Amino Acids are the building blocks of muscle protein. Getting adequate amounts of Amino Acids is difficult for those who exercise. Exercise burns Amino Acids rapidly. Failure to replenish the body with proper Amino Acids can cause people who work out vigorously to make little or no progress.
Amino Acids are best used as Free Form and Branched Chain. These Amino Acids do not require digestion and go straight into the blood stream for immediate use by muscle cells. BCAA also provides 70% of the body’s Nitrogen requirement.
The Difference Between Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids?
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. You must get them from complete protein foods or combinations of incomplete vegetable foods. There are 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. Your body can make non-essential amino acids by itself from vitamins and other amino acids.
The term “non-essential” can be misleading since all amino acids are essential for proper metabolism and certain non-essential amino acids, such as glutamine, become very essential during illness or trauma. The 13 non-essential amino acids are alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, cysteine, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline, proline, serine, & tyrosine.
The essential branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are of special importance for athletes because they are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. Here’s how this works: After digestion once protein is broken down into individual amino acids these aminos can either be used to build new proteins or be burned as fuel to produce energy.
Twenty two amino acids divided into 2 groups
BCAA and Bodybuilding
Bodybuilders want to avoid the reduced muscle size and strength consequent of reduced muscle protein synthesis and breakdown. Keep in mind an adequate level of free BCAA won’t turn you into superman (although higher targeted dosages may come close), but will enable you to avoid some of the negative effects of BCAA depletion including inadequate recovery and training stagnation.
If you already have an adequate level provided by your diet, you’ll really be able to see the benefits. In addition to consuming enough protein, make sure you consume enough quality calories on a daily basis and get plenty of rest and recovery. By consuming adequate calories and carbohydrates you’ll help spare the BCAAs.
The greater your glycogen storage the more likely your BCAA pool will be used for muscle growth and the less likely it will be oxidized as energy. Rest and recovery will further help direct your BCAA pool towards muscle growth. Following these steps will go a long way in enhancing your gains-and we haven’t even covered the REAL supplemental benefits yet!
Benefits Of BCAA
Now it’s time for the good stuff! What can targeted BCAA supplementation do for you? Science has shown us that BCAA supplementation can have rather far-reaching positive effects in the body. Among These effects include:
Endurance – The BCAAs can serve as a donor of nitrogen in the formation of l-alanine, which provides the body with glucose after glycogen stores have been depleted. When you think of sparing glycogen you probably think of high carbohydrate diets but BCAAs have proven their worth here as well. In a 4 week study Japanese researchers administered BCAAs or a placebo to rats and then exercised the animals to exhaustion. The BCAA group exhibited spared glycogen storage in the liver and skeletal muscle during exercise. This means that they may enable you to train at higher intensities for longer periods of time. Supplementing with BCAAs may enable you to maintain your training intensity and endurance as energy normally provided by your diet decreases. Anyone who has ever been on a very low carb or low calorie diet for extended periods can definitely appreciate this!Increased Recovery – Perhaps the greatest benefit to hard training athletes is the increase in metabolic recovery that follows supplementation. Most athletes feel a substantial decrease in the amount of post exercise muscle soreness soon after beginning BCAA supplementation. Even without any of the other benefits of BCAA usage this means faster recovery from exercise induced protein damage (remember your muscles grow when you damage them), which in turn means faster size and strength gains. With increased recovery the harder and more frequently you can hit the iron and thus the sooner you can meet your goals.
Stimulate Protein Synthesis – BCAAs by themselves have been shown to independently stimulate muscle protein synthesis. In other words, they have shown the ability to induce muscle gains, even in the absence of weight training! Studies have shown that BCAA supplementation increases the hormones: testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin.
All of these are highly anabolic hormones. Research also shows that under conditions of extreme stress, such as hiking for 21 days at high altitude, BCAA supplementation (10 grams per day) was shown to increase muscle mass while subjects ingesting a placebo had no such change. The important thing here is these people gained muscle under extreme conditions without any anabolic stimulus such as weight training.
Stimulate Fat Loss – Supplementation of BCAAs has been shown to trigger significant and preferential losses of visceral body fat. Located in the deeper layers of the body under the subcutaneous fat, this visceral fat tends to be resistant to dieting and is hard to lose. In one study, 25 competitive wrestlers were divided into 1 of 3 diet groups: a diet high in BCAAs, a diet low in BCAAs, and a control diet. The wrestlers stayed on the diets for 19 days. The results showed that the high BCAA group lost the most body fat, 17.3% on average. Much of the fat lost was in the abdominal region. This may give credence to BCAAs effectiveness at “spot reducing” the abs. In another study 2 groups of climbers were divided into a BCAA supplemented group and a control group. Both groups lost weight but the BCAA group actually gained muscle mass while losing fat and the other group lost muscle mass.
One theory as to how BCAAs exert their substantial fat burning and muscle building effects is this: When present in high amounts during exercise, the body senses high levels of BCAA in the bloodstream which is typically a sign of excessive muscle breakdown. So the body stops muscle breakdown and uses more fat for fuel. At the same time the extra BCAAs in the blood stimulate insulin so the BCAAs are driven directly to the muscle. So the result is people lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time. If my hunch is correct, in order to benefit the most from the fat loss aspect of BCAAs you should make sure you limit carbohydrate consumption during the 2 hour window before your workout.
Boosting Immune Function – Remember if you’re sick it’s hard to train, much less grow. It’s even harder to come back after an illness without losing a ton of strength and size. When you train at high intensity or high volume you risk immune suppression and infections. By supplementing with BCAAs you’ll help reverse glutamine loss, which is essential for immune function. In addition to this, the BCAAs help prevent a catabolic state in the body, which in turn can help improve recovery and lessen the damaging effects your exercise sessions may have on the body.
Anti-Catabolic Effects – BCAAs probably exert most of their anabolic effects through anti-catabolic activity. In short, they suppress the use of muscle proteins for fuel, thereby sparing the breakdown of muscular protein. In part this is because they can sacrifice themselves as fuel. With less muscular protein being broken down by the body during training, the net result is increased protein synthesis and more muscle for you! In a study done on obese people put on a starvation type diet, BCAA supplementation was found to induce anabolism and nitrogen sparing so the subjects burned body fat instead of lean muscle mass, thus sparing muscle protein.
Where can we find BCAA’s?
Dairy products and red meat contain the greatest amounts of BCAAs, although they are present in all protein-containing foods. Whey protein and egg protein supplements are other sources of BCAAs. BCAA supplements provide the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
How much BCAA Should I Take?
Most diets provide an adequate amount of BCAA for most people, which is about 25–65 mg per pound of body weight.28 29 Athletes involved in intense training often take 5 grams of leucine, 4 grams of valine, and 2 grams of isoleucine per day to prevent muscle loss and increase muscle gain, though most research does not support this use of BCAAs.