What Are BCAAs and Are They Worth It?

Every athlete and fitness enthusiast is well aware of the need to include supplements as a part of their regimen.

Supplements such as whey protein, casein and probiotics have been popular over the past couple of decades.

Recently, BCAAs have been a supplement that fitness experts have been endorsing.

If you are looking to know about BCAAs, then this article is your ultimate guide.

Here, you can also know about the various benefits and any potential side effects of BCAAs

BCAAs – What are they Exactly?

BCAAs are ‘Branched-Chain Amino Acids’. Amino acids are the key components of the protein present in our body.

In technical terms, Amino acids are compounds that have 1 central carbon atom and 3 components. These components are a carboxyl group, an amino group and also a side chain attached to the carbon atom.

Simply put, amino acids combine together to form polypeptides. These polypeptides become the proteins of the body.

Amino acids are also often described as the ‘building blocks of the body’. In short, amino acids combine to become proteins. 

The human body has 20 different amino acids present in it.Out of these, the body manufactures 11 amino acids.  We need to provide the rest of the 9 amino acids to the body via food or supplements.

Among the 9 amino acids that the human body cannot make by itself,  – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine are different from the others.

They have a unique structure. These amino acids have a branched structure and hence, are known as Branched-chain Amino Acids or BCAAs. The structure of each of these amino acids have a ‘forked cropping’ that resembles a branch. 

We have seen that 9 amino acids are not manufactured by the body. Among them, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine are essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids are those that are not synthesized by the human body on its own. The only way to provide it to the body is through diet.

All the amino acids in the body are critical for muscle growth. In the muscle tissue, about one-third of the amino acids consists of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. This shows how BCAAs are essential in building muscle tissues. 

Our body gets BCAAs from food. There are plenty of sources of BCAAs around us that provide them as per our need.

Food like chicken, eggs, meat, and animal milk are the main sources of BCAAs for the human body. BCAAs are also found in plant sources such as legumes, almonds, corn.

So, why do people who are physically active vouch for BCAA as a supplement?

The answer is pretty simple.

When we eat food, the body breaks down the food and then sends essential amino acids into the bloodstream.

When taken as a supplement, the process is much simpler. The 3 amino acids enter the bloodstream much faster.

BCAAs – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine

A closer look at their roles!

White powder with test tube on the blue background and words bcaa, valine, leucine, isoleucine

Leucine

If you have been following any news related to health supplements or BCAAs, then you would have heard about Leucine.

Leucine is considered to be the most important among the three BCAAs.

Leucine has the capacity to maintain the stability of glucose levels for a long period in the human body. This helps in maintaining a consistent energy level.

Leucine also helps in increasing the muscle mass of the body. It processes the proteins in a better manner.

If the body has enough amount of Leucine, the loss of protein is lower during high-intensity workouts.

The recovery process is also much faster if the performer has higher levels of leucine in the body.

Leucine has double benefits – maintaining energy levels and building muscles. 

Isoleucine

Isoleucine is the second branch-chained Amino Acid. 

It also needs to be provided to the body via food.

Leucine and Isoleucine are similar in structure and function. But, they operate in different ways in the body.

Leucine follows the metabolic pathway in the body through fat.

Isoleucine follows it through either carbohydrates or fats. 

Valine

Valine is the third branched-chain amino acid. 

Like other BCAAs, it also provides extra glucose to the muscles when needed. It also improves immunity. 

It helps stimulate a higher level of brain function. It is also broken down through the metabolic pathway of carbohydrates. 

One should take Valine along with Leucine and Isoleucine effectiveness.

If we consume Valine alone, it is not very effective for muscle strength and recovery.

So, it should be consumed along with the other two BCAAs. 

As seen above, Leucine is the most impactful among the three BCAAs. We might wonder why we cannot consume it all by itself. 

Studies show the best results when the BCAAs are consumed in the ratio 2:1:1 (two portions of Leucine, one of Isoleucine, and one of Valine).

When consumed alone, Leucine can reduce the concentration of Isoleucine and Valine.

So, people should consume 3 BCAAs together and not separately.

BCAAs – How do they work?

All amino acids synthesize protein in the body.

They also make up the muscle tissue.

So, one may wonder why people only use BCAAs as supplements and not the other amino acids.

The answer is because the body synthesizes BCAAs in a particular way. 

The liver metabolizes most of the other amino acids to produce energy. But, the muscle tissues of the body metabolize BCAAs.

This direct metabolism by the muscles helps in producing energy in a faster way.

The muscle cells produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy needed for physical activities.

For example, the body needs extra energy for contracting the muscles during a workout. ATP provides this extra energy. 

Simply put, the three BCAAs get directly metabolized in the muscle tissue. This makes them an instant source of energy, especially during intense physical activity.

During the period of training or work out, a person requires higher levels of energy.

We know that the rate of metabolism of BCAAs is higher.

So, it becomes very effective in providing the required amount of energy when taken as a supplement.

BCAAs provide easy metabolism, release instant energy and enhance muscle mass.

Thus, it has become the most popular workout supplement in recent times. 

supplement for fitness

Impact of BCAAs on Performance

BCAAs and Enhanced Performance 

A physically active person is always looking for ways to improve his or her performance. Improved performance can help people in reaching the next level.

For instance, an athlete looks to improve his or her speed. A weightlifter looks to lift weights of a higher threshold. 

We have already discussed BCAAs can help in producing extra energy. They also help in enhancing performance. This is due to their specific way of metabolism. They also help in increasing the period of performance.

During workouts, the glycogen in the body is depleted. Then, BCAAs improve the rate of fat oxidation. This enables individuals to continue performing without getting tired.

