8 Reasons to Supplement with BCAAs
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are one of the most important supplements on the market today. Many nutritionist, strength coaches, and personal trainers prescribe BCAAs to no avail. Many do not fully understand the importance and/or benefit of BCAAs within ones diet and how it relates to performance / results. Upon completion of this reading you should have an understanding of the importance of BCAAs, how to take BCAAs, and what all BCAAs do within the body.
There are 20 total amino acids, which are comprised of 9 essential amino acids (EAA) and 11 non-essential amino acids (NEAAs). EAAs cannot be produced within the body and must be consumed through dietary means. NEAAs are produced within the body naturally. Are focuses is on EAAs, particularly BCAAs, and how they pertain to strength, power, fat loss, fitness, and athletic performance.
The highest sources of EAAs are found in meat and dairy products. Animal based EAAs produce the greatest results in resistance training (1). Studies have shown that supplementing with EAAs can produce as much protein synthesis within the body as whole protein sources, which contain the same amount of EAAs. Protein synthesis is essential for muscular hypertrophy, strength, health, and all things that result from resistance training.
BCAAs are the most superior form of EAAs and are comprised of leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs play a major role in protein metabolism, insulin regulation and sensitivity, blood glucose levels, and many more neurological (cognitive) functions. Higher amounts of BCAAs within the blood stimulate an anabolic environment, which results in increased muscular growth and a reduction in body fat.
BCAA supplementation is a must for both athletes and non-athletes. Here are the top 7 reasons why you should never leave home without your BCAAs.
1) BCAAs increase protein synthesis.
According to studies published in the Medicine of Sports and Exercise, BCAAs, particularly ones that contain a higher content of Leucine, promote an anabolic environment within one’s body and increase protein synthesis. BCAAs activate intracellular amino acid availability and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTORC1), which decreases with age. The mTORC1 is a serine protein kinase that regulates cell growth, protein synthesis, and cell survival. The mTORC1 also integrates amino acids, insulin, IGF-1, IGF-2, and is vital for cellular health.
2) Promotes lean muscle & fat loss.
Evidence supports that individuals who have higher levels of EAAs within the blood are less likely to be overweight; they maintain a lower body fat percentage; and they enjoy higher levels of energy. BCAAs improve glucose (blood sugar) tolerance within the body, which leads to lower levels of body fat. Numerous studies have pointed to leucine as being the main reason for BCAAs success. However, research still supports that supplementing with all three is much more powerful than with just one.
3) Less muscular atrophy during recovery periods.
During periods of inactivity muscular atrophy (muscular loss) is a result. Several studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs during times of rest, recovery, and/or injury will limit muscular atrophy (3). BCAAs cannot prevent muscular atrophy or increased fat storage, but they have been proven successful in significantly slowing down these negative side effects.
4) Decreased levels of cortisol.
BCAAs aid in regulating and preventing elevated levels of cortisol. Cortisol (C) is produced by the adrenal cortex of the body during times of both physical and mental stress (i.e. workouts). Elevated cortisol levels can affect protein synthesis, glucose sensitivity, fat absorption, and will often lead to DEPRESSION!! In a nut shell, cortisol is bad and testosterone (T) is good. A more favorable T:C ratio is advantageous when attempting to alter one’s body composition or to gain strength. Supplementing BCAAs in conjunction with resistance training produce lower levels of cortisol.
5) Decreases Muscular Soreness.
Muscular soreness, particularly delayed onset muscular soreness (DOMS), results from resistance training. All fitness enthusiasts and athletes, especially those who participate in numerous training sessions per day, often experience muscular soreness. Muscular soreness can severely limit their training capabilities. Supplementing with BCAA’s can significantly reduce muscular soreness.
One case study showed that participants who supplement with BCAAs, following an intense eccentrically focused resistance training session, where 64% less sore than the group that supplemented with the placebo (4). The studies parameters were high in volume, 12 sets of 10 eccentric repetitions.
6) Enhances Mental Function.
