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Protein, Amino Acids, BCAA’s, Muscle and Whey Protein Powder

Updated on September 5, 2012


Most of our living cells would not exist without protein. Proteins are compounds that are the essential structure of these cells, giving them form and substance. There are many different kinds of proteins of which their blueprints are stored in the genetic codes of our DNA. There are codes for hair, skin, nails, brain tissue, muscle tissue, bones, organs, everything that we are made of. Without protein, none of this can be created.

So what makes one protein different to another?
Protein compounds are made up of various combination's of molecules called amino acids. There is a vast number of amino acids which are needed for many essential metabolic processes. However, in the case of building protein molecules, approximately 20-22 of these amino acids are used and subsequently classified as 'standard amino acids'; the exact number is still unclear in the scientific field. Each specific protein is made up of a combination of three of these amino acids. If you think of these 20-22 amino acids like letters of the alphabet, you could make a vast amount of 3 letter words. This gives you an idea of how many kinds of protein exist!

Essential Amino Acids Explained

Essential Amino Acids

Of the 20-22 standard amino acids, 8 (there are actually 9 for children) of them are essential. The body does not manufacture them, so we need to supply then in our diet.

These eight essential amino acids are -

It is important to eat all of the essential amino acids every day. This ensures that every cell has continual access to the amino acids they need for maintenance, repair and growth. It is even more important for bodybuilders and athletes to consume enough amino acids on a daily basis for muscle growth and repair. Naturally, the daily quantity of amino acids needed by body builders and athletes will be up and above that of moderate exercisers, and even more so than those who don't exercise. The general rule put out by health experts and practiced bodybuilders and athletes is to eat one to one and a half grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you're 200lbs, you will need 200-300g of protein per day. Although, it should be pointed out that you don't want to eat all your protein in just one sitting! Spread it out evenly over 6 meals, ensuring the protein at each meal is balanced. A balanced protein is one that contains all 8 essential amino acids. Bodybuilders may even eat eight meals in a day, including a pre and post workout shake. However, of all eight essential amino acids, there are three that are held in especially high esteem among bodybuilders. They are more often than not supplemented in higher doses than the other 5 amino acids and are called BCAA's.

Amino Acids are Buliding Blocks of Protein


BCAA's is the abbreviation for branched chain amino acids; the three essential amino acids that make up the BCAA's are leucine, isoleucine and valine. Unlike other amino acids, BCAA's are synthesized directly into muscle tissue and don't need to be processed by the liver first. The amino acids processed by the liver don't all make it to muscle tissue. They are used for energy and other important metabolic functions. In fact about 33% of all skeletal muscle is made up of combinations of the BCAA's, making it clear why they are important for building muscle. BCAA's are a key ingredient of a post workout snack or shake, especially when the muscles need a protein supply a.s.a.p. At this point, the muscles don't want to be hanging around waiting for the liver to metabolize other amino acids, of which not all will reach them.

Although the three BCAA's work best together in synergy to create muscle, lets take a look at their specific functions.

Leucine is often considered to be the 'king' of the BCAA's. It is one of the most powerful anabolic agents known. It is not only responsible for the building and repair of skeletal tissue, but also for skin and bone. It is also needed for the creation of human growth hormone (HGH), which keepsĀ  muscle tissue from breaking down during deprivation.

Isoleucine, just like leucine, builds and repairs muscle, skin and bone tissue and is needed for the creation of HGH. Additionally, it is needed for building hemoglobin, which is an important component of red blood cells

Valine, needed for building and repairing muscle, also maintains the nitrogen balance in the body.

Whey Protein Isolate Powders - High in BCAA's

Protein and its BV Value

BV stands for biological value, which is a rating system for the quality of a protein. The higher the BV of a protein, the more its amino acids will actually be used for building and repairing cells, such as muscle. This is obviously an important marker for bodybuilders and athletes and is also the reason why whey protein powder has become the most popular in the market. Whey has the highest BV of all protein food sources, ranging from 104 - 159. When the BV rating system was first calculated, whole eggs were found to have the highest scorers. Eggs were subsequently set with the bench mark BV score of 100. Even today with such diverse kinds of protein supplements available, eggs are still the second highest on the BV scale, displaced only by whey protein powder.

For a food source to score highly on the BV scale it will, of course, need to contain all of the essential amino acids. If just one is missing, the bio-availability of that food will drop considerably. The amount of BCAA's in a food source is the other fundamental marker. As already stated, the BCAA's are the only amino acids absorbed directly into muscle, making them the most bio-available of all the amino acids. Even though eggs contain all essential amino acids and good amounts of BCAA's, whey protein powder benefits us with twice as much leucine than egg. This is a fundamental reason behind whey protein powders' high score!

BV Score Chart

Whey Protein Isolate = 159
Whey Protein Concentrate = 104
Eggs whole = 100
Eggs white = 88
Chicken / Turkey = 79
Fish = 70
Lean Beef = 69
Cow's Milk = 60
Unpolished Rice = 59
Brown Rice = 57
White Rice = 56
Peanuts = 55
Peas = 45
Whole Wheat = 49
Soy beans = 47
Wholegrain Wheat = 44
Corn = 36
Dry Beans = 34
White Potato = 34

If you are interested in learning more about whey visit what is whey protein powder

Do You Use Whey Protein Powder?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Does all whey protein isolate contain BCAAs?

    • purpletiger profile image


      8 years ago

      Hmmm, it is a good concept and I can see the points you're making. The only concerns I have with whey protein powder and other milk powders is the potential for the spray drying process of the whey and/or casein to damage the proteins and render them unnatural to the body. Freeze drying would not have the same effect, so it would be worth checking to see how the whey or casein powder was processed. Personally I prefer to use fresh whole foods as that was how nature intended them to be consumed; coddled eggs is one of the best ways to get the maximum benefit from egg (a top quality source of protein), and organic raw milk has many more benefits than any milk product that has been processed in any way, including pasteurising or homogenising, or drying. Raw milk contains all the enzymes required for the body to digest milk, whereas pasteurising the milk actually kills those enzymes, thus making it harder for your body to utilise the nutrients in the milk.

    • Gregory Edwards profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory Edwards 

      8 years ago

      Hi HealthyHanna. Great to hear you like the hub. I totally agree that its good to put the real info out there for people to make informed choices.

    • HealthyHanna profile image


      8 years ago from Utah

      I really liked this hub. Even though I am a nutritionists, protein is one of those controversial subjects that takes a while to research for yourself. Thanks for doing it for me.

      Everyone needs to make the decision for themselves--based on knowledge

    • Darren Haynes profile image

      Darren Haynes 

      8 years ago from Maryland USA

      @ gregory - yep, this is why whey protein is always my post workout choice. Then I have a meal about an hour or so later.

    • Gregory Edwards profile imageAUTHOR

      Gregory Edwards 

      8 years ago

      @Darren - you make an excellent point! Knowing which proteins absorb faster or slower helps make an educated choice for the meal at hand.

    • Darren Haynes profile image

      Darren Haynes 

      8 years ago from Maryland USA

      Great article. It is true that whey protein is quickly absorbed and is therefore a great post workout option. However , all of that protein will be used up more quickly and other source of protein will need to be ingested about an hour or so later for lasting effects. Casein protein powder and food sources like meat and milk offer a slower and more sustained form of protein.


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