BCAAs also have the ability to spare glycogen during a workout. The body prefers to use glycogen as a fuel for muscle activity during high-intensity activities or workouts.

Glycogen is stored as carbohydrates in the liver and muscles. BCAAs help in making glycogen available when needed.

It also preserves the level of glycogen in the body. Thus, BCAAs should be taken both before and during the activity. 

BCAAs lower fatigue and aid in faster recovery

BCAAs also help in better recovery by lessening the level of soreness in the body after intense physical activity.

During the activity, muscles often get small tears because of continuous use.

BCAAs can help reduce these tears. They also aid in faster recovery because they lessen the loss of protein in the muscles. 

The human blood has enzymes called lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase present in it. These enzymes can cause damage to the muscles if they are at high levels.

BCAAs also help to reduce the level of both enzymes present in the blood. This helps in protecting the muscles from damage. 

Additionally, BCAAs help in alleviating fatigue.

When the body is undergoing an intense workout, the levels of BCAAs in the body gets reduced. The body has certain compounds that increase fatigue and lethargy.

These are  ‘tryptophan’ and ‘serotonin’. While working out, the quantity of ‘tryptophan’ and ‘serotonin’ increase. This causes fatigue. Consuming BCAAs supplements during the workout helps in fighting physical lethargy. 

Blomstrand , Hassmén , and Newsholme conducted a study called  Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise.

The results of the study showed that BCAAs helped in reducing mental fatigue by around 15%. The rate of exertion was less by 7%.

BCAAs also lower the level of DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). DOMS means fatigue and soreness sets in at a later time.

DOMS can set between 12-24 hours of physical activity. It may last up to 24-72 hours. Consuming BCAAs helps in reducing DOMS. 

BCAAs and Muscle Mass 

The human body uses protein to repair and build muscles. The human body is capable of doing this without the need for any supplement. Adding supplements makes this process faster and more efficient. 

BCAAs help increase muscle mass in the body.

BCAAs can improve the ratio of testosterone to cortisol in the body. Testosterone and cortisol are hormones present in the body.

Both function in different ways.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone that helps in improving muscle strength. It also aids in muscle growth.

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone that degenerates muscles. It makes the muscles break. To improve muscle growth, the level of testosterone should be high and cortisol should be low.

BCAAs help improve the level of testosterone.

It also reduces the level of cortisol when taken during resistance and strength training. This helps in increasing muscle mass and reducing the rate of muscle break-down.

Impact of BCAAs on Fat Loss

In recent times, the impact of BCAAs on fat loss has come into the limelight.

BCAAs help in suppressing appetite and reducing cravings.

It can help in fat loss especially when the person is on a calorie deficit diet. A calorie deficit diet is one where the intake of calories is lower than the total calories spent by the body.  

This does not mean that one can consume junk-food rich in calories along with BCAAs and the fat reduces on its own. 

BCAAs only aid in fat loss when the body is already in a calorie deficit mode. In a calorie deficit mode, the amount of carbohydrates in the body would be lesser. 

BCAAs spare glycogen and enhance the sensitivity of insulin. This results in lower fat.

As seen earlier, BCAAs have the ability to build and preserve the muscles. This ensures that the muscles and tissues remain healthy during a fat loss program.

BCAAs provide a double advantage – aiding fat loss and protecting the muscles.

As a cherry on top, BCAAs taste sweet and can be a treat for those who consume it because it satiates the sweet-tooth. 

Other Benefits of BCAAs

Apart from being a workout supplement, BCAAs also have many other benefits.

BCAAs help improve breathing by increasing the level of oxygen in the body.

They also help in lessening the amount of carbon dioxide.

They help maintain the health of the liver and kidney by providing the required level of amino acids.

BCAAs helps in maintaining the protein content in the body.

BCAAs also enhances the level of albumin in the body. Albumin is a protein present in the body that helps keep fluid in the bloodstream. 

BCAAs are also good for the heart because they improve both heart rate and heart function.

It will not be wrong to say that it is one supplement that has many benefits for the human body. 

BCAA Supplements – All you need to know

Now that you are well aware of the benefits provided by BCAAs, let us know more about BCAAs supplements.

The body needs a balanced diet. So, we cannot always eat foods rich in BCAA. Thus, BCAA supplements come into the picture. 

BCAA supplements are available as either powders or tablets.

The best time to take the supplement is before the workout or during the workout.

We can take supplements up to three times a day.

The quantity of supplements depends upon different factors. These factors are the height, weight and physical activity levels of the individual. 

Most supplements have the dosage printed on the product labels. It is crucial to follow the correct dosage.

If you are consuming BCAAs through whey protein, please make sure that the whey protein is non-GMO. It is better to use a supplement with ingredients from sustainable sources. 

BCAAs do not have any major side effects.

They are safe for most people. People with pre-existing health conditions should consult a doctor.

If a person has rare congenital diseases or conditions like ALS, the body cannot break down BCAAs. This can result in complications.

It is better to consult a doctor if there are any pre-existing health conditions. 

If one is following a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is important to read the label for the ingredients. There may be some supplements that are not vegan or vegetarian.

BCAA supplements are safe when taken in the correct dosage. 

Conclusion

BCAAs can be an incredible supplement because of the many benefits that they offer.

These benefits are better performance,  faster recovery, building muscle mass and fat loss. 

The exciting thing when it comes to BCAAs is that a lot of research is underway to use it in a more effective manner.

Modern-day world is extra competitive. 

Athletes are setting the bar higher with each performance.

Regular fitness enthusiasts are aiming to increase their reps every day.

A supplement like BCAAs can help you in reaching your fitness goal.

The extra boost that BCAAs provide to the muscles can become the game-changer in years to come!

References:

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