alone. It’s barely off the “ground”. In fact, it’s only slightly higher than water alone.
The insulin rise caused by leucine (a BCAA amino acid) and water is as flat as you will ever get. It’s a sub-optimal rise of insulin. It’s a marginal rise of insulin level caused by the BCAA leucine. Almost similar to the rise induced by water.
What you see there is certainly NOT a spike.
What About Valine & Isoleucine bcaa effect on insulin release?
If you are pedantic, you might say, well, that experiment was done with leucine alone but BCAA supplements have 2 more amino acids in the form of Valine and Isoleucine.
That may be true. But Valine and Isoleucine don’t play any role in protein synthesis and indeed both do not have any influence on insulin release when you take BCAAs.
Valine’s role is to enable you fight exercise fatigue. Valine competes with the amino acid called tryptophan in the brain.
Tryptophan is a useful ingredient in the synthesis of 5-Hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) otherwise called serotonin. If less tryptophan is available, less serotonin is made. Serotonin is to blame for your exercise fatigue.
Valine by competing with tryptophan reduces the production of excess 5-hydroxytyptamine (5-HT). Low 5-HT (serotonin) means you don’t fatigue out quickly. You exercise more. More volume.
That’s the role of valine.
What about isoleucine?
Isoleucine is also a supporter of leucine. Its main role is activating PPAR receptors. When activated, these receptors promote fat burning. To make its role count even more, isoleucine also discourages fat storage.
That’s the role of isoleucine.
Both isoleucine and valine do not have any effect on insulin secretion and insulin levels. So, their exclusion from that study makes no difference to what happens inside our body when we take BCAAs.
If you are looking for further evidence, you can have a look at this other study that used BCAA in young men participants.
In that study, the peak insulin rise was 8.5 microunits/ml of insulin which is very similar to the previous study I alluded to earlier.
The peak insulin rise occurred at around 15 minutes also similar to the other study.
That insulin rise was described by the authors of the second study as modest. Indeed, that’s about the only way to describe 8.5 microunits/ml rise of insulin.
It certainly cannot be described as a spike.
The findings from those 2 studies should have made it clear to you by now that; BCAAs do not cause a spike of insulin but a gentle marginal rise.
I just hope the gurus will stop using the word ‘spike’ when referring to the relationship between BCAAs and insulin.
When your fitness guru uses the phrase “BCAA insulin spike”, as a follower, your mind visualises something more dramatic than you saw on that graph.
That’s not the case and it has been tested in other studies. Those are just two studies I pointed out to clarify the situation.
BCAA intermittent fasting implications
Does the insulin rise have any fasting implications? Not if you put things into perspective.
Remember intermittent fasting has a lot of benefits and yes, having BCAAs may mean you are technically breaking your fast but only by a very small margin.
It’s a small insulin rise. One of the ways intermittent fasting works to promote fat burning is the fact that fasting keeps insulin levels low. Really low.
Low insulin level enables your body to access your body fat stores to be used as energy source.
Even though leucine in the BCAA may trigger insulin rise as you saw in the graph above, the level of rise is too small to have a negative effect on fat burning.
These things are dose-dependent. The 10 gm of BCAA which is about the maximum dose of BCAA I recommend you take is not going to provoke a significant insulin rise to sabotage your intermittent fasting goals.
It’s NOT a spike!
You will still burn fat regardless.
To attain a spike in insulin, your dose of BCAA will probably be in the range of 70 gm taken at the same time as a single dose. Not recommended.
If you still have doubts, do the following:
==> Reduce the dose of the BCAA to half the recommended dose.
Take 5 gm of BCAA instead of 10 gm. There. That should certainly fix your fears and concerns about any BCAA-induced insulin rise.
Of course, by reducing the dose you are correspondingly reducing the beneficial impact of the BCAA.
In fact, this same study done with 5 gm of BCAA actually confirms that the insulin rise you experience with 5 gm of BCAA is just a temporary elevation. 5 gm of BCAA is a manageable dose that will guarantee metabolic stability.
In any case, whatever insulin response you experience from taking BCAA supplements, it’s a mono-phasic response. This is in sharp contrast to what happens when you have a meal.
A regular meal will usually provoke a second-wave insulin response to peg blood sugars down unless you are very insulin-sensitive. Not so with BCAAs. No metabolic disruption at this dose.
==> Do not take your BCAA supplement with any sugary product
As you saw in the preceding chart, taking a combination of BCAA and glucose, is guaranteed to give you an insulin spike.
Never combine the two, unless you desire an insulin spike of course. Sugary products will include sports drink, smoothies, energy bars etc.
==> Take your BCAA close to when you are about to end your fast
I usually advice taking your BCAA supplement in the last hour of your intermittent fasting.
This certainly takes care of any concerns you have because your fast is coming to an end shortly anyway, so any insulin rise will no longer matter.
You are bringing your “end of fast” (if you like) forward by an hour. So what? It matters not. You can’t be too pedantic about these things, otherwise you miss out on proven benefits.
==> Take your BCAA supplement about 30 minutes before your workout
Doing so ensures you are feeding your muscles directly before your workout.
BCAAs are protective of muscle. BCAA are usually spared of the journey through the liver. Normally protein from your regular food goes through the liver after digestion. After digestion the absorbed amino acids from the proteins get redistributed from the liver to peripheral sites like your muscles.
Amino acids from BCAA however by-pass the liver and head straight to your muscles. In the muscle, BCAAs promote synthesis of proteins through the mTOR pathway and reduce breakdown of protein.
You get the muscle protection benefits whilst seizing the anabolic effects of the available insulin in circulation. A win-win situation.
To put things in perspective, use the following regime. Of course, you can change the hours of the day to suit you.
11:30 – 12 Noon Take your 10 gm of BCAA (or 5 gm, if you prefer) supplement 12 Noon – 1 pm Training hour 1 pm – Have your After-workout meal 4 pm – 2nd meal of the day (Optional meal. You can just eat twice) 8 pm – Have your last meal of the day. Start your intermittent fasting again.
If you use this regime, you can exploit the little rise in insulin from using BCAA supplement. Remember, it’s not a spike.
BCAA stomach issues? Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it? BCAA causing diarrhoea. BCAA making you pass loose stool. BCAA causing stomach pains or abdominal pains.
BCAA causing nausea or BCAA actually making you sick. BCCA causing bloating. Amino acids causing stomach upset. BCAAs causing heart burn or acid reflux.
The list is endless. These are the bcaa complaints, I get asked every now and again. On the face of it, you would think BCAAs are a devilish hand-out, designed to ruin your life. Why on earth would anyone in their right senses take BCAAs if they are so full of gastro-intestinal side effects.
Well, maybe you shouldn’t take them at all. But you had an objective in mind when you chose to take branched-chain amino acids to boost your fitness and enable you reach your fat loss goals, don’t you?
Hence, you may want to continue taking them. I have always said it and I will say it again. You don’t need to take BCAA supplements at all, ever. Why because these amino acids in BCAA supplements are obtainable from your food.
