BCAAs have recently become popular among the fitness conscious and those involved in extreme athlete training. Most bodybuilders are aware that BCAAs are known for enhancing muscle growth. But not many are aware that they also offer several other health benefits.
But what are BCAAs? Are their benefits proven by science or have they gained prominence on the back of hearsay? How do I find the right BCAA supplement? Read on to find out.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are part of the amino acids family. Amino acids are essential building blocks of the human body as they help in making proteins. Of the 20 amino acids present in the body, 11 are non-essential as they are made within the body, and nine are essential amino acids. The body is not able to synthesize these nine essential amino acids and they need to be supplemented through the food we consume.
BCAAs belong to the family of nine essential amino acids, and their requirement is met either through dietary requirements or by consuming the health supplements rich in BCAA. There are some factors that make BCAAs different from the other amino acids in the body:
BCAAs have a branched molecular structure as against the other amino acids. Most amino acids are broken down in the liver, but BCAAs are broken down in the muscles giving them their essential property of being able to provide energy during exercise.
BCAA’s constitute approximately 35% to 40% of all essential amino acids, of which approximately 14% to 18% are found in muscles. The fact that they are broken down in the muscle helps the body to absorb them quickly. BCAAs help by activating signaling enzymes that stimulate IGF-1 growth hormone and increase the rate of protein synthesis. They help in stimulating insulin, which enhances the uptake of amino acids into muscle tissue cells. The supplements help in maintaining workout energy by fuelling cell ATP energy after muscle glycogen stores have been depleted.
BCAAs are made with the three amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Of the three, leucine is of prime importance as it shows the maximum activity during workouts. It depletes faster and also gets rebuilt through diet. This is why it is extremely popular among those who exercise or are planning to either increase muscle gain or lose weight. Researches have also shown the impact of BCAA supplements if taken during strenuous exercises also helps in reducing fatigue in the body.
BCAAs are mostly obtained from the diet that we consume. Naturally, a protein-rich diet is an excellent source of BCAAs. Beans and lentils, meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, and quinoa are some of the protein-rich foods that must be consumed to meet the daily requirement.
Proven Health Benefits of BCAAs
Let us examine in detail the benefits that BCAAs provide the body, including while exercising or working out.
BCAAs Enhance Muscle Mass
BCAAs are widely popular among those looking to increase their muscle mass. They do so by stimulating the enzymes responsible for muscle growth and enhancing muscle mass. According to a study, leucine is especially helpful in activating the process of increasing muscle mass known as protein synthesis.
Another research done to understand the relationship between BCAAs and protein synthesis found that immediately after a workout, BCAA supplements improve protein formation. In the study, 10 men who were approximately 20 years of age when given 5.6 grams of BCAA supplement immediately after workout alongside a similar group who was given a placebo drink. The researchers found that a 22% increase in protein synthesis in the group administered BCAA when measured against the placebo.
Other studies that observed the impact of consuming BCAAs with other proteins or amino acids have also shown positive results. In one of the studies, the impact of including whey protein with BCAA supplements was studied in 40 men of 21 years of age. It was found that even low doses of protein supplements can be as potent as high doses if they are supplemented with the right macronutrients.
Thus it can be said that BCAA, though increases the muscle protein synthesis, one needs to consume them in combination with other essential amino acids to derive the maximum benefit out of it.
Summary: BCCAs help in increasing muscle mass and give better results if taken along with the other essential amino acids.
BCAAs May Reduce Muscle Soreness
Many people who start their workout or exercise routine complain about intense pain or aches, especially in calf muscles, legs, arms, and other parts of the body involved in the exercise. It is usually experienced at the initial stages of the workout when a person has just started.
This is commonly called delayed onset muscle soreness and begins mostly after 12 to 24 hours after the workout and lasts 72 hours. Though the reason behind the soreness is not yet clearly known, it is widely assumed that it is caused mainly by damage to tissues that form muscles and also the inflammatory response caused by the exercise.
Various studies have been conducted to establish if BCAAs really help in decreasing muscle soreness. A study wherein 12 men, having a mean age of 23 years, were given BCAA supplements before and after the workout, found that BCAAs can help with muscle soreness. The results showed that the group which was given BCAA supplements a lower degree of muscle soreness and also displayed faster recovery as compared to the placebo group.
Summary: BCAA supplements decrease muscle soreness after exercise and speed up the recovery of muscles as well.
BCAAs Help Decrease Workout Fatigue
Fatigue or tiredness is commonly experienced after exercise. The reason why people feel exhausted and tired after a workout is because muscles tend to use the BCAAs in blood during training. This leads to a decrease in BCAAs in the body, leading to an increase in tryptophan, which is also an essential amino acid. Studies have shown that exercise leads to an increased level of serotonin, which is a sleep-causing chemical making the person feel tired.
Research conducted to study the impact of BCAAs on fatigue clearly show they can help reduce after-workout fatigue, without negatively impacting performance. In the study, seven cyclists performing exhaustive exercises were given a BCAA solution or a placebo of flavored water. The cyclists that took BCAA supplements experienced lesser fatigue when given BCAA.
