What are BCAAs?
The branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine, and valine; are three of the nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are not produced by humans, and must be ingested via diet or supplementation. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
Branched chain amino acids are gaining substantial popularity as a supplement for athletes. They are particularly popular among people taking part in regular strength training. A variety of claims exist about the benefits of BCAAs. Some of these are decreased fatigue, maintenance of muscle mass, and weight loss benefits. In this article I will explore these claims, highlighting those that have scientific studies backing them.
How can BCAA supplementation be beneficial?
There are two main benefits of branched chain amino acid supplementation in healthy individuals that are backed by studies:
Decrease in fatigue.
Amino acid supplementation has been studied in multiple settings, with the supplemented groups showing decreased fatigue. For example, in a study with weight lifters, the aminoacid group showed less of a decrease in their power producing ability. Another study measured fatigue in tae-kwon do athletes after a simulated match, and the amino acid supplemented group maintained reaction times wherea
s the control group showed a decrease.
Maintaining muscle mass while dieting.
As any athlete can attest, particularly those that do regular intense cardiovascular exercise, it is hard to decrease fat while maintaining muscle mass. “Getting lean” is a challenge, and BCAA supplementation can help. A 2017 study shows that athletes undergoing strength training while on a low calorie diet are able to lose fat mass while maintaining their lean mass. Additionally they were able to maintain muscle performance, something that is also a challenge when decreasing calorie intake.
Why not take Whey Protein instead of BCAAs?
Whey protein has also been shown to aid in post workout recovery, but in different ways. While protein is made up of amino acids, they are bound together. Therefore, the body needs to break down the proteins before these molecules can be utilized in protein synthesis and muscle maintenance. Branched chain amino acids are immediately available for these purposes, because the amino acids are not protein-bound. Thus, supplementation with both BCAAs and whey protein is beneficial. I will talk more about whey protein and its benefits in a future post.
What are the options?
There are a great deal of amino acid supplements available on the market. Many of them are sold as powders and marketed as a pre-workout or post-workout with a significant amount of caffeine. However, BCAAs are also available in capsule form and in powders that do not include caffeine. Links to a few options are provided below.
Do you take an amino acid supplement? If so, why, and what brand and flavors do you prefer? Be sure to check out our past posts, subscribe to our podcast (iTunes), and connect with us on social media. Please keep the discussion going be leaving a comment below. Make today great, and be well.
Chen I-F, Wu H-J, Chen C-Y, Chou K-M, Chang C-K. Branched-chain amino acids, arginine, citrulline alleviate central fatigue after 3 simulated matches in taekwondo athletes: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2016;13:28. doi:10.1186/s12970-016-0140-0.
Dudgeon WD, Kelley EP, Scheett TP. In a single-blind, matched group design: branched-chain amino acid supplementation and resistance training maintains lean body mass during a caloric restricted diet. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2016;13:1. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0112-9.
Gee TI, Daniel S. Branched-chain aminoacid supplementation attenuates a decrease in power-producing ability following acute strength training.. . 2016;56(12):1511-1517.
Honda T, Kobayashi Y, Togashi K, Hasegawa H, Iwasa M. Associations among circulating branched-chain amino acids and tyrosine with muscle volume and glucose metabolism in individuals without diabetes.. . 2016;32(5):531-538.
Kephart WC, Mumford PW, McCloskey AE, et al. Post-exercise branched chain amino acid supplementation does not affect recovery markers following three consecutive high intensity resistance training bouts compared to carbohydrate supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2016;13:30. doi:10.1186/s12970-016-0142-y.
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