What are BCAAs?
What are Branch-Chain Amino Acids and why the sudden craziness around them? What do they do and are they beneficial to you? To understand BCAAs, we have to first understand what amino Acids are; essentially they are the building blocks of protein which are necessary for the structuring and functioning of your body. There are 20 amino acids known that make up these proteins in your body of which 9 are considered, ‘essential’ and the rest, ‘non-essential.’ The ‘essential’ amino acids can not be produced by your body so they must be obtained through one’s diet or supplementation while the other 11 amino acids can be naturally produced by your body. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine; among these are the three Branched-Chain amino acids (BCAA); Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. The three BCAAs are coined based on their molecular structure which branches out to the side. Their major function is to help with muscle protein synthesis and prevents ones muscles from breaking down too much so one does not feel the onset of soreness, fatigue, or muscle loss for too long. Along with this, BCAAs have been shown to provide other benefits involving physiological and biological functions that are overall beneficial to your health and wellness. Below are some of the Top 10 benefits of BCAAs.
- BCAAs help reduce Muscle Soreness:
While you’re working out, you might start to feel a bit of fatigue and some aches and pains within specific parts of your body, which solely depends on the area of muscles you’re targeting that day. This is called acute soreness and is completely normal as the eccentric muscle contractions cause the muscle fibers to essentially break down. This soreness should be momentary and fade after a few hours (up to a day) but taking BCAAs during your workout or even afterwards can help reduce this! This is due to the amino acid Leucine essentially binding itself to the muscles and preventing them from being broken down as much through a process known as Muscle Protein Synthesis. Leucine is thought to be the most prominent in muscle building while Isoleucine and Valine provide more of a metabolic support. Taking protein prior to working out can also help delay muscle soreness as all protein contains an Amino Acidic Profile and thus help with the aforementioned.
- Building Mass through Muscle Protein Synthesis
Just like the BCAAs help reduce feelings of soreness through prevention of muscle breakdown, they can also help build muscle and mass through a process known as Muscle Protein Synthesis. The wear and tear one’s muscles go through during a workout causes the muscle fibers to essentially break down, which in turn causes one’s strength and endurance to diminish greatly. Protein consumption is thus recommended so that the muscles can synthesize the protein with the help of enzymes- BCAAs help with this process as they help the anabolic process and support protein synthesis through the enzymes and prevent further degradation. Diet plays a big part in how your body gets the energy it needs to perform and how muscles recover.
- BCAAs prevent the onset of fatigue
BCAAs help delay the onset of fatigue. BCAAs can help delay fatigue through the same process as Muscle Protein Synthesis. Glycogen is stored within muscles and is used as the main source of energy which in turn comes from carbohydrates. Glycogen gets depleted throughout the course of exercise so taking BCAAs can delay the increased use of glycogen so that one doesn’t feel as tired! Isoleucine and Valine also provide metabolic support through the production of energy. Alongside this, BCAAs also limit the uptake of Tryptophan to the brain which has been correlated with the onset of fatigue. Tryptophan is an AA that helps regulate the onset of melatonin and serotonin- two brain hormones that have influence on mood, sleep, etc.
- Production of Energy
Along with Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine also help with muscle protein synthesis but have a greater role in energy production and glucose regulation. All three AA’s support anabolic processes and overall metabolic functioning. They can help in maintaining kidney and liver health which are essential to the absorption of nutrients. Immune defense and Metabolic processing and the mTOR pathway are all supported by BCAAs to increase energy production.
- Blood Sugar Regulation
Isoleucine and Leucine have been shown to help regulate blood sugar though insulin secretion. In supporting anabolic processes, BCAAs can help with the processing of nutrients from our diets and the absorption of essential macro nutrients we need to fuel our body. Diabetics can see great benefit from taking BCAAs as they can help with the uptake of insulin.
Supplementing one’s diet with BCAAs has proven to aid in reducing the effects of liver disease. Cirrhosis, which can result from long-term damage, can deplete protein uptake and macronutrient absorption. Supplementing one’s diet with BCAAs can provide benefits and thus prevent other states of fatigue, weight loss, etc.
- Weight Loss
BCAAs have shown to help with weight loss in correspondence with metabolic functioning. As stated previously, BCAAs play an important role in muscle protein synthesis
through structuring of muscles. The energy expenditure caused by exercise or everyday functional activities increases metabolism and the need for energy production. Thus, fat reserves are utilized and could help one’s weight loss goals.
- Tardive Dyskinesia
Tardive Dyskinesia (TD) is shown to diminish with BCAA supplementation. TD which is characterized by involuntary muscle movements are usually associated with long-term usage of antipsychotics. The drugs reduce brain hormones such as dopamine which are essential for cell communication and muscle movement. BCAAs can help with this by helping to restructure muscles with the aid of protein synthesis.
- Improved Aerobic & Anaerobic Performance
Both aerobic exercise, the use of oxygen at a steady pace and anaerobic exercise, the absence of oxygen due to an increased usage in physical activity; have been shown to improve with BCAA supplementation. BCAAs support the metabolic processing of the body as mentioned and can thus improve cardiovascular fitness in relation to aerobic exercise. Stroke volume, which is the amount of oxygen produced by heart beats, will increase in aerobic exercise and in aerobic exercise. The rate at which glycogen is depleted will decrease as well, preventing fatigue and muscle breakdown.
- Immune Support
BCAAs have been proven to increase immune defense primarily through the functioning of the liver. Adequate protein synthesis and proper gut health can help the liver fight against various viruses and pathogens. The liver is key in preventing illness so BCAA supplementation can aid with proper functioning and metabolic processing. This shows some key things that can help alongside BCAAs to boost your immune system!