As suggested by many studies, BCAA supplementation has numerous positive benefits for athletes, such as promoting muscle protein synthesis, accelerating muscle growth and preventing fatigue. And we thought that every fitness enthusiast with an internet connection and a passion for weight lifting knows that BCAAs supplementation has been repeatedly proven to increase both the rate of protein synthesis and the cell’s capacity for protein synthesis.
Still, there are some skeptics who claim that BCAAs are not worth their costly price and you’d be better off getting your BCAAs from whey protein – lots of it, though. What do you think? Read this article to learn whether BCAAs can help you sculpt an ideal physique in less time!
What are BCAAs?
You already know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are nine essential amino acids in total. BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids refers to three of these: leucine, isoleucine and valine. When your dietary protein intake is low or simply not-quite-there, BCAAs can be of invaluable help for preserving your hard-gained muscle mass and adding new pounds of lean muscle.
That’s because leucine plays a crucial role in muscle protein synthesis, while isoleucine and valine induce glucose uptake into cells. In other words, leucine is the true muscle-building powerhouse in the bunch, while the other two have the ability to eliminate fatigue, sharpen up your performance and improve your gains even further, thanks to their synergistic effect. Anyway, it’s worth mentioning that scientists still don’t have a complete grasp of the benefits of valine, as it is the least researched of the trio, but knowing that it’s a glucogenic (converts into glucose) amino acid, it’s safe to say that it can help you power through a heavy lifting session and reap better gains, as well as support better and faster muscle recovery.
In the most commonly sold supplement form, BCAAs require no digestion and are quite rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream – which is really neat because it means BCAAs can be used as an immediate energy source during your training sessions, and they will quickly act to decreasing the rate of protein breakdown.
Oh, and did we mention that a wonderful side benefit of all of this is a soaring workout intensity at every workout? When you work out, the amount of tryptophan (a chemical compound that converts to serotonin in the brain) in your body increase, causing serotonin levels to spike. The problem is, the more serotonin you have during exercise, the more fatigued you are going to feel.
BCAAs are believed to be able to prevent this by competing with tryptophan for the same transporter into the brain. BCAAs can reduce the amount of tryptophan that enters your brain, thereby restricting the production of serotonin and making you feel like you can keep on pumping heavy iron for eternity.
Since it has more powerful effects than both valine and isoleucine, we thought we’d take a moment to discuss its superpowers in greater detail. This amino acid in particular is regularly used by most bodybuilders looking to perfect their muscle size gains because of its ability to activate the mTOR pathway, one of the two major proteins that drive muscle protein synthesis. In fact, one recent research showed that 5g of leucine stimulates a greater muscle protein synthesis signal than 5g of a combination of BCAAs.
Furthermore, leucine is able to speed up muscle recovery by increasing glucose uptake and enabling your body to replenish its glycogen stores right after you’ve dropped the last weight. As soon as leucine enters your body, it signals for insulin to be released from the pancreas. Together with this mighty hormone, leucine works to restore muscle glycogen and stimulate maximum muscle growth. That being said, you will achieve best results by combining leucine supplementation with a post-workout fast-acting carbohydrate source of your choice.
Finally, studies have shown that leucine promotes energy partitioning from fat cells to muscle cells, thereby decreasing energy storage and encouraging the body to burn fat cells as fuel, with one large study providing irrefutable evidence that leucine supplementation fuels the citric acid cycle which facilitates fat oxidation.
Food sources of BCAAs vs. BCAAs supplements
Since your body cannot produce essential amino acids on its own (hence the name), you must get them in adequate doses from the foods you eat. In the case of BCAAs, they can be found in decent levels in many popular protein sources, such as meat, eggs and cottage cheese, which is all great and dandy until you realize that while BCAAs supplements are able to spike blood amino acid levels to a huge extend in a very short time, the BCAAs you get from protein-rich food have to take the longer route. Namely, it takes many hours for all of the amino acids you get through food to be absorbed into the bloodstream, which means you’re going to experience the benefits a little bit later than you’d like to, possibly missing out on a chance to stop protein degradation and jump start protein synthesis right after a grueling workout. That being said, just a few grams of free-form BCAAs can spike BCAA blood levels to a significantly higher degree than 30 grams of whey protein!
Do I need BCAAs supplementation?
So, who can benefit from free-form BCAAs? Anyone who needs a help maintaining optimal energy levels in the gym and anyone who’s looking to maximize his chances at lean bulking, really. Yet, BCAAs supplementation is unnecessary (although not harmful) for people who already have a pretty high protein intake (around 1.5g per kg of bodyweight per day). If you decide to give it a shot, make sure to look for a product with at least 5g of leucine in it.
However, the benefits of BCAAs shouldn’t be reserved only for those of us who lead rigorously active lifestyles. Regardless if your goal is to lose some weight, build muscles, or just stay in good health, BCAAs can always come in handy. According to nutrition scientists, BCAAs also have the ability to protect the body’s glutamine stores, thus improving the immune response and preventing infections. Also, if you have a job that makes you feel like a zombie by mid-afternoon, BCAAs can help you regain your focus, motivation and mental clarity.
In our opinion, you simply can’t go wrong with these bad boys, so consider adding them to your diet right now to unlock your full action potential!