But the point is BCAAs are a concentrated form of these amino acids and they have been formulated for you to take as a matter of convenience. I suppose you could say, it is easier to ‘pop a pill’ than to eat some chunky steak every day.
After all said and done, I think BCAAs do get a bad rap. They aren’t that bad in terms of gastro-intestinal side effects. Some of it is usually coincidental.
All that is required is a little manipulation on your part to alleviate bcaa stomach upset problems. Starting any supplement can cause system upset, in particular, the stomach as it is the first port of call for your supplement.
Some people are more sensitive to these types of issues than others. For the most part, most people will start using BCAA supplements without any problems whatsoever. Others may have stomach upset problems.
BCAA acid reflux, heart burn problems
I hear complaints about BCAAs causing acid reflux or heart burn. This bcca stomach acid reflux can be explained by the fact that some of the BCAA supplements contain acidity regulators. A commonly used acidity regulator is citric acid. For someone who has problems with acidic foods, this could be an issue.
Indeed, if you are a bcaa user who has issues with stomach pains, looking in the direction of the acid regulator added to the supplement would be a good starting point.
BCAA Stomach Issues – diarrhoea, bloating, gas problems
BCAAs causing diarrhoea. This diarrhoea complaint about BCAA seems to be not uncommon. It would appear that bcaa supplements containing that devilish compound called sucralose as an additive, are the ones generating that problem.
Sucralose is a sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some supplements. The main reason is that the sucralose will mask the natural subtle taste of the bcaa. Manufacturers love sucralose because it is calorie-free, hence they have no hesitation adding it to these supplements.
However, stomach issues relating to bcaa gas or bloating may be caused by the sucralose ingredient added as part of the bcaa nutraceutical formulation.
A lot of people are intolerant to sucralose. They just don’t know it. Opinion remains divided about the safety of sucralose on human health. The regulatory authorities seem to give sucralose the thumbs-up in terms of safety in humans, but there are those who firmly believe that the pathway to their safety approval wasn’t as clear as a sunny day.
By the way, aspartame and sucralose aren’t dissimilar. If you have had digestive problems with aspartame previously, then it is almost certain that the sucralose in the bcaa supplement is what is causing the problem.
If you experience headaches whilst using bcaa, the blame lies squarely on the additive, sucralose’s square. Sucralose has been implicated in migraine headache. If you have migraines when you use bcaa supplement, check the ingredients listed. If sucralose is one of the ingredients listed, then it is most likely the reason for your headache.
There’s a saying that suggests avoiding substances you may have doubts about as a health strategy. So, if in doubt, AVOID.
Tips to get rid of BCAA stomach issues
If you notice, a lot of the problems with bcaa supplements is not so much with the active ingredients i.e the amino acids in the supplements. It is usually something to do with the additives.
So here’s how to get rid of bcaa stomach problems
Tip #1. Reduce the dose of the bcaa supplement.
This is particularly important if you have just introduced this supplements to your training regime. Like with anything new, you may have stomach issues using bcaas at the start.
A useful trick is to start small and build up the dosage gradually until you hit the dosage target you have in mind.
There is no rush. Stick with each dose increment for at least a week or even two. Once your body gets used to that dosage, up the dosage some more.
Tip #2. Avoid supplements with Citric acid as acid regulators.
Some people can’t tolerate acidity. You may be one of those people. Not using supplements with added citric acid will help. Avoiding bcaa supplements with citric acid is a useful step especially if you are one of those people with bcaa heart burn or acid reflux problems.
The acid in the bcaa supplement causes stomach irritation which in turn leads to abodominal pain. In some people the citric acid backs up, making the problem worse. Avoid.
Tip #3. Dump bcaa supplements with sucralose.
I am personally not a fan of sucralose only because it causes a lot of gastro-intestinal problems. Sucralose can be a nasty ingredient. It is nasty on its own anyway, so when added to supplements, it compounds the problem.
Diarrhoea is one of the unpleasant side effects of sucralose. If you are having bcaa diarrhoea issues, it is likely sucralose is responsible. The same applies to issues related to bcaa gas or bloating. It is most likely due to sucralose.
It is therefore reasonable to dump (no pun intended) that supplement. Switch to another one that hasn’t got sucralose in it.
Tip #4. Add more water.
This tip applies to those people using bcaa powder. If you are having stomach pains and you are using bcaa powder, I will advise you add more water to mix it up before drinking it.
Also, even after mixing; drink your bcaa powder mixture slowly by sipping it as opposed to taking it all in one fell swoop.
Tip #5. Take it with food.
This tip is a last resort. If your bcaa stomach cramps persist despite all of the above measures above, then you may wish to take your bcaa with food rather than taking it in an empty stomach.
Obviously, taking bcaa with food is not ideal as it actually defeats the purpose of using it in the first place. But if you are pushed for a further solution, try that and see how you get on.
Tip #6. Change the bcaa brand.
This goes with what I said earlier on. A lot of the stomach and digestive problems with bcaa supplements arise from the additives in them.
The good news is that, different manufacturers use different additives in their supplements. Therefore, if you are having problems with one particular brand, it would make sense to try another brand with a completely different formulation.
For this tip to work, look at the list of ingredients of the new brand you have in mind and make sure the formulation is different from the one you own already.
Tip #7. Stop the bcaa supplementation.
Well, like I said before, you are not under strict instruction to use bcaa supplements mandatorily. You may use them to assist you with your training efforts to lose fat and may be gain muscle.
However, if the bcaas are becoming a ‘pain in the backside’, then it wouldn’t hurt to stop them altogether.
Tip #8. Switch to whey protein isolate.
Whey protein is a very good substitute for bcaa. The amino acids in bcaa supplements are available in whey protein, so you won’t miss out on your essential amino acids.
The problem with some whey protein powder is that they may contain huge amount of lactose. Some people become lactose intolerant as they get older.
Lactose intolerance may send you back to the same digestive problems like stomach cramps, diarrhoea and bloating which are the same symptoms you may have had with your bcaa in the first place. You don’t want that.
But don’t panic. There’s a solution.
What’s the solution? Whey protein isolate. It’s a purer form of whey protein without the baggage of lactose. How cool is that!
So, if you have bcaa bloating, bcaa stomach cramps, bcaa diarrhoea or loose stool, bcaa making you feel sick or nauseous, you have a nice solution that is more tolerable in the form of whey protein isolate. Get Whey protein isolate from Amazon Uk here and from Amazon US.
There you are. Problems relating bcaa digestive symptoms can be dealt with easily using the tips above.
Do BCAAs work? This is one question that bothers prospective fat loss enthusiasts. So, what’s the answer to the question? Well, the answer to the question of whether BCAAs work or not is: Yes and No.
I know what you are thinking. You think I am hedging my bets with that answer but I am not. Hear me out.
The issue of bcaa’s effectiveness is actually dependent on what you want from your bcaa use. These supplements are effective for certain functionality and not proven to be effective for other aspects of body sculpturing.
I will therefore approach the question of bcaas working with what we know bcaas work for, followed by what we don’t have concrete bcaa proof for. The information on this page may represent some of the pros of bcaa and why you should take bcaas.
