by John Stone, CPT
Branched Chain Amino Acids(BCAA’s for short) have been used for decades, both as a health supplement for athletic performance and muscle protein synthesis, and also in the treatment of certain diseases and conditions such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), burn victims and post surgery nutrition. Very few other supplements have stood the test of time quite like BCAA’s have. So what are the benefits of using BCAA, and how should they be taken? I’ll answer these questions and will also give you a bulletproof way to ensure you are buying the best BCAA product available.
BCAA’s are also known as Essential Amino Acids, although not all Essential Amino Acids are Branched Chain Amino Acids. The three BCAA’s are Leucine, Iso-Leucine and Valine, and are metabolized in the muscle rather than in the liver like other amino acids. Typically, athletes and bodybuilders consume enough whole protein to get a sufficient amount of these important amino acids. So why supplement with extra BCAA? Because ingesting these three amino acids at the same time, during strenuous physical exercise, can increase performance, endurance and protein synthesis. Most of the benefits from BCAA supplementation are due to the Leucine content in the mixture. But the other two amino acids, Valine and Isoleucine also play a critical role in several important metabolic processes such as increases in VO2 (increased oxygen utilization), glycogenesis (the creation and storage of glycogen within the muscle and liver), red blood cell production, reduced fasting glucose levels, and a decrease in creatine phosphokinase (slows down the breakdown of Creatine).
While all of the amino acids in BCAA are important for the above benefits, Leucine rises to the top when the topic of protein synthesis comes up. Leucine intake increases mTor, or the Mammalian Target of Rapomycin. That’s a really big word to swallow and an even bigger term to understand. But the simple explanation is that mTor increases protein synthesis in the muscle cell. When you ingest Leucine, this sends a signal to your body that says, “You have a lot of protein here and you should make it into muscle.” So while most people think eating protein just provides the body with the building blocks to make muscle, what they’re missing out on is that special amino acids like Leucine actually set off a genetic alarm that makes new muscle tissue.
So now that we know BCAA supplementation can increase workout recovery, muscular endurance, oxygen intake, red blood cell production and protein synthesis, all we need to do is discuss how to use it effectively. The best time to take BCAA is actually during an intense workout. Sipping on a BCAA drink slowly, in between sets, is one of the best ways you can ensure your body is recovering effectively, as well as building new muscle. An additional serving can be taken later in the day following your workout, but try to ingest it on an empty stomach because these amino acids work best when they are not competing for uptake into the muscle. By using BCAA during a workout, most users report a significant decrease in post workout recovery time, increased energy and eventually an increase in muscle mass.
So how do you know the BCAA product you’re about to purchase measures up? Well, for starters, always go with a reputable brand that uses only the best raw ingredients to make their supplements. The next most important thing is to look at the ratio of amino acids. Studies have shown that the optimal ratio of Leucine – Isoleucine – Valine, is a 3:1:1 ratio. So for every gram of Isoleucine and Valine, there should be 3 grams of Leucine. Some companies include as much as 8:1:1 ratios, but studies have shown there is no additional benefit to using more than a 3:1:1 ratio. The only other thing I would look for in a BCAA product is mixability. These Amino Acids can be micronized in order to make a better mixing product.
If you’re looking for increased aerobic and anaerobic performance, if you’re looking for increased lean muscle mass, and if you’re looking for a way to maximize your efforts in the gym, then Branched Chain Amino Acids should be in your arsenal!
John Stone is a certified personal trainer by the American Fitness and Aerobics Association with an extensive knowledge of health supplements, diet and nutrition, as well as hormone replacement and ergogenic aids. He is the author of the blog Metabolic Alchemy, and a regular contributor on several popular discussion forums. You can contact John Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.metabolicalchemy.com to read more information on tips and tricks to enhance your metabolism and outsmart your genetic code.