As we know, our muscles need protein to grow and get big and strong. Proteins are complex molecules made from long chains of units, called amino acids. All proteins, regardless of their variety, are composed of combinations of 20 different amino acids, with different structures and different ways of working for the benefit of your body. However, not all amino acids have the same impact when turning protein into muscle tissue. Of these 20 amino acids, there are 9 called essential amino acids, of which 3 are considered special because of the way the body metabolizes them and the biological processes they trigger. Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are the 3 specific amino acids known Branched Chain Amino Acids or as BCAAs.
How effective is BCAA
What are BCAAs?
As previously mentioned, BCAA stands for the acronym for Branched Chain Amino Acids. Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are metabolized in muscles rather than in the liver. They constitute about 30 to 35% of the proteins in the body’s muscle tissue, which plays an important role in maintaining and developing muscle mass.
Of the 20 major amino acids, some our body can produce (non-essential amino acids). However, 9 are essential amino acids, which means they are not produced endogenously, not produced by our body. Of these 9 essential amino acids, BCAA’s are composed of 3 of them: Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine. For this reason, BCAAs can only be obtained through a proper diet or food supplementation.
Why do we need BCAAs?
Not always diet, workout and physical rest meet the essential requirements for there to be increased muscle mass. If one of these is lacking, you can enter a catabolic crisis, especially in periods of calorie restriction. That’s why the body is more than happy to convert BCAAs into energy. The greater the amount of BCAA’s you have in your muscles, the less likely it is to muscle cells to break down the muscle fibers to produce energy.
It is especially beneficial because, compared to eating, BCAAs do not go through the digestive process; they enter the bloodstream more quickly, immediately increasing levels of amino acids in the blood. Scientific studies confirm that the use of BCAAs contributes directly to the reduction of fatigue due to physical exercise, preventing catabolism.
What are the benefits associated with the intake of BCAAs?
Along with protein and creatine, BCAAs are one of the most studied supplement. There are several studies that tell us their multiple benefits at various levels. Here are some of them.
Prevent catabolism (loss of muscle mass)
A study published in the American Journal of Physiology submitted 7 individuals to leg-press training (4 sets of 10 repetitions and 4 sets of 15 repetitions). At one point, these individuals were given a drink with no active ingredient. In another, a drink with about 7 grams of BCAA’s. Both drink was always consumed before, during and after training. Conclusion: BCAAs reduced the concentration of catabolic proteins.
Another study divided 18 male athletes into 2 groups: the BCAA group and the placebo group. The athletes allied consumption of their supplements to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) during the 4 weeks. Researchers took blood samples from athletes before and after supplementation. Conclusion: the athletes in the BCAA group had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol and creatine kinase (indicators of muscle fatigue).
Promote recovery and help improve training efficiency
Due to its effect of reducing catabolism, BCAAs accelerate athlete’s recovery and, therefore, improve sports performance.
A study with rugby practitioners had the athletes consuming a supplement with BCAA’s, arginine and glutamine. The researchers evaluated the rates of muscle strength, fatigue, muscle damage, and oxygen supply in athletes, during periods of 10, 30 and 90 days. Conclusion: At the end of the study time, the scientists found significant improvements in post-workout muscle recovery, reduced muscle wasting, and increased oxygen transportation to the cells.
A different study, with 12 long-distance marathon runners, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, had the athletes taken BCAA supplements and recorded fewer muscle aches and fatigue. Conclusion: the researchers stated that BCAA’s attenuated rates of muscle damage, such as inflammation.
Lead to weight loss
A study that proven this fact was done to 25 wrestling practitioners. They were divided into groups, where all of them restricted their caloric intake. However, one group consumed BCAAs during the 19 days of study time. Conclusion: those who consumed BCAAs recorded a weight loss of around 4 kg.
Should you take BCAAs?
BCAAs are recommended to all sports and fitness practitioners who want to increase muscle mass and, most importantly, protect against catabolism (loss of muscle mass). As we have seen in the different studies mentioned throughout this article, BCAAs help in the body’s recovery process after a medium or long-term physical activity. That way, if you’re a regular BJJ practitioner and you noticed it’s hard for you to recover from long practices and muscle ache is a constant, taking BCAAs could be a good solution for your issue.
When to take BCAAs and in what amount?
BCAA is a well-tolerated supplement with no side effects, except in some genetic polymorphisms and rare diseases. Doses of 5 to 15g appear sufficient. The intake should happen 15 to 20 minutes before your workout, during, or shortly thereafter, although the first two are preferred.
If I already consume BCAAs through whey, should I consume them separately?
This is a very common question and the answer is YES.
A study made in 2000, divided bodybuilding athletes into 2 groups. Individuals in one group were given 40 grams of whey, the other 40 grams of whey + 5 grams of glutamine + 3 grams of BCAA. After 10 weeks of training (bench press and leg press), the athletes from the whey group were able to do, on average, 2 more repetitions on the bench press and 5 on the leg press. Those in the whey + glutamine + BCAA’s group did, on average, another 8 repetitions in the bench press and 9 in the leg press. Conclusion: there’s an increase in training efficiency when taking BCAAs, even when whey protein (rich in BCAAs) is already consumed.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients in our body. Therefore, we can’t forget what it’s in its composition: amino acids. In order to have muscle, you need to have protein; and to have protein, you need to have amino acids.
Multiple studies have shown that the intake of Branched Chain Amino Acids prevents catabolism (loss of muscle mass). And although they are not known as natural anabolic, scientific research has also shown that they also have this effect.
BCAA supplementation is widely popular among athletes who seek to enhance recovery after training and want to fuel their muscles for intense workouts. BCAAs intake can improve athletes’ performance, increase muscle mass and fat loss. When you train regularly, your muscles drain quickly.
If you are looking for a supplement that gives you that push by providing you with amino acids instantly, especially before and after your intense training sessions, BCAAs might be a good solution for you.
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