So, do bcaas work?
Let’s talk about what we know bcaas work for first. What I will be talking about here is backed by bcaa research. We will use the results from the bcaa studies to support the view that bcaas actually work for muscle recovery whilst having other uses at the same time.
What we know bcaas work for:
BCAAs make post-workout muscle soreness tolerable.
Muscle soreness is a real ‘pain in the backside’ (no pun intended) for exercise enthusiasts. Of course, the more often you exercise, the less the intensity of the soreness you feel afterwards. This is mainly due to muscle adaptation from frequent workouts. You still feel sore but not as much as your physically inactive neighbour.
And you know that muscle soreness following workout is usually delayed by a day or two, right? And we have just established that individuals who don’t do much in the way of exercise tend to feel the brunt of the muscle soreness more, right?
You will notice that if you take a long break from regular exercise, the intensity of the delayed muscle soreness will be more compared to when you undertake regular exercise.
If we agree that’s the case, what better bunch of people to use for muscle soreness intensity study than folks who are non-athletic.
Take 12 folks who don’t exercise at all and subject them to squat exercises. Cruel, I know. Give one half of the group bcaa supplements and give the other group dummy supplements and see whose muscles will be sorer on Day 2 and Day 3 after the squat exercises.
In that study, the degree of delayed muscle soreness was much less in the bcaa supplemented group. That’s some proof that bcaa will make you tolerate your exercises days later.
If you have doubts, try it out and see for yourself if you experience less delayed muscle pain days after your workout session when you take bcaa supplements. Compare that to what happens when you don’t take any.
You can easily establish this proof of concept all by yourself. It’s not technical at all.
Spreading out your bcaa supplementation and the timing when done right can have significant effect on the level of muscle soreness post-exercise.
Will you exercise more consistently if muscle soreness wasn’t a big issue for you? Of course, you will. Hence, by extension you could argue that bcaa do work for weight loss, assuming (and this a big assumption) you are doing all the right things from the dietary point of view as well.
The BCAA itself will not make you lose weight on their own. It’s what you do with the BCAA that counts.
BCAAs limit muscle damage during exercise
Modern biochemistry gives us the benefit of measuring indicators of muscle damage in the blood. When muscle is damaged during exercise (which it does), you can confirm that by measuring certain enzymes and markers in the blood.
The higher the level of these biological compounds in the blood, the more tissue that was damaged at the time of exercise. Enzymes such as creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase are some of the measurable tissue damage compounds.
Myoglobin and aldolase are other biological markers that are usually raised following muscle damage and they are both measurable too.
Give one group bcaa supplementation for 14 days and the other group no supplementation. Subject them to 2-hour cycling exercise on day 7 of the experiment. What will you find?
The bcaa researchers found that the supplemented group had lower levels of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after the exercise routine indicating lesser muscle damage.
In the same BCAA study we talked about earlier, the researchers did the same thing by measuring muscle damage parameters – plasma creatine kinase, aldolase, myoglobin. They also found lower levels in the bcaa supplemented group.
The researchers here also found the serum myoglobin concentration was increased by exercise in the placebo but not in the BCAA trial.
All of the findings from these bcaa studies point to the conclusion that bcaa supplements do limit the amount of muscle damage that occurs during exercise routines.
BCAAs provide essential amino acids on demand
It is nice to have something available for you when you want it. Your body cells are no different. You don’t want to starve of your body cells of essential nutrients when they need it.
After all, we now live in a world of instant gratification, don’t we?
Your muscle cells are in particular very needy when it comes to protein needs during exercise especially when you are doing resistance training.
In most of the bcaa research studies that I have mentioned above, the level of the essential amino acids in bcaa supplemented group when measured was always higher than in the placebo group.
This is important because when muscle gets damaged during workouts, you want the essential amino acids to be readily available for replenishment as soon as possible, otherwise there would be a lag phase.
You will lose muscle when there is a lag phase between damage and repair. So, supplementation means the amino acids will be in circulation ready to be soaked up by the muscle cells. Nice!
BCAAs facilitate protein manufacture
The muscle cell is called the myocyte. Inside the myocyte, there is always intense activity. Don’t forget we use our muscles practically every hour of the day. Okay, I admit, we use much less muscle when we are asleep. Even then, you still need your muscles to breathe when you are asleep.
Because of this high metabolic activity going on inside the muscle, there is a high protein turnover. You need amino acids to make protein. Your muscle cells need lots of branched chain amino acids to repair damage, replenish used protein and synthesize new protein.
If no branched chain amino acids (bcaa)are available, then all of those processes culminating in protein manufacture will suffer.
Exercise is one of the greatest inducers of protein breakdown. Oh, yes, when you exercise you oxidise lots of amino acids in your muscle cells. These have to be replaced, buddy.
This BCAA research study confirms the fact that our body’s BCAA requirements are pumped up (pardon the pun) during exercise.
The researchers also concluded that “BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis”.
It is therefore a known fact that bcaas promote protein synthesis in the muscle via the mTOR pathway. This particular feature means bcaas aid muscle recovery whilst carrying very few calories.
BCAAs facilitating muscle recovery also means you can exercise much more consistently. This leads to another suggestion that BCAAs are good for weight loss or more specifically fat loss.
Now let’s talk about what we are not sure of about BCAAs.
Do BCAAs work – What we are uncertain about.
A lot of people who use BCAAs fall into the calorie-restriction group and those undertaking intermittent fasting. Of course, there are several other groups of people who could benefit from using BCAAs, but I will focus my opinion on the larger two groups.
Why, because those in calorie deficit and those people undertaking intermittent fasting have a peculiar problem – muscle loss.
What the BCAA research is not absolutely clear about, at least on a consistent level is that, BCAAs are protective of muscle loss. What we know as I mentioned earlier on is that BCAAs will promote protein manufacture using the mTOR pathway.
The upshot of bcaas facilitating protein synthesis is that bcaa should preserve lean muscle mass and promote fat loss at the same time assuming the individual is combining calorie restriction or intermittent fasting like the 16/8 intermittent fasting, with consistent physical exercise workouts.
Not only are we expecting lean muscle mass protection from the bcaa supplement but we are also expecting easier muscle recovery too.
We want to be greedy. How? We want to lose weight whilst accelerating or at the very least maintain our fitness (means having plenty of muscle to you and I) at the same time.
And why not…
So, what happens when you put the fat loss and lean mass protection to the test?
In that bcaa study, the researchers took 17 resistance-trained dudes who are still in their prime (21 – 28 years of age), split them up into 2 groups. Gave one group bcaa supplements and the other a carbohydrate-based supplement, sport drink basically.
Both groups were calorie-restricted from the diet point of view and the study was allowed to run for 8 weeks.
The result: The bcaa supplemented group lost fat mass and maintained lean mass as well in comparison to the carbohydrate supplemented group that lost lean mass.
Also, the bcaa group could do more squats and more bench press indicating an increase in strength compared to the carbohydrate supplemented group. Tendency to fatigue was greater in the carb supplemented group.