Essential Amino Acids (EAA) have been proven to significantly enhance cognitive function. In my article Summer Tips for Fat Loss, I discuss the importance of EAAs and how they significantly enhance neurotransmitter activity within the brain. This activity provides a healthy dose of mental focus, drive, energy, and a decrease in depression.
From a performance standpoint, BCAA supplementation has been shown to aid in an athlete’s ability to focus and REACT during their sport / event. Faster reactive actions can significantly enhance an athlete’s athletic performance; after all, nearly every athletic action / sport involves some form of reaction.
7) Results in Enhanced Endurance Capability.
Supplementing BCAAs with a carbohydrate source prior to a endurance event that is greater than 60 minutes has been shown to significantly reduce the athletes rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This leads to greater results through an enhanced ability to lessen the impact muscularly speaking. In addition, having a elevated amino acid levels within the blood during events can significantly reduce the damage that is done on the muscles. It is worth mentioning that caffeine, along with carbs and BCAAs, can significantly improve endurance performance.
8) BCAAs Enhance Health and Reduce Insulin Sensitivity.
There is a high correlation between elevated levels of insulin and an increase in fat storage, faster aging, the breakdown of cells, and significantly slowing down ones metabolism. BCAA supplementation can significantly control insulin levels. Individuals who experience the greatest amount of total weight loss during any program record the highest marks for amino acids within the blood (5).
BCAA supplementation, coupled with a high protein diet and a resistance training program, will significantly increase lean muscle growth. The benefits of having high amounts of lean muscle include lower fat levels; an increased immunity system; enhanced metabolic rate, particularly while at rest; lower insulin levels and decreased sensitivity to insulin; and significantly increased energy levels. In regards to energy, BCAAs have shown to aid in the formation of mitochondria, which directly leads to energy production.
Now that we know why to take them, when and how much BCAAs should we take them?
The amount of BCAAs that should be supplemented is based on one’s body weight and the amount of lean muscle they are comprised of. However, it is a must to ingest BCAAs during four specific time frames: one, 30-45 minutes before training; two, around the middle of the workout; three, at the end of the workout; and four, with 2-3 meals throughout the day.
Here are some estimated amounts for particular individuals. For a 200 pound man, I would recommend 5 capsules before training; 5-10 capsules spread throughout training; 5 capsules after training; and 3-5 capsules with 2-3 meals throughout the day. For a 130 pound woman, I would recommend 2-3 capsules before training; 3-5 capsules during training; 2-3 capsules after training; and 1-3 capsules with 2-3 meals throughout the day.
NOTE: the amount of capsules one should ingest can fluctuate depending on how much is in each capsule. Check your brand of BCAAs and consult with a sports nutritionist who factors in your body composition.
Regardless of the person, supplementing with BCAAs can serve as the key to unlocking the life, body, and mind of our dreams!!!!
1. Effects of an omnivorous diet compared with a lacto-ovovegetarian diet on resistance training induced changes in body composition and skeletal muscle in older men.
Campbell WW, Barton ML Jr, Cyr-Campbell D, Davey SL, Beard JL, Praise G, and Evans WJ.
AM J Clinical Nutrition 70: 1032-1035, 1999.
2. Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage is Reduced in Resistance-Trained Males by BCAAs.
Howatson, G., Hoad, M., et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: 2012. 9(20).
3. Effect of BCAA Supplementation During Unloading on Regulatory Components of Protein Synthesis in Atrophied Soleus Muscles.
Bajotto, G., Sato, Y., et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111, 1816-1825.
4. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Can Ameliorate Soreness From Eccentric Exercise.
Jackman, S., Witard, O., Jeukendrup, A., Tipton, K. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010. 42(5), 962.
5. BCAA Levels are Associated with Improvement in Insulin Resistance with Weight Loss.
Shah, S., Crosslin, D., et al. Diabetologia. February 2012. 55(2), 321-324.
6. Effects of Amino Acids and their Metabolites on Aerobic and Anaerobic Sports.
Jacob M. Wilson, Stephanie M.C. Wilson, Jeremy P. Loenneke, Mandy Wray, Bill I. Campbell, Jeffery R. Stout. Strength and Conditioning Journal. August 2012. 43(4), 34-35.
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