Supplement Series: BCAAs

The second entry in our December Supplement Series will hit on Branched-Chain Amino Acids, better known as BCAAs. While many people believe that proteins are the building blocks for muscle (which is true), it is actually the amino acids proteins are broken down into that fuel muscle growth.

What are they?

BCAAs are essential amino acids, meaning that we must get them from our diet because our bodies don’t produce them naturally. More specifically, BCAAs are three essential amino acids named after their forked molecular structure - Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. BCAAs are unique in that they’re broken down in the muscles versus the liver like other amino acids.

What are the benefits?

BCAAs have been found to promote muscle growth, help us maintain energy/fight fatigue and stimulate fat loss. Furthermore, BCAAs have been found to help avoid catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue) when in a caloric deficit (aka when dieting). This means they can help you maintain the muscle you’ve worked so hard to get while trying to get rid of unwanted fat through a reduced calorie diet.

How do they work?

Like in my previous entry on creatine, here is where we get into the science. I’ve done my best to keep it short and sweet.

Leucine is generally found in a much higher ratio than the other two BCAAs because it is the amino acid responsible for activating muscle protein synthesis. More specifically, Leucine activates the mTOR complex, which is responsible for cell growth. It is key in helping you rebuild the muscle tissue you’re stressing during workouts.

Isoleucine has been shown to activate special receptors known as PPAR (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors). These receptors are found in various forms in virtually every tissue type. They work to increase activity in genes that encourage fat burning and inhibit the activity of genes that promote fat storage.

Valine plays a key role in helping fight fatigue during strenuous exercise. During activity, tryptophan is taken up by the brain and converted to serotonin, which signals the brain that the body is fatigued (yes, just like at Thanksgiving dinner). Valine competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain, and typically wins, meaning that less tryptophan is present for conversion to serotonin. This means you should be able to squeeze out a few more reps, recover more quickly between sets and have the endurance to finish your workouts strongly.

Are they Safe?

Excess protein hasn’t been found to be harmful to the body. However, it’s always wise to stay well hydrated when consuming a high-protein diet. Nitrogen excretion during protein breakdown can lead to water loss. This isn’t a safety issue per se, but it’s worth noting.

How to supplement with them?

To reap the benefits I’ve noted above, you’ll want to take BCAAs about 30 minutes prior to and immediately after your workouts. I suggest using a BCAA product with a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine to Isoleucine to Valine and getting a minimum of a 5g dose in every time you take them.

Hopefully, this post has helped you get a better understanding of why BCAAs are on the supplement list of every lifter out there. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below or email me directly.

Nick Brennan

Founder & CEO

Unbeaten Fitness

Posted on December 17, 2014 .