BCAAS or “Branched Chain Amino Acids”, are a very popular supplement in the health and fitness industry and are used by athletes and recreational lifters of all experience and activity levels, across all sports. The three BCAAs are ; leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three BCAAs are incredibly essential and actually fall into the category of essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot synthesize (create) on its own and therefore must get adequate amounts through dietary sources. In fact, even though there are about 20 amino acids that the muscles use for growth, the BCAAs comprise roughly a third of the aminos within muscle tissue. So if muscle growth is your goal BCAAs are a must.
BCAA supplements generally come in many forms such as flavored and unflavored powders, pills, capsules and ready-to-drink mixes. These generally will be in a 3:1:1 ratio of leucine-isoleucine-valine, which would look something like this, if each serving contains 5 grams of BCAAs ; 3000mg leucine, 1000mg isoleucine, 1000mg valine. The 3:1:1 ratio is seen as the most effective for signaling muscle growth to occur and is also shown as the most effective ratio (that the body can metabolize at once), for use as intracellular energy during exercise and to help prevent muscle tissue breakdown.
10 popular and effective BCAA supplements are:
(1) BPI Sports Best BCAA
(2) Scivation Xtend
(3) Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
(4) Allmax Nutrition Aminocore
(5) Mammoth Amino
(6) Prosupps Hydro BCAA
(7) Nutrabolics Anabolic State
(8) GAT Muscle Martini
(9) BSN Amino-X
(10) Gaspari Nutrition Aminolast
BCAAs & Metabolism The metabolism of BCAAs is different that the metabolic processes of other amino acids. What truly makes the BCAAs special is how they are metabolized. While most amino acids are metabolized in the liver BCAAs are metabolized primarily by muscle. Despite their structural similarities, the three-branched chain amino acids have different metabolic routes. The breakdown of leucine is accomplished solely through fat (oxidative) pathways. Valine is broken down solely through carbohydrate (glucose) pathways, and isoleucine through both. The different metabolic pathways of these three amino acids lead to varying requirements for each.
BCAAs, unlike most other amino acids, are metabolized in within muscle tissue, allowing them to be oxidized (used as energy) by muscle cells to produce cellular energy in the form of ATP. ATP is the primary source of energy that fuels muscle contraction and allows you to lift weights. The fact that leucine, isoleucine, and valine are metabolized within muscle tissue allows them to be a quick energy source when the body needs it. There is a significant increase in BCAA metabolism during prolonged exercise simply because the body requires more energy during periods of stress such as training. This makes BCAAs incredibly effective when taken around the time of your workout routine.
BCAAs & Performance BCAAs have been proven in many studies to be a potent performance enhancer, and as previously mentioned, BCAAs make a great energy source for working muscles because of their unique metabolism. This can have a positive impact on performance. Not only can BCAAs be used as energy themselves but they also enhance fat oxidation in glycogen depleted subjects. This allows individuals to train harder for longer without fatigue due to the higher energy demands being met. This goes for both high intensity training as well as endurance training. Another way that BCAAs can enhance performance is through their ability to spare glycogen during training, as isoleucine and valine convert into glucose molecules inside the cell, found as stored carbohydrates within muscle tissue and the liver, glycogen is the favored fuel source for working muscles engaged in high intensity exercise. This makes glycogen availability and preservation vitally important if you wish to continue to train hard for longer periods of time.
BCAAs Effects on Hormones The hormones that are of most importance to us as serious lifters are anabolic hormones. Anabolic hormones are hormones within the body that promote protein synthesis (muscle growth), and the most notable anabolic hormones are testosterone, insulin, and growth hormone (GH). These hormones play a large role in controlling your muscle building destiny. Luckily it has been shown that BCAA intake can have a positive effect on anabolic hormone release. Testosterone may be the most well know of the anabolic hormones. BCAAs can have a positive impact on testosterone levels when consumed pre-training. During intense training, it is normal for testosterone levels to rise. After training is ceased testosterone levels will begin to fall back to normal baseline levels. Ingestion of BCAAs not only increases testosterone in the post-training period but also builds muscle by improving the body’s testosterone to cortisol ratio. While testosterone is an anabolic hormone and promotes muscle growth, cortisol is a catabolic hormone and breaks down muscle tissue. Anyone looking to build muscle will want testosterone levels to remain high while minimizing the release of cortisol. This leads to more muscle tissue being built and less muscle tissue being broken down. Lastly, the amino acid leucine has also shown promise for increasing insulin sensitivity. Essentially, insulin sensitivity ensures that the insulin within your body maintains its effectiveness. This leads to easier fat loss, more muscle growth, and defense against diabetes.
Conclusion New and exciting research is still being conducted on BCAAs and their applications to muscle growth, fat loss, and performance. There are not many supplements in existence that can affect growth and performance through as many different pathways as BCAAs. BCAAs have proven benefits as a building block of muscle tissue and an effective supplement at increasing fat loss, while preserving lean muscle mass during a nutritional deficit! Come see a fitness advisor today at your local fitness center today and find out how BCAA supplements can help you achieve your health, fitness and performance goals!