BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS - BCAA
Ultimate Guide to BCAAs
Amino acids offer a wide range of benefits for the human body. They are mainly useful for developing muscle tissue, boosting the body’s immunity, and also aiding metabolism. There are two kinds of amino acids, namely non-essential amino acids and essential amino acids, which are found in a variety of food sources.
They are often referred to as the “building blocks” of the body. Amino acids are basically organic compounds that contain acids such as amine acid and carboxylic acid. When it comes to appearance, amino acids are colourless and crystalline. They are also diffusible in water.
The 2 types of amino acids
As stated above, there are 2 types of amino acids. They are:
• Essential amino acids: Essential Amino Acids are the amino acids that are not synthesized in the human body. This includes amino acids such as Threonine, Leucine, Phenylalanine, Lysine, and Histidine etc. Histidine is an essential amino acid that is highly beneficial for infants.
• Non-essential amino acids: Non-Essential Amino Acids are those that are synthesized in the human body. These include Glycine, Glutamic Acid, and Tyrosine etc. Non-Essential Amino Acids serve as the “building blocks” for proteins. Proteins are necessary for the development of bones, muscle and tissue (structural proteins). They also enable functions (functional proteins) such as the production of anti-bodies, insulin, thyroid hormones, and digestive enzymes.
Amino acid functions
Amino acids support a wide range of functions in the human body. For example, they are extremely important for the production of cell protoplasm. We could say that they practically build up our cells. They also play a key role in fixing damaged tissue and rebuilding the protein that is broken down during metabolism.
In fact, elderly individuals lose the ability to synthesize proteins due to the excessive protein breakdown. However, amino acids combat this by offering protein storage.
Other key functions offered by amino acids include:
• Synthesis of acids and proteins. This includes hormones, bile acids, melanin, antibodies, enzymes, and cytochrome etc.
In, other words amino acids play a major role in the overall development of the human body. Now, that brings us to the question of BCAAs.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are basically ‘Branched Chain Amino Acids’ and they consist of 3 essential amino acids – valine, isoleucine, and leucine. They get their unique name because of their molecular structure, which is in the form of a branched chain.
BCAAs are recommended for consumption after or prior to a workout. This is because they have been known to boost endurance and performance. They also help with muscle recovery.
Other benefits of BCAAs
BCAAs provide 40% of the average human’s daily amino acid requirement. In other words, they are extremely important for the normal functioning of the human body. In fact, they are even more important for those who are engaged in daily workout regimes. Here’s why:
• Studies have shown that BCAAs play a key role in initiating the synthesis of proteins in the body. When BCAAs are consumed before or after resistance training, they can initiate maximum protein synthesis. The combination triggers the mTORC1 signalling pathway, which plays a major role in building muscle.
• BCAAs along with glutamate, aspartate, and alanine are needed by the muscles for energy. Studies have shown that muscles depend on BCAAs for energy, indicating that a steady supply of BCAAs is necessary.
• BCAAS also combat muscle loss. This is especially very necessary when taking a break from a workout regime. In addition to combating muscle loss, BCAAs have also been observed to preserve lean muscle because of their ability to synthesize proteins even without exercise. Preserving lean muscle in turn boosts metabolism, which helps prevent fat accumulation.
• A study involving the feeding of BCAAs to rodents with immobilized hind limbs found that the BCAAs helped slow down muscle atrophy. It was also noted that the rodents enjoyed lower levels of body fat.
• The BCAA known as Leucine has been observed to boost protein synthesis by almost 145% when consumed after a strength training session. However, it is not enough to just take leucine. This can cause amino acid levels in the blood to go out of balance and slow down the anabolic response. Leucine is best consumed in a ratio of 4:1 with the other BCAAs.
• BCAAs have also been known to help older individuals with muscle building. Aging causes protein synthesis to slow down in the human body. In fact, after the age of 35, it completely stops. Plus, dietary restrictions that come with age make things worse. However, BCAAs with 40 percent leucine content have been observed to slow down protein synthesis impairment. Studies have shown that people above the age of 35 who consume leucine heavy BCAA supplements in specific post-resistance training dosages, were able to enjoy protein synthesis for longer periods of time.
• BCAAs have also been observed to aide fat loss and burning as well. Certain studies have shown that individuals who consume a BCAA rich diet tend to enjoy lower levels of body fat along with more muscle development. These individuals also had a healthier body composition.
• Some studies have even shown that BCAAs can even improve insulin production and reduce the risk of diabetes. Isoleucine, which is one of the BCAAs, has been noted to increase glucose tolerance. BCAAs as a whole have also been observed to boost metabolic rate and sensitivity to insulin. This, in turn, helps people develop better body composition. But, BCAAs are not good for people who already have diabetes. This is because the BCAA metabolism in diabetics does not function properly and consuming BCAAs will only increase their insulin levels causing a drop in glucose levels. The drop in glucose levels can lead to hypoglycemia.
• BCAAs can fight workout or exercise fatigue. When we exercise or workout, our body increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that controls our mood. However, too much serotonin can also cause fatigue. Serotonin functions as a neurotransmitter. In other words, it tells the brain that the body is too tired when the amino acid tryptophan is sent to the brain. But, BCAAs, especially valine, play a role in reducing the level of serotonin. They restrict the entry of tryptophan into the brain and combat workout fatigue.
BCAAs can be obtained in the form of supplements or from specific food sources. Food sources that are rich in BCAAs include turkey meat, canned tuna, egg whites, chicken, lean beef, wild salmon and roasted peanuts etc.
• The Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for BCAAs is 68 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight. When broken down, that includes 34 mg of leucine, 19 mg of valine, and 15 mg of isoleucine. However, some researchers argue that the EAR for BCAAs s much higher at 144 mg/day for every 1kg of body weight.
These are the BCAA requirements for children:
• Ages 7 to 12 months: 134 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 1 to 3 years: 98 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 4 to 8 years: 81 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 19 to 13 (Male): 81 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 19 to 13 (Female): 77 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 14 to 18 (Male): 77 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
• Ages 14 to 18 (Female): 71 mg/day for every 1 kg of bodyweight.
The information shown here indicates that BCAAs are extremely good for health. However, they are not enough. The body still requires an optimum amount of all the essential nutrients to keep fit. Also, it is best to get the advice of your doctor to know how much BCAA content you truly require.