By Dr Joe
Why should you take bcaas? Nice question. If you are planning on using bcaas it will be nice to establish why you should be taking the bcaas in the first place.
The amino acids that make up the BCAA have been shown to be involved in the suppression of protein breakdown and more importantly in protein synthesis in muscle cells.
The 3 amino acids that you will find in bcaa are Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
It is important to remember that the 3 amino acids in bcaa supplements are actually essential amino acids. Essential amino acids have to be supplied by you either through food or through supplementation like bcaa.
Your body is incapable of making essential amino acids for its needs, hence you have to provide these essential amino acids, otherwise you will become protein deficient.
Of the 3 amino acids, leucine is heavily involved in protein metabolism more than the other two – valine and isoleucine. Let’s talk more about why should you use bcaas in promoting your health.
So why should you take BCAA at all?
Using bccas is one way of enhancing and meeting up with your daily protein requirements. If you work out a lot especially if muscle gain is your objective, then you need to increase your daily protein intake. Using bcaa is one way of satisfying that increase in daily protein requirement.
Protein is required to build muscle. Most of what makes up muscle is protein. BCAAs are made up of some of the amino acids amongst others, that your body needs to synthesize the proteins needed for muscle building.
I would guess that weight loss enthusiasts want to reduce their body fat, right? Well, one nasty issue that occurs when you are trying to lose body fat through dieting is that 30% of the weight you lose is muscle mass. Not what you want.
Muscle loss comes with the territory of weight loss…unless you take proactive steps to stop that from happening.
One reason why BCAA is good for you is, bcaas can help you fight that age-long problem of loss of muscle mass when you are trying to lose weight. Why because the amino acids in bcaa (valine, leucine and isoleucine) have been shown to protect against muscle loss. BCAAs preserve muscle.
Do you have to use bcaas at all?
No, you don’t have to use bcaa supplements, if you don’t want to. You can get these 3 essential amino acids from your diet. A high protein diet is good enough to supply these 3 essential amino acids in bcaa. Meat, fish, nuts and eggs are good sources of the amino acids in bcaas.
So, you don’t necessarily have to use bcaa supplements to meet your daily protein needs. However, bcaas are there for you to use if you want to. You can use bcaas to supplement your dietary protein or use them to boost your protein intake. You may want to see my article on pros and cons of BCAAs.
I should emphasize the point that BCAAs are not a substitute for dietary protein intake. Use them for what they are – supplements. And familiarise yourself with the health risks of bcaas.
Why else is BCAA good for you?
Apart from the benefits of bcaas that I outlined earlier on, bcaas are good for you in more ways than one. Let’s talk about these benefits along with scientific proof where possible.
BCAAs reduce muscle soreness
To assess the effect of bcaas on muscle soreness following exercise, scientist performed a cross-over trial that involved 12 healthy, untrained unathletic female participants.
They were given either placebo or BCAA supplement prior to performing squat exercises. If you do any form of resistance training, you will be familiar with the concept of delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Both the placebo group and the bcaa supplementation group had muscle soreness on the 2nd and 3rd day following the squat exercises. The BCAA supplementation group however experienced a lower intensity of muscle soreness compared to the dummy pill group.
Another study here seems to also corroborate the theory of reduced muscle soreness by bcaa supplementation.
BCAAs make essential amino acids available
One reason why muscle wastage occurs is the direct result of muscle breakdown and the non-replenishment of the amino acids that are needed for new protein synthesis.
When blood level of branched chain amino acids was measured in the participants of that same study above, it showed higher levels in those participants who took bcaa supplements. In contrast, the amino acid (BCAA) level was low in the placebo group. The amino acid level was measured soon after the squat exercises.
That’s not surprising. You would expect the supplemented group to have higher level of bcaa circulating in their blood. In fact, what would be surprising is if the contrary was the situation.
What that study confirms at least on the face of it is, the use of bcaa supplement does boost the availability of these amino acids should your body need them for whatever purpose. You swallow the bcaa pill or powder, they get absorbed and the amino acids in the bcaa are readily available. Not a bad investment, is it?
Something to note too is that the amino acids from bcaa are absorbed directly into the blood stream and do not have to undergo the usual liver processing that absorbed foods normally have to. I’m talking about 1st-pass metabolism. In essence, bcaas by-pass liver metabolism, making them readily available at their required target destination.
BCAAs prevent muscle damage
This study looked at markers for muscle damage following exercise. The markers are creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase level in the blood following exercise.
Creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase are muscle enzymes. High levels are seen when there is muscle damage.
2 groups of participants who were made to cycle for 120 minutes on day 7 of the study. One group had 12 gm BCAA supplementation for 14 days in addition to their normal diet whilst the other group ate normally without supplementation.
Whereas both groups had similar creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase for the 7 days prior to the cycling exercise, what happened after the exercise was different in the two groups. There were significant differences between pre-workout and post-workout enzyme levels in the two groups.
The bcaa supplementation group had significantly lower tissue damage enzymes in circulation for up to 5 days following the exercise. In this original study I mentioned earlier, serum myoglobin, another indicator of muscle damage was higher in the non-supplemented group.
The findings from these studies suggest that bcaa supplementation prevents excessive muscle damage during workouts.
You can access this BCAA supplement from Amazon.com here
You can access this BCAA supplement on Amazon.co.uk here
BCAAs promote muscle protein synthesis
Complex mechanisms are involved in the synthesis of proteins, not least the mTOR pathway. The thinking is that the essential amino acids that make up bcaa are important ingredients in the making of new proteins in the body.
Where is this protein synthesis more important?
The muscle cell is where. Active protein synthesis takes place in muscle cells as much of the muscle protein is being catabolised during working outs.
This experiment in rats seems to conclude that bcaa supplementation not only reduces exercise-induced muscle damage but actually promotes muscle protein synthesis.
They further concluded that bcaa supplementation is not a bad idea in sports and exercise in general.
BCAAs promote Muscle Growth and Exercise Endurance
Opinion is divided whether bcaas can help you build bigger muscle directly. This is inconclusive so far. But all is not lost.
When bcaas are catabolised (if you take your bcaas before workout), they provide you with energy during workouts. That energy is not wasted. The energy released from the breakdown of the bcaas is something you can harness.
You can draw on the released energy from the bcaa metabolism to enable you lift heavier weights and do more reps as well. The net effect is anything you do to promote volume and strength during exercise workouts will actually stimulate muscle growth.
There is another aspect to this.
The use of bcaas may be associated with delayed onset of exercise fatigue. This because bcaas compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain cells. Higher levels of the bcaas means less production of 5-hydroxytryptamine, a neurotransmitter that precipitates fatigue.
When you take bcaas, you make less 5-HT during the exercise routine. The net effect is your exercise endurance is improved by virtue of the high level of bcaa in your blood through supplementation.
There you are. It’s not a bad idea after all to use bcaa supplementation in your fat loss and muscle building journey, is it?
Suggested further reading:
Why it’s harder to lose the last FIVE pounds than the first FIFTY?