Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) play a critical role in building muscle and burning fat during intense weight lifting sessions and prolonged cardio workouts. What makes these particular amino acids so effective, and how can we supplement them into our daily nutritional routine?




First, let me give you a little biology lesson. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and muscle growth. When you eat protein, your body converts the protein into basic amino acids so that your body can easily absorb and use them. The amino acids that you ingest from protein-based foods are called Essential Amino Acids, because they are not naturally produced by our bodies and we must obtain them from outside sources, such as meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, and nuts. There are nine essential amino acids; of these, three of them produce muscle tissue most effectively -- Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.

Leucine is the best mass-builder, with isoleucine and valine practically tied for second; it is recommended to take BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio, which comes relatively standard in most supplements. Take 5-10 grams pre-workout to provide an immediate source of energy and to prevent fatigue, and take 5-10 grams post-workout to ignite protein synthesis, boost insulin, and prevent cortisol release.

When added to our diet, BCAAs make up about 35% of our muscle content and have to be present in the body for muscle growth. Additionally, they are used to balance hormonal release and brain functions. When you are working out with heavy weights or doing extended periods of cardio, having a supply of branched-chain amino acids can be greatly beneficial; your body quickly depletes your glycogen storage and starts sending a signal to stop protein synthesis. This makes your body become catabolic, meaning that your muscle tissues are breaking down, which is what we are trying to avoid. When you introduce BCAAsinto your body during a period of high stress (weight lifting) you can reverse this effect and allow your body to continue its protein synthesis. This can lead to better muscle gains, faster recovery between sessions, and greater performance.

Ok, so let's review the benefits of supplementing BCAAs into our diet and workouts.

  1. Helps Gain Muscle Mass: When most amino acids are ingested, they are absorbed through the intestines and shuttled to the liver. Here, the liver will determine if the aminos are needed immediately for energy, or to spare them for later use to rebuild/repair muscles. However, BCAAs tend to be spared by the liver and are directly absorbed by the muscles, allowing the muscle tissue to determine what best to do with them. BCAAs also play a role in stimulating the secretion of insulin and growth hormone, which will help build muscle tissue; they also lower cortisol levels that act as a catabolic (tissue breakdown) enzyme.

  2. Helps Support Fat Loss: Recent studies indicate that taking leucine and isoleucine help activate special receptors in our body called PPARs (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors), that increase fat-burning and inhibit fat storage. PPARs actually work to increase the gene production that burn fat while simultaneously working to decrease the genes responsible for fat storage. Pretty cool, huh?

  3. Helps Increase Energy: One of the benefits of BCAAs is its ability for muscles to synthesize protein as an immediate energy source, meaning that you can train longer, harder, and more intensely without depletion, maximizing your workout. Valine plays a key role in decreasing tryptophan release during workouts; tryptophan converts to seratonin, which signals your body that it is fatigued and should stop the workout. Yet when tryptophan is decreased from valine, your body is tricked into thinking it has higher energy reserves, lasting longer throughout an intense workout.

Overall, branched-chain amino acids are one of the most beneficial supplements to add to your workout and training regimen to enhance performance, make greater gains, increase energy, add muscle, and assist with fat loss.


Posted by Dr. Megan Horan

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