Coming to fitness and bodybuilding, many young guys and girls sooner or later become interested in the question: what is BCAA supplement? Of course, to take it or not is everyone’s decision, but you must not blindly believe your friends or acquaintances before making this choice. We suggest you find out on your own what the various products are. Here in this article, we’ll help you investigate BCAA powder.
What is BCAA?
BCAA supplemenеnt is a complex consisting of three amino acids – valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Unlike other amino acids, they are not synthesized (produced) by the body, and therefore they can only be obtained from food.
These three amino acids complement each other and together perform similar functions. For an adult, 8 amino acids are indispensable:
Three of these amino acids (leucine, valine, isoleucine) have a specific molecular structure: a branched side chain (“aliphatic side chain”). These three amino acids are called BCAA.
What is BCAA Supplement Used For?
Most amino acids are utilized in the liver. BCAAs, in turn, release energy in muscle fibers, performing mainly the function of muscle “fuel,” acting during the entire period of use. Under the influence of training loads, the muscles consume branched-chain amino acids. So the recovery process also comes down to replenishing BCAA reserves in muscle tissues.
After intense exercise, taking full amino acid complexes plays a vital role in the quality of muscle tissue recovery. Only in this case, the potential of the increased hormonal background that occurs in the body at the end of the training session is most fully used, the growth of muscle mass and strength is accelerated.
35% of muscle tissue is made up of BCAA’s, which is quite a lot. Up to 25% of all exercise energy comes from BCAAs. When you eat a protein-rich meal, the most rapidly absorbed amino acids are BCAAs, which seem to be by far the dominant ones when it comes to the rate of entry into the bloodstream.
Due to the BCAA supplement, up to 90% of amino acid absorption can occur in the first three hours after a meal. In short, your muscles are “starving” without BCAAs.
Intense muscle activity leads to wear, tear, and destruction of some of the contractile proteins. During the restoration process, these structures replace the plastic material of which they are made. Under these conditions, the body must have access to those amino acids, the need for which sharply increases during the deployment of recovery processes.
Research in Support of BCAA Powder
The role of BCAAs has recently been clarified in trials involving multiple groups of strength athletes:
- some received few calories and little protein with food,
- others – few calories with high protein content in the diet,
- the last group – again, few calories, but the food was supplemented with BCAA.
Weight loss was most significant in the latter group. However, it was mainly subcutaneous fat and not muscle tissue, as in other groups.
Studies in the early stages of the experiment revealed in the blood of athletes who ate a diet increased levels of BCAA since the body uses these amino acids from its own muscle tissue.
Leucine triggers the secretion of insulin, and insulin keeps muscle tissue from being destroyed by training stress. Instead of unsafe insulin injections, BCAAs seem to be much more preferable.
Manufacturers of BCAA supplement About Its Effects
As the advertisement suggests, during sports, serotonin level, a substance that determines the overall level of fatigue, rises in the blood. Taking BCAAs during exercise prevents an increase in serotonin levels, delaying the onset of general weariness.
In turn, BCAA supplementation does the following:
- helps the body maintain its own amino acid reserves,
- minimizes muscle contraction and muscle fatigue after exertion,
- supports a strong constitution,
- promotes muscle building.
What is more, BCAAs affect the secretion of the hormone leptin, which is very important for fat burning. The level of which directly affects the rate of fat burning. It is the secretion of this hormone that the body minimizes in a calorie deficit, thus “protecting” from fat burning. Taking BCAA additionally, we increase the secretion of leptin, and the body ceases to defend itself against fat-burning – metabolism accelerates, appetite decreases, lipolysis accelerates.
The body also produces glutamine from BCAA amino acids, a common amino acid in muscle tissue with various versatile functions.
Leucine triggers protein synthesis, while isoleucine and valine suppress the secretion of the hormone cortisol. This is very important for muscle growth.
Reducing the production of cortisol means more androgens will enter the muscle cell. Thus, the anabolic effect of androgens will increase.
