Branching-chain amino acid supplements have seen a resurgence in fitness and bodybuilding over the past few years. More research supports the use BCAAs than any other supplement on the market.
BCAA supplementation can be helpful in gaining skeletal muscle, but they are particularly useful in maintaining mass on a low-calorie diet. These are especially useful for bodybuilders who want to be lean. While it is great to look good on stage, at the beach, and to your friends, losing weight can cause you to lose some muscle mass.
How Diet Can Cause Muscle Loss
Catabolic diets can cause muscle loss. As the body works harder to retain body fat, the leaner a person becomes, the more likely they are to lose skeletal muscles. The body will use muscle as an energy source to meet its energy requirements. This is bad news for anyone who wants a hard body.
Muscle loss happens when the body increases protein metabolism (catabolism), in order to release muscle amino acids for fuel. As if this weren’t enough, muscle loss can also be caused by decreased energy intake. The basic equation to calculate muscle mass is: Muscle Mass = Rate of Protein Synthesis – Rate of Protein Breakdown
If the rate at which you synthesize is equal to the rate at which you breakdown, then you won’t gain or lose muscle. Muscle growth is achieved when the rate at which synthesis is greater than that of breakdown. If the rate at which muscle is destroyed exceeds that of its synthesis, it’s called muscle loss. You may be eating too much or not enough.
The metabolic effects of dietting can be reduced by working out compounds. The more you lose weight, the more you will feel lethargic. You can experience some tough training sessions due to a decreased energy intake and glycogen store. Your muscles will adapt if you are too weak or tired to lift as much weight as you used to. This means that they won’t need as much energy to do the job.
This leads to two metabolic issues: Your body won’t grow skeletal muscle and your body may not be able to use the lean muscle it does have to get energy, since you’re not using it to lift heavy loads.
How BCAAs Can Help You Keep Your Muscles Strong
These are some of the ways that branched-chain amino acids can help you to stay slim when you’re on a diet.
Increase Protein Synthesis
Branched-chain amino acids, which are the essential amino acid valine, isoleucine, and leucine, stimulate muscle protein synthesis. They can be more effective than any normal protein. Protein synthesis, also called gains, is the metabolic process by which your body creates new muscle protein.
Reduce Protein Breakdown
An increase in BCAA levels can also help to reduce the rate of protein degradation. They work by decreasing activity in the protein breakdown pathway and by decreasing the expression of complexes that are involved in protein degradation. They decrease the amount of mRNA that is produced by the gene that codes these components. Increasing synthesis and decreasing breakdown will result in muscle gain or maintenance.
Get Better Workouts
Supplementing with amino acids could help you train harder. Branched-chain amino acid competes with tryptophan to get into the brain. Tryptophan can then be converted into the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Exercise can cause your serotonin levels to rise, which can lead you to feel fatigued and less able to push yourself as hard. BCAA supplementation decreases the amount of tryptophan that passes the blood-brain barrier and thus reduces the production of serotonin. This could allow you to work longer and harder for more results.
Whey and BCAAs
Many people are skeptical about the benefits of BCAA supplementation. They believe that branched-chain amino acids are too expensive and can be obtained from whey protein. Although whey protein is naturally high in BCAAs, it’s not the best strategy for fat loss or muscle growth.
The BCAAs found in whey have been peptide-bound to amino acids. To increase your BCAA levels, you must first get them out of your body through digestion. Then they will be absorbed into your bloodstream. Although whey protein can be digested quickly, it takes many hours for all amino acids to be broken into plasma.
Supplements containing branched-chain amino acids in free-form do not require digestion and are quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. They increase blood amino acid levels faster and more rapidly than peptide-bound proteins. BCAA plasma levels will be boosted by just a few grams of free-form BCAAs, which are more than 30g of whey protein. They can be activated immediately.
BCAAs and Glucose Levels
Regulating glucose is a key role played by branched-chain amino acids. To maintain blood sugar levels, they are constantly released from the liver and other organs to the skeletal muscles. These amino acids can be beneficial for healthy individuals by increasing glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. These essential amino acids play a significant role in blood sugar production during exercise. This is especially important if your workouts are fasted or you have a restricted calorie intake.
