Quick Guide to BCAA's

By Will Florance
9 November 2016

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are widely renowned as the “building blocks” of the body, but what actually are they? With the abundance of information available online it’s easy to be overloaded and confused. This guide aims to provide you with a basic understanding of BCAA’s, what they do and when to use them. 

 

What are they?

Amino  acids’s   make up  around 35% of your muscle mass and must be present in the body for muscle growth  and  development . There are more than 20 amino acids needed to build (and maintain) muscle. Most of these can be  produced  by  your body, however around 8-10 amino acids need to be obtained through your diet and supplementation.

 These are defined as ‘essential’ amino acids  — Amino acids that cannot be manufactured by the body. BCAA’s consist of three essential amino acids;  Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. These amino’s are commonly blended together in BCAA blends such as True Protein's Japanese BCAA 4:1:1 for increased performance.  They are often split in a ratio of 4:1:1 as research suggests Leucine plays the most important role in muscle protein synthesis. BCAA’s are naturally found in high protein foods, yet are very effective as  intra-workout supplements. 
 

What do they do?

  • BCAA’s have a wide variety of benefits and properties that are not only limited to muscle growth. Research suggests BCAA's;

 

Improve exercise performance - Some studies suggest that BCAAs increase performance through reducing fatigue by  stabilising  the bodies serotonin levels whilst training.  Simply put, they help regulate fatiguing hormones whilst you train. Additionally, a recent Japanese study found that BCAAs can help increase the bodies blood-oxygen carrying capacity, and subsequently boost performance. 

Helps prevent muscle breakdown when dieting — When dieting the body enters a catabolic state (meaning it starts to utilise itself for fuel). Subsequently, the body increases protein breakdown in order to use muscle amino acids for fuel. By providing your body with sufficient amounts of amino acids during diet periods, your body is less likely to reduce muscle size in order to acquire muscle-based amino acids.

Act as nitrogen carriers — BCAA’s act as nitrogen carriers, meaning they assist the muscle in synthesising other amino acids to produce growth. Similarly they stimulate the production of insulin, enabling the body to utilise circulating blood sugar as energy. 

Increased Testosterone — When engaging in resistance training, some studies suggest that BCAA’s can increase an individuals testosterone levels and by extension assist in the muscle growth.

 

When to use them?

BCAA’s bypass the liver and gut, going directly into your blood stream. Subsequently, they can be used as an immediate energy source during your workouts. Due to how quickly BCAA’s can be absorbed into the body they are typically used immediately pre and post workout. Similarly, if you are engaging in a workout that is over  a hour  in length, BCAA’s can be used as intra-workout fuel.  Taking BCAA’s  pre workout  will help supply your muscle with fuel. Taking BCAA's post-workout will help provide your body with the nutrients it needs to kickstart the recovery process and prevent overtraining. Typical serving size suggestions range from around 4g to 10g. 

 

 

Summary

  • BCAA’s are made up of the amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
  • BCAA’s can increase exercise performance, promote growth, and prevent muscle breakdown. 
  • BCAA’s should be taken pre, intra, and/or post workout.
     

References

Fernstrom, J. D. 2005. Branched-chain amino acids and brain function. Journal of Nutrition 135(6 Suppl.): 1539S–1546S.

Gastmann "Overtraining and the BCAA hypothesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" 30, 1173-8 (1998).

Wagenmakers, A. J. M. 1999. Amino acid supplements to improve athletic performance. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2:539–544

 
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