What does this study tell us? It tells us that if you can preserve lean muscle mass, then you have the potential to preserve skeletal muscle performance too.
Does this translate to bcaas promoting muscle growth? Not really.
If you look at the research into that aspect of muscle growth, it gets muddy. There are so many variables such as the bcaa supplement dosage, how long the trials run for, timing of supplement administration, pre-trial fitness level, trial intensity, and dietary protocol. These variables make direct comparisons of bcaa studies difficult.
The bcaa studies do not consistently show that bcaa supplementation will result in increases in muscle strength and muscle growth. That’s the scientific truth.
But can you still achieve these outcomes of muscle strength and muscle growth by using bcaas, if you harness the catabolic benefits of bcaas?
Here is the thing: BCAAs get broken down when taken pre-workout.
Following the metabolism of the bcaa supplement, energy is released. You can harness that energy during your workout. And oh, as a side note there is some bcaa research like this one that suggests leucine, one of the branched-chain amino acid, actually upregulates the oxidation of fats for energy use. That’s the first thing.
Also, the amino acids in bcaa compete with the chemical units that make up 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) in the brain. High levels of brain 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) lead to an earlier feeling of fatigue during exercise routines.
So, what you want is low levels of 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) during workouts. Having bcaa amino acids available in your circulation will facilitate lower levels of 5-HT.
What does this mean? Well, if you have been following this article, you will notice I started with the things we know about BCAAs that have been proven, right?
How about you harness those advantages of bcaa and couple those advantages with the energy provision and low 5-hydroxytryptamine benefit. The net result is, you can power your way to muscle growth with your bcaa.
Because you have the potential to push for consistent workout intensity and workout volume in your hands.
It will be your call… …the potential is there. A direct association between bcaa use and muscle growth may not be positively identifiable but an indirect one is certainly within your grasp.
BCAA and Libido; what’s the relationship between the two. One of the questions I get asked every now and again is whether the use of BCAA kills one’s sex drive.
This is an interesting question because sex is important to humans. We not only want to procreate but we also want to have pleasure. Sex enables us to achieve both objectives.
Anything that negatively impacts on that human function naturally becomes an “emergency” of sorts.
Most sexual activities start with libido.
No Libido, No Sex.
Too High Libido, Raving Sex Lunatic.
It all starts with libido. Libido is the barometer of sex drive.
When libido is low or absent, the interest in sex plummets. Hence, anyone with a libido issue would want it fixed ASAP.
But libido issues aren’t very easy to fix. I wish they were. But oh no, they aren’t. Like I mentioned in my article on the health risks of BCAA, I dread having a consultation that centres on libido as the main problem.
The main reason being; the patient quite genuinely has a problem, a serious one at that and he/she is expecting a solution from me. Sadly, issues relating to sex drive aren’t fixed easily with a ‘pill in a bottle’. Sometimes, yes but most times, it requires more than a pill.
Therefore, blaming something like BCAA as the offending agent for your libido or sex drive problems may be a misplaced anger. Barking at the wrong tree, if you like.
Something we do know is sex drive (libido) is modulated in the brain. Yes, your brain is your biggest sexual organ, believe it or not.
We also know from research that libido is affected by:
Sensitivity to sexual cues.
You may be highly sensitive to sexual cues but if your psychological inhibition is high, your appetite for sex will be low.
A good sex drive is a fine balance between being very sensitive to sexual cues along with a low psychological inhibition.
Don’t forget that psychological inhibition that affects libido varies from person to person. Upbringing, religious beliefs, cultural and social factors play a huge role in the psychological mash-up for libido.
We can say for certain that BCAAs do not have a role with the psychological aspects of libido. That will be an unfair blame on BCAA if we swing the pendulum in that direction.
The question then arises: do BCAAs have a role to play in the organic and physical aspects of libido?
Well, there is no straight answer to this question, but we will tackle it anyway.
Something we do know is; BCAAs do reduce 5-HT (serotonin) levels in the brain. Whether that is a good thing or bad thing is open to debate. For one thing, 5-HT is responsible for the feeling of fatigue during intense workouts, so BCAAs reducing 5-HT (serotonin) level is a good thing for fitness.
But 5-HT (serotonin) is involved in sexual function as well. Whereas Dopamine is beneficial for sexual function, serotonin negatively impacts sexual function. Serotonin (5-HT) negatively affects sexual motivation thus sexual initiation; sexual performance thus satiety.
From the above, low levels of serotonin (5-HT) should be your preferred option as opposed to high levels, if libido is important to you. BCAAs keeping the levels of 5-HT on the low side would therefore be a good thing for your sexual function.
Now the flip side of that argument:
You’ve got to remember that low serotonin is a bad thing for our mood. You could also argue that low mood is not compatible with high sex drive. Very few people will compensate their low mood with lots of sex. Maybe there are some but very few will.
> You need to be happy to want to have sex and plenty of it, at that.
It does get complicated though. I told you libido and sex matters are not for the faint-hearted.
Why the complication. Happiness is not always compatible with high libido. Got proof?
Well, here is one. People with low mood generally get prescribed anti-depressants. Usually the more modern antidepressants called SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are the 21st century rave.
I’m talking about drugs like Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, Celexa and Viibryd. They are all SSRI antidepressants. What do these meds do?
SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain. And what’s the commonest side effect of SSRIs? Sexual dysfunction it is; inclusive of low libido. You wouldn’t think that, would you?
This actually agrees with the scientific fact we talked about above. High serotonin inhibits sexual function in more ways than one. So, it’s not surprising that SSRI antidepressants cause libido problems because SSRI antidepressants work by raising serotonin levels in the brain.
High serotonin levels boosted by these SSRIs make us happy…really happy.
But aren’t we supposed to be thinking more about sex and having lots more sex when we are happier? Go figure.
Now with all of these synergy of action, you would have to think that BCAAs are a gift that just keeps on giving when it comes to sex, right?
Think about it this way:
BCAAs afford you high testosterone, a good influencer of libido
High human growth hormone, another libido driver
…and to top it all, you can go ahead and have as much sex as you want with the assurance that BCAAs will protect you from any muscular injury during sex.
Oh, Happy Days!
So, when some people complain that their BCAA supplement is making their libido or sex drive to take a tumble, it kinda rings hollow…
…when you look at the evidence and the physiological chain of events that BCAAs do provoke. It’s more of a red herring.
Having said that, sex and libido are complex matters that have an innate capacity to surprise just about anyone.
On this account, I wouldn’t dismiss your claim about BCAAs killing your libido. I think it is unlikely though. But I would instead suggest you explore the psychological aspects of your sex life.
A simple test would be to discontinue the BCAA use, if you are still convinced the supplements are the culprit.
After all, you don’t need BCAAs to survive the next weather change, do you? And BCAAs aren’t heroine either. You ain’t going to have withdrawal symptoms just because you abandoned your bcaa in your supplement cabinet.
Watch and see what happens when you pause taking the supplements. If your libido makes a sensational return, then, voilla, you are cured. And do you know what…you would have proved your point.
