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The ABCs of BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)

October 09, 2012

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BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids, consist of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. An amino acid being essential means that they can only be obtained from diet, and cannot be produced by our bodies. These amino acids, when taken in particular ratios in terms of volume, promotes significant protein synthesis. In simpler terms, greater muscle mass, as leucine has been found in a 2011 study to up-regulate enzymes that trigger muscle formation.

Besides muscle gain, BCAAs can improve your weight training endurance as well. A Brazilian study shows that BCAA supplementation allows individuals to train harder at exhaustive endurance exercises because the amino acids found in BCAAs enhance fat oxidation in glycogen-depleted subjects. Participants took only 3grams of BCAAs a day for 3 days resulted in a 17.2 percent greater resistance to fatigue which made them work harder for a longer period of time.

Muscle gain is pretty much useless without gains in strength. Yes it is possible to gain muscle mass without improving your strength. But in a British study, BCAA supplementation actually translates into strength gain from the muscle gains. In this study, previously untrained participants ingested 4 grams of leucine daily in conjunction with a 12-week resistance program and increased their strength by a significant 41%!

BCAAs are shown to be beneficial to endurance athletes as well. Researchers from Sacred Heart University compared taking BCAA with consuming a carbohydrate beverage prior to a 90-minute endurace cycling trail at 55% maximal oxygen uptake. The group taking BCAAs has a significantly lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) compared to the placebo group and the carbohydrate beverage group. The conclusion to the study being that BCAAs can be added to a carbohydrate supplement to promote lower RPE and allow for more intense training at the same relative level of exertion.

Taking BCAAs in doses also decreases muscle soreness. DOMS, or delayed onset of muscle soreness, is felt between 48- to 72- hours after an intense weight training regimen. A Japanese study confirmed that BCAAs decrease DOMS, where the exercise consited of squats for 7 sets of 20 reps with a 3-minute rest interval. The groups where divided into a placebo group, and a group taking 100mg/kg of BCAAs. The result is that the BCAA group experienced less soreness at 48 to 72 hours after training.

For men, BCAAs also improve your testosterone to cortisol ratio during weight training. A 2010 study has shown that taking leucine with weight training significantly increases testosterone levels but without significant increase in cortisol response, which is a type of stress response.

It has been shown that BCAAs have beneficial mental functions as well. Supplementing 10 grams of essential amino acids, including BCAAs, has been shown to improve symptoms of depression and overall physical performance in an elderly population. It is likely that BCAAs increased brain serotonin synthesis that is responsible for improving mood and decreasing depression.

BCAAs have also anti-aging effects and promotes formation of new mitochondria which is required for energy production. A study wherein rats are given BCAAs resulted in extended life spans and promoted good cardiac health. It may also improve insulin sensitivity for those suffering from insulin resistance.

BCAA AKG, in which each of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine specifically bonded to alpha ketoglutarate, is a superior form of BCAA in terms of absorption. This means you can take in less BCAA AKG for the same effect as a higher dose of regular BCAA.

October 09, 2012