Additionally, studies have also sought to understand if BCAAs can actually impact the efficiency or performance while working out. One such study found that BCAAs do not lead to impact exercise performance, positively or negatively.
Summary: BCAA decreases fatigue while working out, enabling you to work out for longer periods of time.
BCAAs May Prevent Muscle Loss
The protein present in our muscles is continuously being broken and is rebuilt (as part of protein synthesis). The level of protein in the muscle tissue is determined by the percentage of muscle protein that is being broken and synthesized. The phenomenon where the breakdown exceeds that the amount of muscle that is being rebuilt is known as muscle wasting.
Muscle wasting is not a healthy process and often signifies malnutrition in the body. Muscle wasting usually happens when a person is suffering from chronic infections or diseases, like cancer. While it naturally happens with aging, muscle wasting can also take place when a person fasts for long periods.
The BCAAs constitute approximately 35% of the essential amino acids muscle protein in the human body. Thus, it is crucial that the lost BCAAs are replaced timely to stop or slow down the process of muscle wasting. Studies have successfully established a positive impact of administering BCAAs on controlling muscle wasting. Research has also been conducted to study the impact that BCAA could have on those suffering from cancer. This has also given some positive results on mice and has also provided a possibility in curing muscle loss in humans who have cancer.
Summary: Taking BCAAs can help in preventing muscle loss. It may also be beneficial to especially those suffering from chronic diseases like cancer.
BCAAs Help in Treating Liver Ailments
Liver cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease where the liver does not function properly. Cirrhosis, in most cases, can cause a condition called hepatic encephalopathy, which results in loss of brain function in almost 50% cases of cirrhosis.
This occurs as the liver is unable to remove toxins from the blood, and this toxicity eventually impacts the functioning of the brain. It has also been observed that many patients with cirrhosis often develop liver cancer.
A review that examines over 16 studies has yielded a positive result between BCAAs and their ability to fight hepatic encephalopathy. Studies have also shown that taking BCAA supplements reduces the risk of liver cancer in patients suffering from cirrhosis.
Summary: BCAAs can be helpful for patients suffering from cirrhosis and preventing liver cancer in patients who have the disease.
BCAAs Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
A study conducted on rats found BCAAs stimulate the process of glucose uptake in muscles and glucose oxidation, which can have a hypoglycemic effect.
Fasted rats were orally administered isoleucine and it was found that there was a decrease of plasma glucose by 20% and an increase of muscle glucose uptake by 71%, without any major elevation of plasma insulin.
Thus, the consumption of BCAAs helps regulate blood sugar levels by stimulating the absorption of sugar from the cells, and sugar in the liver and muscles is preserved. However, further studies are needed to establish these benefits for humans as well.
Summary: BCAAs play a role in regulating blood sugar levels by stimulating the absorption of sugar from the cells.
BCAAS Help Burn More Fat
Supplementation of leucine, especially in addition to glutamine has been found to reduce body fat in overweight study subjects. BCAA intake may help get rid of visceral fat. Also known as abdominal fat, visceral fat is considered a marker of metabolic problems.
There is no doubt that BCaas reduce fatigue during a workout and they enhance muscle building. The more muscle you build, the better your metabolism becomes. This boost in metabolism naturally aids fat burning in your body.
If burning body fat is your aim, then ensure you take a BCAA supplement with a higher ratio of leucine as this is the amino acid that helps retain muscle during fat loss. Leucine may also help treat obesity due to its role in regulating insulin response and glucose metabolism.
In a 2016 study that observed 17 male subjects, the researchers split them into two groups and supplemented their diet with either BCAAs or carbohydrates. They were all given an 8-week bodybuilding workout routine along with a calorie-restricted diet. The supplements were taken just before they started their workouts.
The researchers observed their progress over the next eight weeks and noted that though both groups lost body fat, the group supplemented with BCAAs maintained their muscle mass while the carbohydrate supplemented group lost muscle mass.
In another study, researchers compared the effects of calorie-restricted diets in wrestlers, with and without BCAA supplementation. 25 wrestlers were split into two groups and given either a low-calorie diet with BCAAs or a calorie-restricted diet with low protein.
They were observed for a period of 19 days and the researchers observed that those supplemented with BCAAs lost more body weight and more significantly they showed a higher fat loss, in comparison to the low protein group. The study concluded that the combination of BCAAs along with a low-calorie diet is beneficial to losing body weight and significantly higher loss of body fat.
Summary: According to studies, taking BCAAs in combination with a calorie-restricted diet leads to a significantly higher loss of body fat.
The Recommended Dosage of BCAAs
A 1985 report by the World Health Organization says the minimum BCAA requirement is 15 mg per pound i.e., 34 mg/kg for the average adult. However, more recent research suggests the minimum requirement to be 65mg/lb or 144 mg/kg body weight.