Everyone is happy. You, Your partner and may be ‘Little me’ for this advice. Except the BCAA company. They won’t be.
Are there BCAA health risks? What are the BCAA negatives? Is the use of BCAA safe? What are the dangers of using BCAAs? These are some of the questions I get asked every now and again. So, I thought I might as well tackle them here on this page.
And I need to mention here that talking about possible health risks or side effects of BCAAs is ‘serious business’. Hence much of what you will read on this page is based heavily on science, not conjecture or pure opinions. The resources are also provided.
Of course, there are risks to using BCAAs. Whilst bcaa supplements have become so popular in their use all over the world, sometimes it makes sense to take in a deep breath and examine this new craze objectively.
The sale of bcaa has increased tremendously in the last couple of years. In fact, the bcaa supplement business is now a multi-million-dollar industry.
Why is this?
It’s because the benefits of BCAAs are being exploited by sports enthusiasts, body builders and those engaged in intermittent fasting. BCAAs are also used in the medical world, albeit limited use.
Body building requires a good amount of protein consumption to provide essential and non-essential amino acids necessary for new muscle development and maintenance of existing muscle fibres. BCAA provides that, although some researchers like Garlick PJ may have a different opinion regarding that.
Something to remember, is that using bcaas may in practice mean we are increasing our daily protein consumption beyond the recommended daily average, especially if we are eating normally.
The first thing to say, however, is that short-term use of bcaas does not pose any significant health risk to the user. The side effects of bcaa are not stuff the user should worry about when using these supplements, for just a couple of weeks.
So, let’s dive in and prove or dis-prove some of the feared side effects or health risks of bcaas.
BCAA Health Risks
I will tackle the most commonly asked concerns regarding the dangers of BCAA.
BCAA Affecting Kidneys & Kidney Stones
There has been a lot of talk about bcaas negatively affecting the kidneys or bcaa causing kidney stones. Some people are concerned about bcaas causing kidney pain with or without kidney stones.
In a way, this is a genuine concern because when you consume excess proteins either through your regular diet or through the use of bcaa supplements, there is a theoretical risk that the kidneys are being “pushed harder” than they ought to.
On this account of being pushed harder by excessive protein intake from bcaa or regular diet, the kidneys may then begin to malfunction, at least in theory anyway.
The scientific evidence regarding high protein diets or bcaas causing kidney problems is conflicting and no consistency of results have been demonstrated to reach any foregone conclusions.
This experimental study in rats seems to suggest that a high protein diet does cause the kidneys to get bigger (kidney hypertrophy) and to filter more and more.
Brenner hypothesis suggests that conditions that cause the kidneys to filter harder and induce higher pressures within the kidneys will eventually lead to kidney injury over time.
Some scientists seem to think otherwise though. This alternative school of thought believes that excessive filtration that happens in the kidneys on a high protein diet is actually an adaptation of the kidneys to the new demand on it, rather than a kidney malfunction.
This Nurses’ Health Study that enrolled 1624 women aged between 42 and 68 years of age and assessed their kidney functions over a 4-year period supports this alternative viewpoint.
The conclusion from that study was that a high protein diet like using bcaa would not initiate a decline in kidney function in normal healthy individuals. However, if you had pre-existing abnormal kidney function, a high protein diet such as using bcaa would accelerate the progression of decline in kidney function. So, BCAAs are best avoided, if you have a pre-existing kidney malfunction.
What About BCAA and Kidney Stones What we do know is that the food we eat plays a huge role in the formation of kidney stones.
But do bcaas cause kidney stones and in turn kidney pain? This is a bit hit or miss. There are studies like this one that shows a direct correlation between high protein diet (especially animal protein) and calcium oxalate kidney stones formation.
With a high protein intake, it would appear in theory at least that stone formation in the kidneys would increase because of increased excretion stone forming agents like uric acid and calcium.
That’s the theory and indeed you could argue that BCAAs have a theoretical risk of enabling kidney stone formation.
But when you examine the literature, there is no conclusive evidence that if you embark on a high protein diet for instance by using bcaas, you are likely to form kidney stones. Indeed, this study of 96,245 women aged 27 years to 44 showed a risk reduction between high protein diet and kidney stones.
As it happens that same study also showed that adequate fluid consumption reduces the risk of kidney stones.
So, here is the advice. If you are going to use bcaa supplements, it would be prudent to drink plenty of water to prevent kidney pain in the short term and kidney stones in the long run.
I cannot emphasize the importance of adequate hydration when using bcaas as far as kidney pain or kidney stones are concerned.
Don’t forget that when you exercise you lose a lot of body fluid through sweat and it is very easy to become underhydrated. Dehydration in itself regardless of whether you are using bcaa supplements or not is the bedrock of most kidney stones.
So, drink plenty of water and you should be fine. Also watch out for other supplements that you may be using along with the bcaas that may cause you to pass urine a lot more like caffeinated BCAA supplements.
These are supplements that creatively combine bcaas and caffeine together as one. Personally, you will be pushing the boundaries by using those combination supplements. If you do, my advice will be to drink even more.
BCAA and Insulin Resistance (Type 2 Diabetes)
There has been some grumbling in some quarters that the prolonged use of BCAAs and indeed prolonged consumption of a high protein diet may be associated with the development of insulin resistance and subsequently Type 2 diabetes.
I have been looking at the scientific evidence between bcaas and diabetes. Again, the evidence is conflicting.
Of course, we know that insulin’s main job is to lower blood sugar quite apart from affecting the metabolism of available amino acids.
So, how for heaven’s sake, does a diet high in branched-chain amino acids or prolonged use of bcaas result in insulin resistance and high blood sugar (type 2 diabetes)?
I suppose it’s all in the genotype and environmental interplay. Wolever and his colleagues studied the North American Aboriginal population and confirmed this interplay. They found a 38% increase in the risk of diabetes when the diet was a high protein one in that Aboriginal population.
Having a diet that is deficient or low in fiber, but high in protein can result in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Dietary fiber-depleted foods high in either starch or protein predispose the individual to diabetes.
Now, does that mean bcaa use will result in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Probably not. Especially if you don’t use bcaas for a long period.
Short-term use of bcaa supplements for 4 months and under shouldn’t really be an issue as far as insulin resistance and diabetes are concerned.
But if you are going to use bcaas for a long time, you need to bear in mind the health risk of diabetes or insulin resistance because amino acids inclusive of the ones in bcaa can have a bi-directional effect on insulin, it would appear.
What does bi-directional effect mean?
It means bcaa can positively call on insulin to store proteins whilst at the same time have a negative effect on some of the functions of insulin. Functions such as control of blood sugar.
Just be careful. As a precautionary measure though, if you are going to use the bcaa supplement for a long time, please make sure you add a lot of fibre to your diet. Fiber seems to have a calming effect on the mechanics of blood glucose control and possibly it’s metabolism.
BCAA and Joint Pain
Are bcaas good for joints or are they bad for your joints? Some individuals have wondered whether joint pain is one of the dangers of taking bcaa supplements. Indeed, when you develop joint pain or arthritis at the time of commencing a supplement, your mind automatically thinks; could the supplement be the cause of this joint pain?