An insulin response can be induced by drinking a balanced carbohydrate-high-protein and amino acid beverage post-exercise. The insulin response is responsible for transporting aminos into cells, repairing muscle damage, and building muscle tissue. Your body will essentially replenish the anabolic building blocks it needs to repair itself after a workout and decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Taking Branched-Chain Amino Acids Pre-Workout
BCAA supplementation should be part of your pre-workout routine. These amino acids can be used immediately to provide energy during intense workouts, as they bypass the liver and stomach. Isoleucine and valine are glucogenic amino acids, which means they can be converted into glucose to provide energy. This can be a great way to fight fatigue while you are working out.
How BCAAs Fit into Your Supplement Stack
- Use: To replenish amino acids and prevent fatigue, build and maintain muscle mass.
- Timing: Preworkout/intra-workout/post-workout, during the day
- How much to take: 5-7 grams
Supplement Whey Protein:
- Use: To increase protein synthesis in muscle building and repair
- Timing: Preworkout, postworkout, and throughout the day
- How much to take: grams
- Use: To assist muscle growth and pump, defer fatigue
- Timing: Once daily
- How much to take: 3-5 grams
- Use: Increase your energy and focus to make it easier for you to accomplish difficult tasks
- Timing: Pre-workout
- What to Take: It all depends on the formula
Supplement Weight Gainer:
- Use: To build and maintain mass, you need to consume protein, fat, carbs, and other nutrients.
- Timing: Post-workout and throughout the day
- What to Take: It all depends on the formula
Difference Between Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids?
All amino acids, except BCAAs, that are essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body. These amino acids must be obtained from protein foods. Nine essential amino acids are histidine (isoleucine), leucine (lysine), methionine, phenylalanine, and valine. The non-essential amino acids can be made by the body from vitamins and other amino compounds.
Non-essentials can be misleading as all amino acids are necessary for proper metabolism. However, certain non-essential amino acids, such as glutamine, become extremely important during trauma or illness. The 13 non-essential amino acids are alanine (arginine), aspartic acid cysteine, cysteine and cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
How do branched-chain amino acids fit in with your diet? Isoleucine should be taken at a standard dose of milligrams per kilogram. The recommended leucine dosage is between 2-10 grams. This amounts to approximately 20 grams of combined amino acid with a balanced amount of leucine/isoleucine.
This is equivalent to consuming 1-1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day. Remember to take branched-chain amino acid supplements to see immediate results in your plasma BCAA levels. Monitor your dosage accurately. Overuse of BCAA supplements can cause insulin resistance.
BCAAs Scientific Studies
Numerous studies have been done to assess the safety and efficacy of branched chain amino acids.
- Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, found that adding leucine to a resistance training program increased strength performance.
- Researchers from the University of Orleans, France, found that athletes who consumed high amounts of mixed branched chain amino acid supplements (including leucine and valine) felt less tired during endurance trials. The placebo made athletes feel more tired and had more memory errors than those who took it.
- Other studies have shown that BCAA supplementation suppressed protein levels involved in muscle catabolism (exercise-induced muscular breakdown). Researchers believe this to be an indirect function in muscle protein synthesis.
- A study was conducted by the Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University, Japan. The results showed that BCAA supplements can be taken before and after exercise to reduce muscle soreness.
Supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (leucine and isoleucine) can help you achieve your goals of muscle building or weight loss. They can make your gym workouts easier. These amino acids can be obtained from food, but dietary BCAAs will not reach your blood plasma as quickly as BCAA supplements.
You can add a BCAA supplement to your daily routine. It can be taken before, after, or during your workout. These amino acids can be taken between meals so that you stay as anabolic as possible.
Glossary of Terms
- Amino Acids: Amino acid compounds are the building blocks for protein. There are two types of essential amino acids: non-essential and essential. They are obtained from protein intake and used by the body to build muscle protein.
- Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): BCAAs can be used by the body for energy and muscle synthesis. Leucine and isoleucine are branched-chain amino acids.
- Catabolism/Catabolic: Catabolism is another name for muscle tissue breakdown. This is when your body breaks down muscle tissue for fuel. This is the way your body gets energy.
- Glucose: Also known as blood sugar, glucose is the sugar found in our blood. This is what you get from carbs. However, the branched-chain amino acid valine and isoleucine can also be converted to glucose.
- Insulin: Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is responsible for helping the body convert glucose into energy.
- Protein synthesis: This is the process by which your body creates new muscle protein. Also known as gains.