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The Benefits of BCAAs: Branched Chain Amino Acids

Updated on January 4, 2014

What are Branched Chain Amino Acids?

Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAA's can be used by the body as a source of energy and fuel for your muscles. They can also help with recovery from intense exercise. So if you're a Bodybuilder, Weight lifter, you're working out and training for a sport or simply trying to lose some fat, you may find supplementing with these branch like building blocks of protein of benefit to you.

Let's take a look at Amino Acids first. Basically, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is muscle tissue among other things. Now for the fitness enthusiast, there are two kinds. There are essential and then there are non essential. Essential amino acids need to be supplied to the body from your diet whereas non-essential amino acids can be made by the body from the essential ones.

This is important because if your body is low on protein and subjected to stress, where do you think the protein comes from? Your own body. So if you're going to be training hard and heavy you'll want to make sure you'll well stocked in the protein area.

The Branched Chain Amino Acids make up to 1/3 of muscle protein. The importance of being well stocked it getting pretty clear here, isn't it?

Branched Chain Amino Acids also promote healing of bone, skin and muscle.

There are different Branched Chain Amino Acids. Let's take a brief look at each one and then we'll discuss whether or not you should decide to add them to your supplement list.


Leucine

Leucine is a big deal as far as aminos and the BCAAs go. It has been studied extensively and researched heavily.

Leucine helps to lower blood sugar and aids in the production of growth hormone. Leucine has been beneficial for people recovering from surgery and helps to prevent muscle protein breakdown.

A metabolite of Leucine, HMB (beta-hydroxy beta methylbutyrate) has also been studied heavily and has been shown to have anti-catabolic effects as well as anabolic effects.

Another thing I found out while researching Leucine was that some believe the Leucine acts as a signal for the brain to know whether or not you're being well fed. Which in turn can reduce hunger cravings and allow for increased metabolism.

So the benefits of taking in enough Leucine throughout the day are clear. This is one busy amino. And if whether you're a pro athlete or a weekend warrior, by now I'm sure Leucine is suddenly more interesting to you than before.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine along with Valine work together to as precursors to Glutamine and Alanine.  Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body and while not essential because the body can synthesize it's own Glutamine, having enough Glutamine in your system is very, very important if you're strength training, bodybuilding, or participating in frequent heavy exertion.

Isoleucine is used to make hemoglobin and like Leucine can help keep blood sugar in check.  Isoleucine, like the other two, is metabolized by the muscle so it's great for muscle energy, endurance, and recovery.

Valine

In addition to strength, energy and recovery, Valine assists the body with proper nitrogen balance.  It also has been looked at for treating liver and gallbladder issues.  There has also been research with Valine and the other BCAAs for helping in the recovery from drug and alcohol addiction especially with those people found to be deficient in amino acids in the body.

How about you?

Do you take BCAAs and have they helped?

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Should I Supplement With BCAAs?

On the market you'll find a vast array of Amino Acid supplements and taking BCAA's has recently has a marketing surge and there has been an explosion of products on the market.

Now I'm sure, you like me, work hard for your money. You also are reading this because you care about your health and physical well being. So when you're looking at how to spend your hard earned money on supplements the key piece of advice I want to impart on you is this...

Prioritize.

By that I mean how is your diet already? Are you getting adequate amounts of protein already? Are you consuming healthy fats and keeping your high glycemic carbs in check and under control?

Keep in mind, a supplement is just that, something you add in addition to. For example, would you add an octane booster to your car if you we're out of oil? Wouldn't help much would it?

So, make sure you're eating 3-4 solid meals a day. From there you may need to add more protein to your diet especially if you're training hard. Regular folks need between 40 to 70 grams a day but if you're working out, trying to loose fat, or playing a sport then your body may require significantly more protein. One study suggested .5 - .8 grams per pound (1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram) as a baseline and up to 1.5 grams per pound if you're a bodybuilder or weightlifter Personally, I shoot for .75 - 1 gram per pound.

So if you got the solid meal part covered and you've decided to add more protein to your diet then a protein supplement is the way to go. The best protein for the hard working body is Whey protein. This is the other half of Little Miss Muffet's snack. Whey Protein is a by product of cheese making and fortunately for us has a high biological value. That means the body tends to just suck it up. It also is high in Amino Acids and of those Amino Acids a good chunk are Branched Chain Amino Acids. Whey Protein is also good for the immune system which you're working by all the intense exercise.

The best times to get your Whey is right after exercising and before bed. After training your body needs to get the process of recovery started so feeding it quickly with an easy to digest and absorb protein is most important. The body does most of its rebuilding and repair overnight while you're sleeping so you want to have a good supply of aminos for the body to use.

Now if that's covered and you want to plug in the BCAA's to see if it helps with your goals then my suggestion for that will be 30 minutes before training and immediately after training. There is also a powdered drink mix you can get to sip during workouts.

Currently I'm taking BCAA's before a training session and after my workout. I also take glutamine before and after. The other thing I like to do is have 2 tablespoons of honey right after a training session as it gets the recuperation process started. I have a Whey Protein shake before bed and another one with in 45 - 60 minutes of finishing a workout. If I got a particular long training session I do have the power BCAAs that I'll sip during the session.

For me personally, I'm training for strength and muscular endurance. I'm trying to stay lean if not leaner while maintaining or even adding a little muscle. I am not training to get yolked, ripped, or shredded. However, I have noticed an increase in recuperation and recovery as well as increased endurance since adding BCAAs to my regimen. That being said, I don't believe that taking the BCAAs would do squat if I didn't already have a solid handle on the rest of my diet.

Done For Now...

So that's it for now.  Feel free to leave a comment below or ask a question.  Make sure you're diet is solid before adding supplements and train hard!  Thanks for reading!

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    • David R Bradley profile imageAUTHOR

      David R Bradley 

      7 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      Zozo, as far as I know, the main difference between whey concentrate and whey isolate is that isolate is almost 90% pure whey protein where as concentrate can very in terms of how much is actually protein verses carbs and fat. Based on that, the more protein you get, the more BCAAs you'll get, so I'll go with whey isolate. Let me know if that helps!

    • profile image

      Zozo 

      7 years ago

      Good information there! thank you.

      I just have one question for you.

      Is there a different in the level of BCAA between whey concentrate and whey isolate? which kind has more?

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