4 Facts to Abandon BCAA Supplement
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Fact 1: there are enough of them in a regular diet
The high-quality protein you should be consuming throughout the day is about 18-26% BCAA. If you are in excess of the daily protein norm and add BCAA, then there are risks from an overkill of calories and an excessive metabolic load on the body. Thus you can suffer a decrease in the efficiency of optimal assimilation and use of amino acids that have entered the body.
Fact 2: BCAAs have no benefits over whey protein.
It is worth emphasizing that whey protein has a more potent anabolic and anti-catabolic effect than amino acid complexes, and BCAA is used instead. Accordingly, BCAA as a supplement has a dubious track record in research, which is not surprising.
For those worried about the “catabolic monster eating their muscles” when they do not take amino acid supplements during fasting cardio, nor my colleagues nor I found any difference. Of course, provided that the total daily intake of high-quality protein is at the optimal level. There are no differences in body composition changes in those who do fasting cardio or do it after meals: both groups retained their lean body mass (LBM).
Fact 3: a lot of research in favor of BCAA is simply fabricated
As for the alleged ability of BCAA to suppress muscle dyspnea, here too, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that comparisons are always made with the control group, which, in principle, did not consume protein during the experiment (non-protein placebo).
It’s hilarious that instead of giving the subjects a portion of high-quality protein (for example, whey protein), which would provide the body with all the necessary amino acids (that is, this will ensure the intake of BCAA and other essential amino acids, as well as simultaneously bring mass. Although I repeat, if you consume enough protein during the day, then many of the benefits of taking protein before training can lose their attractiveness. The groups are given BCAA, which is only 3 essential amino acids!
And finally, a quote from a recent review:
“Thus, as we expected, the use of powdered BCAAs leads to a disruption in the mechanism of absorption of amino acids from the intestine and their further entry into the muscles, and in fact, BCAAs taken were less effective for muscle protein synthesis than leucine taken in alone.
Despite the popularity of BCAA supplements, we find surprisingly little evidence of their effectiveness for muscle protein synthesis and/or lean muscle mass and recommend using intact proteins – casein, whey, soy, egg, milk, instead of a purified combination of amino acids representing BCAAs, which, when ingested, compete with other amino acids during their transport into the blood from the intestine (competition for absorption channels in the intestine), which affects the turnover of protein in general, and most likely also the intake of amino acids into the muscles.”
Fact 4: buying a BCAA supplement is a very unprofitable investment
The cost of buying BCAA can only be justified for people who are on low-protein diets or diets with limited amounts of high-quality protein (some types of vegetarianism, for example).
Suppose you are consuming the optimal amount of high-quality protein throughout the day, then yes. In that case, you, in principle, can still consume BCAA supplements, which are essentially just delicious and expensive flavored water.
Foods containing leucine, valine, isoleucine
- most seeds,
- soy proteins.
Sources of Leucine:
- brown rice,
- soy flour,
- wheat flour.
Sources of valine:
- soy and other legumes,
- hard cheeses,
- cottage cheese,
- nuts and seeds,
- meat and poultry,
Still eager to try BCAA aminos? Check out the usage rules.
How to Take BCAA Supplement
According to researchers, BCAAs are effective when taken in large quantities.
An effective single dose is up to 12 g of amino acids, and it is taken at least twice: before and after training.
- Dieter BP, Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 May 11;13:21. doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0128-9. eCollection 2016. [PubMed].
- Churchward-Venne TA et al. Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. J Physiol. 2012 Jun 1;590(11):2751-65. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.228833. Epub 2012 Mar 25. [PubMed]
- Balage M, Dardevet D. Long-term effects of leucine supplementation on body composition. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2010 May;13(3):265-70. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328336f6b8. [PubMed]
- Gleeson M. Interrelationship between physical activity and branched-chain amino acids. J Nutr. 2005 Jun;135(6 Suppl):1591S-5S. [PubMed]
- Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Nov 18;11(1):54. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0054-7. eCollection 2014. [PubMed]
- Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Front Physiol. 2015 Sep 3;6:245. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2015.00245. eCollection 2015. [PubMed]
- May ME, Hill JO. Energy content of diets of variable amino acid composition. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Nov;52(5):770-6. [PubMed]
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