What are branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), and what are the benefits of BCAA supplementation? The bottom line is--BCAA supplementation can result in more muscle mass retained, and a greater percentage of lost body fat.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are essential nutrients the body gets from protein rich foods such as meat, legumes and dairy products. “Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of the amino acids, which include leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are commonly used to prevent fatigue, improve concentration, improve exercise performance and increase muscle mass. In medical treatments, BCAAs are used to treat many disorders and diseases including anorexia, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, hepatic encephalopathy, latent hepatic encephalopathy, tardive dyskinesia, McArdle’s disease and spinocerebellar degeneration.
How do BCAAs work?
BCAAs play several metabolic and physiologic roles, including prevention of muscle breakdown and stimulation of protein building in muscle. Metabolically, BCAAs facilitate protein synthesis and glucose metabolism. Physiologically, BCAAs provide immune system support, increased energy and brain function stimulation.
Muscle loss and dieting
BCAAs are especially helpful for gaining and maintaining muscle mass while on a calorie-deficit diet. Studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs while dieting increases muscle retention and maximizes fat loss more effectively than those who don’t supplement with BCAAs.
Dieting can lead to muscle breakdown. As weight is lost, the body’s natural response is to work harder to hold onto body fat stores. In turn, the body will resort to using muscle to satisfy its energy cravings.
When the body increases protein breakdown to free muscle amino acids for fuel, muscle loss occurs. In addition, levels of protein synthesis will decrease as well, because of reduced energy intake.
The body won’t gain or lose muscle when the rates of protein synthesis and breakdown are equal, but when the rate of protein breakdown is higher than the rate of protein synthesis, muscle loss occurs. Therefore, dieting can both increase muscle breakdown and reduce protein synthesis.
Exercise can double-down on these effects, leading to decreased energy intake, decreased glycogen storage and increased fatigue. Eventually, the muscles adapt to using less energy during workouts, which can result in lean muscle loss.
BCAAs reduce the rate of protein breakdown and increase both the rate of protein synthesis and the cell's capacity for protein synthesis, resulting in muscle gain and maintenance.
Improved athletic performance
Serotonin levels in the brain rise during exercise which can cause an increased sensation of fatigue. BCAA supplementation can improve athletic performance by reducing the amount of tryptophan in the brain, which, in turn, reduces the amount of serotonin produced, resulting in less fatigue during workouts.
Because BCAAs go directly into your bloodstream, they can immediately be used as an energy source during your workouts. Valine and isoleucine are considered glucogenic amino acids, which means they can be converted to glucose to provide energy during exercise, and fight off fatigue.
BCAA supplement forms
BCAAs are available in several forms including whey protein, oral supplements, IV and injection therapies. Whey protein digests relatively quickly, but still takes several hours for the amino acids to be absorbed into the bloodstream. BCAA oral supplements, IV and injection therapies require no digestion and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Although oral supplementation can impact overall health, when nutrients are given through an intravenous, intramuscular or subcutaneous injection, nutrients are absorbed rapidly and more efficiently on a cellular level, providing cells with the nutrition necessary to thrive and function optimally.
With IV and injection therapy, nutrients are delivered directly to the bloodstream. When nutrients are delivered this way, the digestive system is bypassed and a much higher level of nutrients is delivered directly into the cells through the blood stream. Therefore, IV and injection therapies are ideal.
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