BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are the latest supplement to take the sports industry by storm. As the building blocks of protein, they are crucial for the re-build and growth of muscle. There are 20 in total, but the body is only capable of manufacturing 11. The other nine must come from our diet or external supplements. With a wide range of benefits for our overall health and wellness, they are fast becoming one of the most popular bodybuilding and sports supplements available today. Continue reading to familiarise yourself with the benefits of regular BCAA consumption.
1. Promote muscle growth
One of the main benefits of BCAAs is their potential to promote muscle growth. Leucine, in particular, activates a pathway in the body responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. In the simplest of terms, this is the name given to the metabolic process of building muscle. For maximum results, BCAA supplements should be consumed alongside additional supplements, such as whey protein, to enhance muscle protein synthesis. During a recent study, professional weightlifters were given either a BCAA drink or a placebo drink. The results of individual muscle biopsies then uncovered that whilst BCAAs did in fact boost muscle protein synthesis by up to 22%, whey protein supplements doubled this response.
2. Reduce protein breakdown
As well as promoting muscle growth, BCAAS may also reduce the rate of protein breakdown in the body. This is done by decreasing the activity of the protein breakdown pathway and decreasing the expression of a number of complexes involved in protein breakdown. The mRNA produced from the gene responsible for these components is also decreased. Increased muscle protein synthesis and decreased breakdown will eventually lead to muscle gain or maintenance. In addition to reduced protein breakdown, several emerging variations, such as ioBCAA, also promise greater bioavailability, no third-party ingredients, and a neutral taste so your BCAA supplements can taste good as well as do good.
3. Limit post-workout fatigue
It is perfectly normal to feel tired, sleepy, and hungry after a workout. But post-workout fatigue is one of the lesser welcomed side effects. Most people recover fairly quickly whilst others require a little more time. BCAAs can limit post-workout fatigue by slowing down the rate at which you tire from exercise. This is done by gradually restoring tryptophan levels in your brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is responsible for fatigue during a workout but cannot be produced naturally and can only be obtained through our diet. It converts to serotonin and plays a key role in promoting optimal brain function and a healthy sleep schedule. It has also been found to improve mental focus and concentration during a particularly tiring workout.
4. Burn fat
Burning fat is one of the leading reasons for working out. But it can be easier said than done. By boosting your leucine intake, BCAA supplements could speed up the fat burning process which, in turn, could ease the weight loss process. A combination of leucine and glutamine, in particular, has been proven to benefit dieters on a hypocaloric or low-calorie diet. This is done by reducing excess fat and normalising visceral fat. This can also end up reducing your risk of developing a number of metabolic problems such as hypercholesterolemia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Hunter syndrome and Gaucher disease. By burning excess fat, you may also be able to exercise harder and for longer. This is because BCAAs can promote blood sugar regulation, powering your workout for a prolonged period of time and preventing any sudden energy crashes.
5. Reduce sugar cravings
By maintaining a sufficient level of BCAAs in your body, you can help regulate your glucose and blood sugar levels over time. Sugar cravings can occur for several reasons, but all originate in the hippocampus. This is the horseshoe-shaped part of the brain responsible for making short-term and long-term memories and plays a crucial role in reward-seeking behaviour. Your brain is also home to a number of caudate nucleus’ which influence reward-seeking behaviour and form new habits. As these habits act as conditioned responses, they can be difficult to break. But they are not impossible. Responsible for the vast majority of blood sugar production during a workout, BCAAs are fast becoming a number one choice for a growing number of gym-goers exercising on a low-calorie diet. With the liver also releasing BCAAs on a regular basis, this can prevent a sudden dip in blood sugar that will leave you craving processed, sugary foods high in calories and fat.
6. Decrease delayed onset muscle soreness
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is the name given to the feeling of tired, achy muscles that occurs within 12-72 hours of a long or strenuous workout session. During a workout, your body refuels with glycogen. As this is in limited supply, however, the body must work hard to find an alternative energy source. This is typically done through catabolism which, essentially, breaks down muscle tissue for fuel. This process tends to leave muscles damaged and tired with a combination of these factors resulting in delayed onset muscle soreness. A recent study has found that BCAAs can decrease delayed onset muscle soreness by a substantial amount. The study was conducted on a placebo group and a supplemented group with the supplemented group showing a significant reduction in muscle soreness due to the consumption of BCAAs.
7. Prevent muscle wasting
Muscle wasting or breakdown is the name given to a loss of muscle mass due to weakened or shrunk muscles. It can be triggered by a number of reasons including a chronic infection, cancer, fasting, aging, or the presence of an underlying health condition. BCAAs have been proven to reduce, and even prevent, the onset of muscle wasting. Muscle proteins are constantly being broken down and rebuilt in your body. This is known as muscle protein synthesis. The balance between the two can be determined by the amount of muscle present in the muscle. Muscle wasting occurs when the level of protein broken down exceeds the process of muscle protein synthesis. With BCAAs accounting for 40% of the essential amino acids your body needs to function accordingly, they must be replaced during periods of muscle wasting to stop it in its tracks.
8. Lower risk of liver disease
BCAAs can lower your risk of developing liver disease. It can also prevent cirrhosis, a chronic disease that prevents the liver from being able to function properly. This can lead to the onset of hepatic encephalopathy or a loss of brain function due to the brain’s inability to remove toxins from the blood. BCAAs have been found to have a positive effect on the symptoms of liver disease and even protect cancer patients from developing cirrhosis in the first place. They can also prevent complications from arising.
In recent years, BCAAs have exploded onto the scene as the latest bodybuilding and sports supplements to provide a wide range of benefits for overall health and wellness. As well as promoting muscle growth, they have also been found to reduce protein breakdown, limit post-workout fatigue, burn fat, reduce sugar cravings, decrease delayed onset muscle soreness, prevent muscle wasting, and lower your risk of liver disease.