When you give your all in the gym, you want every ounce of that effort to pay off. Whether it does or not depends on the nutrients that you’re putting into your body before and after your workout. And of all the nutrients that you could ingest, among the most crucial are the branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). In fact, they are so vital to your success that you should never train without them. In this article, we discover what makes BCAAs so beneficial and why they deserve to be at the top of your supplement list.
What are BCAAs?
The branched-chain amino acids consist of three essential amino acids (EAAs) valine, leucine, and isoleucine. There are nine EAAs in total. They are considered essential because our bodies do not create them, and we need to get them from our diet. We store these amino acids in our liver and in skeletal muscle.
BCAAs are a primary amino acid energy source for your body. To produce energy, your body burns the carbon skeletons from these amino acids and then converts the nitrogen residues into alanine. The additional alanine formed from this process is shuttled to the liver to produce glucose via gluconeogenesis. The glucose is transported to working muscles to be used as fuel.Breaking Down the BCAAs
Leucine is the most important of the three amino acids. That’s because it activates an enzyme within muscle cells that is directly responsible for growth. This enzyme is called mTOR. Leucine also provides the muscle cell with the building material it needs for protein synthesis to occur. This is the process by which cells create proteins.
Leucine is also involved in the regulation of blood sugar levels, the creation of growth hormone and the burning of stored body fat for energy.
Isoleucine is involved in protein synthesis, though not to the degree that leucine is. It is also critical in the post exercise muscle recovery process. In addition, isoleucine is important for the production of energy when you are involved in anaerobic exercise such as weight training.
The essential amino acid Valine helps the body to maintain nitrogen balance and assists in preventing the breakdown of muscle tissue during hard training by transporting glucose to the cells. Valine also enhances cognitive functioning.
5 Reasons You Need to Be Taking BCAAs
Prevention of Muscle Breakdown
Our bodies need BCAAs for the maintenance of muscle tissue, preservation of muscle glycogen, and prevention of the breakdown of muscle protein. Ingestion of BCAAs has been shown to preserve muscle glycogen levels. This occurs because the BCAAs are a primary amino acid energy source for your body.
To produce energy, your body burns the carbon skeletons from these amino acids and then converts the nitrogen residues into alanine. The additional alanine formed from this process is shuttled to the liver to produce glucose via gluconeogenesis. The glucose is transported to working muscles to be used as fuel.
While you are working out, BCAAs preserve muscle glycogen levels and prevent muscle breakdown by giving the body the starting materials it needs for the energy-producing process. As a result of this, your body does not need to derive the BCAAs from skeletal muscle. Sparing the muscle glycogen also preserves muscle volume and prevents muscle break- down. Since gym training creates a great demand for BCAAs to replenish glycogen and provide energy, it is important to consume foods or protein supplements high in BCAAs.
Strength & Muscle Gains
As we’ve already seen, the BCAAs stimulate the mTOR pathway which drives muscle protein synthesis. The enhanced uptake of glucose that comes with BCAA supplementation also translates to increased strength and endurance on the gym floor.
In one study, the muscle and strength building benefits of BCAA supplementation on bodybuilders was examined. Thirty-one male bodybuilders were split into two groups. The first group took 0.2 grams of BCAAs per KG of body weight both before and after working out. The other group took a placebo supplement.
Both groups had weight increases, but analysis showed that only the BCAA group had increases in lean muscle mass. This group also increased their strength on both the squat and bench press, while the placebo group only increased their squat strength.
Other research has shown that muscle protein synthesis is maximized when the 3 BCAAs are taken in conjunction with the other six essential amino acids. Therefore, it is a good idea to take your BCAAs as part of a complete amino acid profile.
Promoting Weight Loss
BCAAs are a proven weight loss aid. They have been shown to help reduce cravings and binge eating. That is because they promote the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter produced by chemical nerve cells. When serotonin levels are low, we get the urge to eat. When they’re not, we don’t.
Taking BCAAs before your workout will also help you to train harder for longer. As a result, you’ll be able to put 100% effort into your fat burning workouts 100% of the time. You’ll burn more calories, which will lead to enhanced fat loss. As we’ve already seen, BCAAs will also help you to build lean muscle tissue. Muscle takes far more energy to maintain than fat, so every ounce of extra muscle is going to boost your metabolic rate. That means that you’ll be burning more calories all day long, even when you’re at rest!
Enhanced Workout Recovery
The muscle soreness that you feel after a workout is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Researchers are not entirely sure what causes DOMS but believe that it is related to the micro tears that occur in the muscle tissue while you are working out. BCAAs have been shown to reduce DOMS. It is believed that they have the ability of BCAAs to slow down muscle breakdown while you are working out. BCAAs have also been shown to decrease levels of Creatine kinase, which has been associated with muscle soreness.
Reduced Fatigue & Increased Mental Focus
BCAAs have been shown to significantly reduce training fatigue when you are working out. When you work out, your body will use up branch chain amino acids to provide the energy you need. This will diminish their level in your bloodstream. As a consequence of this, the levels of tryptophan in your brain will increase. The more tryptophan you have, the quicker you will succumb to fatigue.
When you supplement with BCAAs, you keep their levels in your bloodstream high. Consequently, there will be no triggering of enhanced tryptophan release and early onset fatigue will not set in. A couple of studies have also shown that BCAA supplementation can improve mental focus while working out.
When to Take BCAAs
The question of whether to take BCAAs before or after exercise has not been the subject of a lot of research. However, there have been a couple of studies that compared the effects of pre and post workout BCAA supplementation.
One study involved twenty men who were divided into two test groups. The first group took a 10 gram dosage of BCAAs before an arm workout. The second group took the supplement after doing the same workout. The group who took the BCAAs before training had greater reduced DOMS than the post workout supplement group.
In the other study there was no significant difference between pre and post workout BCAA supplementation.
We recommend both pre and post workout supplementation of BCAAs in order to benefit fully from the training energy, reduced fatigue, muscle growth and reduced post workout soreness effects of the supplement.
The recommended ratio to take BCAAs for best results is 2:1:1 in terms of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Most BCAA supplements will be sold in this ratio. You should take 6-8 grams just before your workout. Take it along with protein or as part of a complete amino acid supplement, such as Aminoload for maximum benefit. Taking another dose after your workout will help prevent muscle catabolism and reduce DOMS. If your workout lasts for more than an hour, you should also take another 6-8 gram dose during your workout.
Branch chain Amino acids deserve to be an integral part of your supplement routine. They will allow you to train harder, promote enhanced muscle growth, fat loss and strength gains while also reducing post exercise muscle soreness. That is a lot of benefit from one supplement. If you’re not already taking this supplement, do yourself a favor and experience the BCAA difference.