Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) come from protein sources like meat, poultry, hemp and many other meat, vegetarian and vegan sources like Tofu.
Overall there are 20 amino acids, you can find a full list of them in this post. However, this article will focus on three primary amino acids that are responsible for muscle building and recovery. Usually supplemented under the name of Branched Chain Amino Acids.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs refer to three specific amino acids for building muscle- leucine, isoleucine and valine. Many BCAAs product on the market will include 8-20 amino acids instead of these three but the three mentioned first are the main ones that stimulate muscle protein synthesis (muscle building & maintenance).
Supplementation could be pointless because..
Everybody is different, but you need to understand how the protein is digested. It gets broken down into amino acids, these amino acids search and compete for a carrier to take it to the capillary wall through the intestinal lining. This is how it travels around your body and gets absorbed. If you consume proteins and take the BCAAs, your body will likely absorb the supplement as it is highly concentrated. This leaves the opportunity for your body to convert the protein into glucose (sugars) which can be stored in the as fat. Alternatively, it can be excreted via urine. However, the point here is that whether it gets stored into bodyfat or excreted is out of your control.
BCAAs Scientific studies
Some studies show that it can be effective at maintaining lean muscles during caloric restrictions (diet) and may support muscle growth. However, other studies show that supplementing with BCAAs lack effect; this could be due to the type of diet a person is on. For example, if you are already on a high protein diet, it’s highly unlikely you will benefit from the BCAAs supplementation as you will be already consuming all the amino acids you require.
Scientific research and evidence for its effectiveness
One study conducted by School of Physical Education and Sport (2011) examined the effect of BCAAs on exercise capacity and fat burning using 7 average, healthy males aged 18-29 over 24 hours. It was found that they burnt a little more body fat during exercise than placebo and they were able to extend their workout by 17.2% before reaching exhaustion.
On the other hand, another study conducted by Department of Human Biology (1995) examined the effects of BCAAs on prolonged exercise. The trial was a cycling exercise at 70-75% speed with 6 or 18g of BCAAs that was taken prior to the trial. This study reported no significant improvement compared to the placebo group. They were simply unable to sustain the exercise for longer.
On the contrary
Although these three amino acids have failed to improve the exercise performance, this does not mean that they will not support the growth and repair of muscle. It has been proven on numerous occasions that leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids are great for recovery but they do not work best on their own. They are much more effective when they can collaborate with the other amino acids therefore, you are best to consume complete amino acids (all 20 amino acids) to get the best out of these.
As you have read in this article, the best way to get the amino acids is from natural food however, but there are some supplements that can be recommended.
For instance, the Grenade defend BCAAs is a product that contains only Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine but the ratio of these is 2:1:1 which is a ratio that has shown to be effective in certain studies. In addition, this product also contains glutamine, powdered coconut water, and electrolytes which are all great ingredients for muscle recovery as well as hydration.
In conclusion, both these studies and the way proteins are digested brings us to the question of ‘so should I take BCAAs or not?’ The answer is that it all depends on what your goal is. Did you want to supplement BCAAs to improve exercise performance? Or did you want to supplement BCAAs to help your muscle work better and recover faster? As you have seen in this article, BCAAs do not improve exercise performance and you may be better obtaining these amino acids from natural foods. Although, if you are living busy life or just for the convenience you’d like to take BCAAs in a supplement form then you should certainly check this one out.
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Frank, K., Patel, K., Lopez, G. and Willis, B. (2018). Branches Chain Amino Acids [online]. Examine.com Available at: https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/ [Accessed 17 March 2019]
Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P, Roschel H, Dos Santos Costa A, Luiz Mrquezi M, Benatti F, Herbert Lancha Junior A (2011). Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. [online] Ncbi.blm.nih.gov Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21297567 [Accessed 14 Feb 2019]
Van Hall G, Raaymakers JS, Saris WH, Wagenmakers AJ. (1995). Ingestion of branched-chain amino acids and tryptophan during sustained exercise in man: failure to affect performance.[online] ncbi.nlm.nih.gov Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7473239 [Accessed 13 April 2019]