That is fairly natural and rational thinking.
However, in nearly all cases, this is a mere coincidence rather than the source of the problem. Just make sure you don’t have issues with gout though.
BCAAs may be useful in arthritis. In actual fact, when you do have injury affecting the muscles or joints, you need a good dose of bcaas to facilitate the healing process.
I have talked about how bcaas actually help with the synthesis of proteins already and there is scientific proof to that effect. The protein synthetic function and inhibition of protein breakdown forms the basis on which bcaas should help with arthritis.
BCAAs may also calm the inflammation associated with arthritis especially when used in conjunction with methionine as I will explain shortly.
Your body needs these essential amino acids in bcaa supplements along with another essential amino acid called methionine to help build new connective tissue. Any system that helps connective tissue recovery like cartilage formation is always a beneficial thing for your joints.
A lot of joint pains are the result of problems with connective tissue whether it be related to sports injury or ageing. Arthritis for the most part has its origins from connective tissue malfunction.
Therefore, one needs a diet rich in these essential amino acids to help with the formation of collagen. Collagen is the bedrock of connective tissue. Without collagen, there is no connective tissue. And without connective tissue, joint pain will rule the day.
Methionine, for instance, is one essential amino acid that is needed for cartilage production because it supplies sulphur to the body. I know methionine is not a branched-chain amino acid, but I am stressing the point that along with the bcaas, methionine does actually relieve joint pain and promote healing by stimulating connective tissue formation.
What am I saying here? I am saying that bcaas rather than cause joint pain, they indeed do the opposite. BCAAs are actually good for joints.
Bcaas promote joint healing rather than cause joint pain. And if BCAAs are taken with methionine they provide anti-inflammatory function which helps to provide relief from joint pain.
BCAA and Hair Loss & Hair Growth
Do BCAAs cause hair loss or do BCAAs stimulate hair growth? That is the question. I have been researching the relationship between bcaas and hair loss or hair growth.
For one thing I do not have a personal experience with bcaas causing hair loss or bcaas causing hair growth, nor do I know anyone close to me that has had any such experience with BCAAs.
So, what I have written here about how bcaa relates to receding hairline or hair growth is based on research. In the course of establishing the facts regarding hair thinning, alopecia and bcaa, I came across claims by two experts who stated that the use of protein shakes containing bcaa actually leads to hair loss.
Their theory in support of this claim is that bcaa use causes a spike in testosterone levels which in turn raises dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels in the body.
Now dihydrotestosterone, DHT, is a weird hormone. Dihydrotestosterone is the active metabolite of testosterone, but it is weird hormone.
What do I mean by that?
Well, dihydrotestosterone is the hormone that stimulates facial and body hair growth amongst other functions. In fact, dihydrotestosterone, DHT, is the nemesis of women with polycystic ovaries. It’s the hormone that makes those women with polycystic ovaries hirsute.
Now whilst dihydrotestosterone (DHT) stimulates facial and body hair growth, it does the exact opposite on the scalp. Dihyrotestosterone (DHT) causes hair loss or hair thinning on the scalp. And the scalp is where you really want your hair to bloom. Now you see why I say DHT is a weird hormone.
Anyway, back to the claim by these two experts. These two experts on the basis of the above weird behaviour of dihydrotestosterone opine that protein shakes and in particular bcaa use does lead to hair loss or alopecia.
I had a good search on pubmed library looking for scientific evidence to back that claim. I saw none.
My view is that, based on dihydrotestosterone effect, it is quite possible that BCAAs may cause hair loss but this has not been scientifically studied yet, as at the time of writing. It is a theoretical association supported by hair expert’s opinion. I haven’t named the two experts here because I may unwittingly be promoting them.
Part of the reason why I haven’t named them is because the two experts have their own registered hair growth products on sale. So, maybe, just maybe, conflict of interest could be at play here. Just a thought!
Are BCAAs good for hair growth?
Now to add to the confusion:
I also gathered from my research that bcaa can actually facilitate hair growth in the same breadth. But not in the regular supplement form as you know it, I should add.
How’s this possible?
Hair growth is naturally engineered by the presence or absence of potassium channels within the hair follicle. Even if the potassium channels are present but aren’t functioning properly, hair growth will be negatively affected.
The absence or poor functionality of the potassium channels reduces the membrane potential of the hair follicle; hence growth is impaired.
What’s this got to do with branched-chain amino acids, I hear you ask.
Well, if you can raise the membrane potential of hair follicles by stimulating new potassium channels, hair will grow. Any mechanism that positively induces new potassium channels within the hair follicle will promote hair growth.
Guess something that has that capability – BCAAs.
BCAAs stimulate development of new potassium channels in hair follicles and as result stimulate the growth of hair growth. That is why new formulations of hair growth products now incorporate branched-chain amino acids in them and they claim to have lasting results.
I haven’t personally tried these new hair growth products containing BCAAs myself, so I cannot vouch for them. I suppose they are worth a good try if you have issues with receding hairline or hair thinning.
BCAA and Libido
Does the use of bcaa cause low libido or heighten libido? Big, big question. When it comes to libido in humans, things get really murky. Never have I had a difficult and challenging consultation in the clinic than when a patient complains of low libido.
One reason is the patient quite naturally is expecting me prescribe a wonder drug that will fix the problem. How I wish it were that simple.
Yes, there may be organic issues causing the low libido problem but I gotta tell you, the psychosocial contributors to low or lack of libido cannot be over-emphasized.
Here is something you should know. Libido is hugely affected by:
How sensitive the frontal lobe of your brain is to sexual cues.
How strong or weak your psychological inhibition is.
I don’t want to go into huge detail about this because that is a whole topic in itself. Could be a book actually, thinking about it.
So, to accuse a substance like bcaa of causing low libido may be an unjust thing to do because libido issues are too complex. Doing so will be over-simplifying the issue.
BCAAs may or may not cause low libido. The flipside of that is BCAAs may or may not increase libido. The point being…everyone is different.
I could take BCAAs and my libido will be hitting the roof. In the same vein, you could take BCAAs, and your libido may crash. Can you blame the bcaas for your libido? That would be a tricky thing to do.
What we do know is:
BCAAs do reduce the level of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain. Serotonin is involved in both your mood and libido by extension. Once serotonin receptors in the frontal lobe of your brain are activated, psychological inhibition is diminished, but the effect on sexual cues is inhibitory.
So, BCAAs lowering 5-HT in the brain is actually a good thing for libido, rather than having a negative impact on libido.
And there is another explanation:
BCAAs actually cause a spike in testosterone levels as shown in this study and this other one. And would you believe it, BCAAs also cause a rise in Human Growth Hormone (HGH) levels in the body.
Ah, now it gets interesting.
Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone increase sex drive like crazy especially when your body gets a good hit from them. Best effect is at initial exposure.
If BCAAs can drive up both testosterone and growth hormone, then BCAAs should in theory actually revv up sex drive, rather cause it to crash and burn.
