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There are many supplements available on the market, and BCAAs or Branch-Chained Amino Acids are one of the more popular ones to take.
The human body is full of different proteins and around twenty amino acids. Of these, nine are considered ‘essential’. From those nine, three are ‘Branch-Chain Amino Acids’ (BCAAs):
Essential amino acids, (Essential, meaning they cannot be produced by your body) are important for the body and can be taken via a person’s normal diet, but you can also take it as a health supplement, commonly as a powder or tablet.
What foods contain Amino Acids?
Much of what we already eat contains a good source of amino acids;
- Meat, Poultry and Fish
- Beans and Lentils
- Milk and Cheese
- Tofu, Tempeh
- Nuts, Pumpkin Seeds
If you already consume protein-rich food in your diet, you are not likely to see additional benefits by taking BCAA supplements.
What do Amino Acids do?
Amino acids support the regular metabolic functions in the body. The are also the building block of proteins.
The main benefits of BCAAs are;
- Increase Muscle Growth
- Reduce Muscle Soreness
- Reduce Exercise-Induced Fatigue
- Prevent Muscle Breakdown
- Increase Stamina
Let’s have a look at these benefits in more detail;
Increase Muscle Growth
This is probably the most popular uses and benefits of taking BCAAs as a supplement.
Of the three BCAAs we learnt about earlier, Leucine assists the body to stimulate muscle protein synthesis – where muscle is broken down during heavy exercise and then repaired.
The average person needs 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. For those who are more physically active, athletes, weightlifters and bodybuilders require a higher rate of amino acids to support 2.2 grams of protein.
In a clinical study, where 10 young men completed resistance training, those that consumed a drink containing a supplement drink with 5.6 grams of BCAAs, achieved a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those that took a placebo drink.
However, this showed an increase 50% less than those who used a whey protein shake that contained a similar amount of BCAAs.
Reduce Muscle Soreness
Studies have shown that BCAAs can also help reduce the muscle soreness often experienced following a workout.
Many people will feel sore muscles within a day or two, particularly if you are new to weight-training or try out a new workout.
This is commonly known as DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which often occurs 12 – 24 hours after exercise and can last for a good few days.
DOMS is thought to be caused by small tears in the muscle fibres.
BCAAs can reduce the muscle damage, and subsequently, limit DOMS, as it decreases the breakdown of protein during a workout.
Using BCAAs as a supplement, particularly prior to exercising, can speed up recovery time.
Reduce Exercise-Induced Fatigue
Most people suffer from fatigue and exhaustion during and/or after exercising. BCAAs can actually help reduce exercise-induce fatigue.
Everybody is different- your body type, level of fitness, your nutrition, how you work out among many other factors – so the rate at which you tire in comparison to someone else can vary drastically.
Studies have shown that people using BCAAs to supplement their workouts can experience increased focus, suggesting that the BCAAs reduced the exercise-induced fatigue.
What it does not prove, though, is that the reduced levels of fatigue can result in increased exercise performance.
Prevent Muscle Breakdown
Muscle proteins are continually being broken down and rebuilt, or synthesised. The balance between the rates of synthesis and the breakdown of the muscle protein determines the amount of protein in the muscle.
If the protein breakdown is greater than the muscle protein synthesis, the result will be muscle wasting or breakdown.
BCAAs are responsible for around 35% of the essential amino acids found in muscle proteins, and 40% of the amino acids your body needs.
So, replenishing the BCAAs and other amino acids during muscle breakdown helps to stop or slow it.
The use of BCAA supplements can be particularly useful for the elderly and people with muscle wasting conditions like cancer.
When you perform particularly intensive physical activity, your body breaks down the proteins and uses BCAAs to combat the lack of energy source.
Studies show that high intensity exercise such as marathons can damage muscle tissues. But taking BCAA supplements before or during the activity can prevent this.
They can significantly help increase energy sources, improving your stamina for even longer.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.
BCAA supplements are used to increase muscle growth and improve exercise performance. They can also assist weight loss and reduce mental fatigue following exercise.
To use BCAAs as a supplement, it is suggested that a healthy adult consumes:
Women – a minimum of 9 grams per day
Men – A minimum of 12 grams a day.
If your diet already supports a good level of protein, taking BCAAs is not likely to have much effect. However, for athletes, bodybuilders and people doing regular high intensity workouts, the supplements could be beneficial.
BCAAs can be taken before and/or after exercise, and if you goal is muscle growth, you can also take them first thing in the morning and before bed.