Thus, the minimum dosage states that a healthy woman adult requires a minimum of 9g of BCAAs and a healthy adult male should consume a minimum of 12g every day. For most people, the daily requirement can be easily met by including protein-rich foods mentioned earlier in their diets.
An important point to remember is that the BCAA requirement might increase for those involved in strenuous physical workouts and athletes. Thus, sportsperson and athletes, and people who do not have access to protein-rich food, should consider taking BCAA supplements.
Daily BCAA requirements are often met through daily food intake. One should consume the protein-rich diet to meet the BCAA requirements of the body. Since they are readily available in the form of powders, capsules, and tablets, they can be ingested orally or mixed with after-workout shakes as well.
It is also important to note that the positive effects of consuming supplements can usually be observed once they have been consumed for a minimum of a week. BCAAs should be consumed before or after the workout to obtain the maximum benefits.
The Side Effects of BCAAs
There have not been any significant side effects of consuming BCAAs and their consumption is considered to be safe until the maximum limits that have been stated above. However, according to a study, it was noted that mortality was on a higher side in those who were suffering from ALS disease and were administered BCAAs.
Thus, it is advised that those with ALS should not be given BCAAs. Similarly, it is recommended that those suffering from Maple syrup urine disease should not take BCAAs as the body is unable to break down the enzymes properly. The same has also been mentioned in the study, which examines the correlation between BCAA and the patients of Maple syrup urine disease.
The other side effects include a condition known as hyperammonemia i.e., an increase in the levels of ammonia in the body. In a study, 36 adult rats were trained for six weeks and were made to undergo a swimming session daily for an hour for five days a week. The rats were segregated into two groups, and the first group was given a controlled diet with 3.57% BCAA, and the other group was administered a diet with 4.56% BCAA. The study found that the second group’s performance had decreased owing to an increase in ammonia in their body caused due to the higher dosage of BCAAs.
An overdose of BCAAs might interfere with the functions that other amino acids have to play. This might happen when BCAAs interfere with the absorption of other aromatic amino acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan). A higher intake of BCAAs reduces the dopamine in the body and also impacts the function of aromatic amino adversely.
Frequently Asked Questions on BCAAs
Should I Take BCAA Supplements in the Form of Powder or Tablets?
Both the powder and the tablet form of BCAA supplements work equally well and the answer depends on where and how you prefer to take the supplement. BCAA supplements in the powder form can be mixed easily with water or any other sports drink or shake. These will reach the muscles of the body quickly and will work effectively. Thus, you can take BCAA powders immediately before or after your workout session.
However, carrying shakes and drinks to your gym or place of workout is not always ideal. Furthermore, preparing a pre or post-workout drink might not be possible in every gym. In this situation, you can carry BCAA supplement capsules, which are not only easier to carry but can also be ingested quickly. Both these forms work equally well, and you can take them before or after your exercise.
What Should I Look For When Purchasing BCAA Supplements?
For the average adult, the daily BCAAs requirement is mostly taken care of by the daily food diet that we consume. However, people who undergo resistance training or athletic training do take BCAA supplements to increase their muscle strength and minimize muscle loss.
People who are either vegetarians or follow a vegan diet should look for supplements that do not contain any component that violates their diets.
The Ratio of Leucine: Of thethree amino acids that constitute BCAA, leucine plays the most essential role in protein synthesis. Thus, care should be taken that the supplement should have the right amount of leucine to get the maximum benefit during vigorous weight training.
Fillers and Constituents: Make sure to check the BCAA supplements for allergen information by checking their composition. Ensure that the supplement you purchase is devoid of any harmful filler or preservative.
Will Consuming BCAA Supplements Help With Weight Loss?
BCAAs are said to aid weight loss and even stop the weight gain in the body. Various studies have shown the positive impact of consuming BCAA on losing body fat and body weight. However, there has also been a study that shows that consuming BCAA supplements did lead to a decrease in body fat but has simultaneously led to an increase in body weight and an increase in body mass.
More studies are required to establish a relationship between consumption of BCAA and its impact on weight loss. Avoid consuming BCAA supplements specifically with the objective of losing weight. It should be used as part of a fitness regimen and as muscle mass increases body weight may increase. Rather than focusing on what the weighing machine says, take notice of how you feel and how your clothes fit. The aim should be to lose body fat and get healthier and BCAA supplements will aid you in this process.
The Final Note
BCAAs can prove to be extremely beneficial for individuals who want to build muscle strength or increase muscle growth. These amino acids can also yield results if you are aiming to increase endurance during exercise. However, remember that BCAAs are not known to improve or have any impact on the exercise performance of an individual.
Thus, people who are undergoing strenuous exercise training or athletic training should consider taking BCAA supplements along with consuming protein-rich foods to build muscle mass. Both natural sources of BCAAs and BCAA supplements are easily available in different forms in the market. Remember to consult a medical professional before consuming BCAA supplements and following the recommended dosage to avoid any side effects.