The conclusion from all of these hormonal interplay is that it is difficult to point the finger at BCAA if your sex drive takes a hit. If you however still have doubts, then stop using the bcaa supplement and see if your libido picks up again.
If you notice a difference, then you have made your own diagnosis regardless of whatever someone else tells you.
There is a lot to be said about BCAAs in modern life. There is some debate on-going regarding the use of BCAAs.
Are BCAAs good for you? Are BCAAs bad for you? What are the pros and cons of using bcaas.
What I’d like to do here is talk about bcaas in general and what they can and cannot do for you.
Pros and Cons of BCAAs
First of all, you’d like to know what bcaas are, don’t you?
What are bcaas? The term bcaas stands for branched-chain amino acids. That term refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. We won’t get geeky here and start blabbing about the actual chemical structure of these amino acids because it is not an absolute necessity. Leave that to the food biochemists.
What you need to know however is that there are 3 amino acids that make up the branched-chain amino acids group.
These amino acids are isoleucine, valine and leucine. Of the 3 amino acids, leucine is the most important metabolically. Isoleucine and valine sort of play a supportive role functionally.
Something else you need to know is that the 3 amino acids are actually essential amino acids. This means you need to take these amino acids either through your diet or through supplementation to have them.
This is because your body just doesn’t make these amino acids. Failure to provide these amino acids through food or via supplementation would lead to deficiency. And deficiency state is a No No…far from ideal.
How to use bcaa How you use bcaa is fairly simple. Most bcaa supplements come either in the pill format or powder form.
Take the pill with water as you would any other supplement. If it is the powder, simply dissolve it in water, smoothie, oatmeal, sports drink etc and sip it. It is a good idea to drink plenty of water with it.
An advisable dose of bcaa daily will be between 5gm and 20 gm. It is also not a bad idea to split up your daily dose of bcaa into two.
When to take your bcaas The issue of when to take bcaa tends to be bothersome to some people. It needn’t be. There are no hard rules regarding the timing of bcaa use.
Take your bcaa anytime you feel like it. However, for the folk who is a physical activity enthusiast, I will advise using your bcaa supplementation around your workout time. There are obvious advantages at taking bcaas around workout time. Take it just before workout and soon after.
The main reason being bcaas will provide energy support during your workout and good for muscle metabolism during and after your workout session.
This is even more important if you are involved in intermittent fasting. I have a suggested approach to bcaa use, especially with intermittent fasting here. Go read it.
What are health benefits of using bcaas
Do BCAAs have any health benefits? Let me talk about these as the pros of using bcaas. Why would you want to use bcaas? Are bcaas worth your while?
Okay, here are the pros of using bcaas.
BCAAs good for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness Ever experienced delayed-onset muscle soreness after a workout session, also known as DOMS? Well, if you are a keen workout individual, you would have gone through that phase of having intense muscle soreness after a good bout of exercise. Post-exercise muscle soreness comes with the territory.
One of the pros of using bcaas is, bcaas do reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. Prove it?
Well, if you take 12 untrained female participants and make them do 7 sets of 20 squats with 3 minutes intervals between sets, will these participants develop muscle soreness? Of course, they will.
Can you reduce the intensity of this soreness? Well, this study says, you can. Do a cross-over double-blind study with BCAA supplements and a dummy pill and you will have proof. They did and they found that bcaa supplemented group had significantly reduced muscle soreness on Day 2 & Day 3 post-exercise.
Nosaka and his colleagues seem to provide further proof here that bcaa supplementation does provide a health benefit of attenuating delayed-onset muscle soreness following a workout, as suggested by their study.
BCAAs protect muscles from exercise-induced damage One of the pros of bcaa use is the muscle protection it provides. It is an inevitable fact that muscles subjected to intense workout do get damaged by way of micro-tears.
Is it possible to reduce this muscle damage effect by using bcaas?
Well, this small study took 16 participants and subjected them to 2 hours of cycling and measured markers for muscle damage in their blood. In particular the markers for muscle damage in this experiment were Lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase.
The bcaa researchers found the bcaa supplemented group to have very low levels of muscle damage parameters.
This previous study also measured myoglobin level as part of the study. Myoglobin is one other biological marker that can be used to assess muscle damage.
They too, found lower myoglobin levels in the bcaa supplemented group leading the researchers to conclude that muscle damage can be suppressed by bcaa use.
BCAAs are good for muscle synthesis One pro of bcaa is its role in muscle synthesis. Quite apart from protecting muscle from excessive damage especially during exercise or physical activity, bcaas also promote muscle synthesis.
You need amino acids to build muscle because muscle is made up of proteins hugely in part. Proteins are made from amino acids. In fact, amino acids are the sub-units of proteins.
For the wear and tear that occurs in everyday life and during exercise routines, you need to synthesize proteins from amino acids to fix these muscle wear and tear issues.
As explained earlier, bcaas are essential amino acids. You need both essential and non-essential amino acids to synthesize muscle.
Leucine works in tandem with glutamine to signal muscle tissue synthesis. In fact, it is thought that glutamine will lose its muscle synthesis functionality in the absence of leucine.
Leucine has a direct effect on protein synthesis stimulation because it activates insulin to spring into action. Insulin in turn does stimulate the clearance of amino acids (essential and non-essential) from the bloodstream driving the amino acids into the cells where they are needed for muscle tissue synthesis.
Using bcaas will solve that problem. This complex enzyme-mediated process was exemplified in this rat experiment.
The findings from that experiment led the researchers to conclude that bcaa supplementation is beneficial in sports and exercise in general.
This health benefit of bcaa is particularly important in folks who undertake intense exercise routines, especially resistance training like weight-lifting.
BCAAs are good for exercise endurance Another pro of bcaa is the beneficial effect on exercise endurance.
BCAAs being a nutritional supplement actually means they have calorific value. BCAAs are catabolised during exercise. When something is catabolised, it releases energy as a result of that catabolic event.
BCAAs are no exception. BCAA catabolism results in release of energy which the individual can harness to do more during exercise. The health benefit of bcaa here is that you can utilize the bcaa energy release to increase both the volume and intensity of your exercise routine.
There are 6 amino acids that the muscle likes to utilize for energy production. They are isoleucine, leucine, valine (the BCAAs); along with alanine, glutamate and aspartate.
Of the 6 amino acids above, the muscle cell seems to have a preference for the branched-chain amino acids because the myocyte (muscle cell) has the necessary enzymes needed for bcaa oxidation process readily available inside it.
Some would argue that the muscle cell is designed to burn bcaas for energy supply.
Besides, the branched-chain amino acids are a great source of new glucose production inside the muscle cell. The 3 bcaas can be converted to glucose very quickly although they have to be converted to alanine and glutamate first.
In the liver the alanine and glutamate are then converted into glucose.
What does this mean? It means the bcaas are a ready source of fuel during exercise workouts. A fuel pipeline, if you like. This ‘fuel pipeline’ can become very important when stored glucose (glycogen) tank is running low or completely empty.
Something else that is talked about is the fact that bcaas actually reduce the feeling of muscle fatigue as bcaas lower the level of serotonin during exercise. Serotonin contributes to fatigue during exercise, so lowering the levels at the time can only be a good thing.
The net result being; you can exercise for longer.
BCAAs make these essential amino acids readily available When you administer a supplement either by mouth or by injection, you are essentially providing the active ingredients in that supplement to your body in a kind of ready-to-use format. Not always but most times, it is.
BCAA supplements are no different.
Taking BCAas means you are providing your body with isoleucine, leucine and valine amino acids on demand, if you like.
Your body wants these amino acids because it cannot manufacture them and by taking the supplement, voilla, here they are. And something that has been proven so far is that these essential amino acids in the bcaa totally by-pass the liver. These amino acids in the bcaa head straight up into the bloodstream avoiding the 1st-pass metabolism.
This is good because if you are one of those active people busy in the gym or exercising at home, your protein turn-over is going to be high.
The reason is; muscles involved in physical activity undergo more wear and tear.
The more intense the activity, the more the wear and tear and the more protein you are going to need.
You will be needing the protein to fix these wear and tear events. Amino acids make up protein. Hence you will be needing these essential amino acids in BCAA and of course the non-essential ones as well.
The use of bcaas before and after workout sessions is known to provide a muscle-sparing effect for the exercise enthusiast.
Having these amino acids readily available especially around the time of intense physical activity like a workout session is quite beneficial. This is one of the pros of bcaa supplements. Having these amino acids available on demand.
This brings us nicely to the question:
Should you take BCAAs on an empty stomach or not? First of all, it does you no harm to take your bcaa supplement on an empty stomach.
Your bcaa supplement should not cause stomach irritation. If it does, then you either change your current brand or stop using them altogether. Okay, you may then consider using it with food then as another option but that sort of defeats the purpose of using it in the first place.
I have said it before that one of the problems of weight loss enthusiasts is muscle loss. It’s almost inevitable even when you embark on a fat loss journey.
In fact, one of the problems of working out on am empty stomach, especially with intermittent fasting is that, you risk burning protein before you get into the fat-burning zone. Therein lies the problem.
One nice solution to avoid muscle breakdown from protein loss is to take your bcaa supplement about 30 minutes before your workout. An empty stomach makes for quick absorption of the amino acids in the BCAA supplement.
Quick absorption means these branched-chain amino acids head straight up the bloodstream targeting sites where these amino acids are readily needed – the muscle.
Should you take bcaa in the morning?
Well, of course you can take your bcaa in the morning before having your breakfast. If you are considering taking bcaa in the morning, I would suggest you take your bcaa in place of your breakfast.
Probably best you skip breakfast altogether. Take the bcaa 30 minutes before your workout on an empty stomach, do your workout and if you insist on having your breakfast, then have your breakfast after the workout session.
Any clinical uses of bcaas In general medicine, bcaas do come in handy for certain clinical conditions. Don’t forget, a bcaa prep is an essential amino acid concentrate.
So, it is no surprise that bcaas have other health benefits and can be used clinically for:
Feeding the frail elderly who may be malnourished.
Feeding anorexic patient.
Feeding the chronic kidney disease patient with a poor appetite.
Supplementing the cancer patient whose feeding pattern may be compromised.
Treating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis patients. Another name for Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Treating involuntary jerky movements of the face and body called Tardive Dyskinesia.
Treat liver disease that’s made the brain to soften up called hepatic encephalopathy.
Treat some neuro-degenerative conditions of the spinal cord.
Some more medical uses of BCAAs include:
Overwhelming generalised infection of the body called severe sepsis.
Treat extensive burns patients.
Supplement patients confined to beds for a long period.
Treat people who may be recovering from hunger strike.
Treat malnutrition in people affected by war and famine.
There is a suggestion that BCAAs might stimulate insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
Treat psychiatric patients with mania.
May help with concentration.
BCAA sources from food
If you have read my other articles on bcaa, I have always said it and I will say it again, you don’t have to use bcaa supplements. BCAA supplements are not mandatory in any way, shape or form.
Why…because you can get the essential branched-chain amino acids in bcaa from food sources. Yes, you can get these amino acids in bcaa supplements through regular diet. Food sources of bcaa are just as good as your supplements, if not better.
I needed to say the above in the interest of balance.
It should be said however that there are some people like your good self, reading this article who prefer to have their dietary supply of bcaa supplemented with bcaa pills or powder.
For them, supplements are a concentrated source of bcaa and the convenience of popping a pill or adding water to a powder and drinking it straightaway is unbeatable.
So, what foods can you get bcaas from?
Well, bcaas are available in a lot of foods even including some carbohydrate foods. Below I share food sources of bcaa. If you look at the list, you may deduce some vegan sources of bcaa from it. The list is a mixture of both animal sources and vegan sources of bcaas.
List of foods high in bcaa:
Dairy milk Eggs Soybeans Green Peas Beef Chicken Tuna Salmon Lima beans Chickpeas Red Kidney beans Cannellini beans Lentils Whole wheat Brown rice Peanuts Brazil nuts Cashew nuts Pumpkin seeds Lamb Turkey Corn Tilapia Sardines Prawns Quinoa Almonds
Below is a diagrammatic display of bcaa content in some everyday foods.
As you can see, there is some variation of how much bcaa you get from different dietary sources. The key here is, a varied diet will get you a ready supply of these branched-chain amino acids without the need for supplementation, if you don’t wish to.
To put it bluntly, bcaa supplements are a short-cut. Period.
BCAA Cons Are there any cons to using bcaa supplements?
Well, generally speaking, BCAAs are fairly safe to take. After all, they are amino acids that your body actually needs.
That said, we do not advise the use of bcaas during pregnancy because there has been no research to back the safety of their use in pregnancy and indeed during breast feeding.
So, if you are pregnant or are breastfeeding, please get your branched-chain amino acids from the list of bcaa foods above.
Even though, bcaas are used in treating Lou Gehrig’s syndrome, this use should be confined to doctor’s supervision because fatalities have been reported in the past.
In theory, bcaas can be used to delay fatigue during exercise and this is backed by anec dotal and scientific bcaa research. Paradoxically however, some bcaa users have reported fatigue and problems with co-ordination which is a weird con of bcaa use. I separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ regarding the health risks of BCAAs here.
Another con of bcaa use is its effect on blood sugar. If you followed this article, you will notice I mentioned how one of the bcaa amino acid, leucine, signals insulin activity.
This insulin signalling is one of the reasons branched-chain amino acids are useful for muscle growth and muscle building because insulin is an anabolic hormone.
Well, in some individuals, this insulin response may go over the top. This means blood sugar levels may plummet because of insulin’s ability to clear glucose from the blood.
The point being; bcaa may provoke an episode of low blood sugar which is not ideal.
For this reason, it might make sense to stay off bcaas a couple of weeks before surgery. And if you find yourself in an emergency situation where you have to undergo surgery, please do let your anaesthetist know that you have been using bcaa supplements lately.
Pros and Cons of BCAAs
Here’s a list of some of the pros and cons of taking BCAA supplements for whatever reason you may have in mind.
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