Let's face the facts, many of us hit the gym everyday not only for the mental health benefits of working out but also because we want to look more attractive in front of the mirror. Whether your goal is functional movement (balance, preventing falls), bigger guns, or a ripped body, it's time to add BCAAs to your supplement arsenal.
What Are BCAAs?
The branched chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are called branched chain aminos because they have side chains that "branch" off. The BCAAs are part of the 8 essential amino acids - meaning that we must consume them from food because the body cannot manufacture them.
Amino acids are small units that make up proteins. Various amino acids are linked together in different sequences to make up different proteins. In addition to serving as the building blocks of proteins, amino acids form coenzymes (coenzymes are essential for enzyme activity; enzymes facilitate biochemical reactions in the body) and serve as precursors for the synthesis of molecules in the body.
Each Amino Acid Is Found In Varying Amounts In A Variety Of Foods:
- Leucine: whey protein, casein, eggs, soy, milk & cheese
- Isoleucine: meat, poultry, fish, pork, whey protein, casein, eggs, chicken, soy, cottage cheese, milk & cashew nuts
- Valine: whey protein, casein, egg whites, soy protein, cheese, milk, whey & cottage cheese
BCAAs And Muscle Growth
1) BCAAs May Prevent Muscle Breakdown
BCAAs are essential for preventing catabolism in the recovery period after exercise. After a bout of resistance training, the processes of muscle synthesis and muscle breakdown both increase, but breakdown actually exceeds growth! This is where BCAAs come in. They may influence the catabolic effects associated with a bout of resistance training.
2) BCAAs May Influence Muscle Soreness
Several studies suggest that BCAAs influence delayed onset muscle soreness and the markers of muscle damage associated with intense exercise (both endurance and resistance exercise). Less muscle damage and soreness means faster recovery and, the quicker you recover, the sooner you'll get back into the gym and back to training.
3) Leucine And Muscle Tissue Growth
4) BCAAs May Influence The Way You Shed Body Fat
The BCAAs, or possibly just leucine by itself, may be beneficial for shedding body weight, especially while dieting. Studies suggest that the BCAAS may help regulate satiety, leptin (a hormone in fat tissue that sends a signal to the brain that the body is full/satiated), glucose, adiposity, and body weight.
In an interesting study on elite wrestlers on a low calorie diet, the addition of BCAAs appeared to help the wrestlers shed more body fat, abdominal fat and weight.
When And How Much?
At the current time, it is difficult to provide an exact dose of BCAAs per kg body weight to influence muscle growth and prevent breakdown. However, try mixing 3-12 grams in a sports drink one hour before exercise and sip on additional BCAAs in a sports drink throughout exercise lasting longer than one hour.
Smaller female athletes can take approximately 3-5 grams of BCAAs whereas larger athletes may need more. Only those participating in very long bouts of endurance exercise (bike rides lasting several hours, long treks uphill etc.) may want to consider taking 12 grams of BCAAs.
Additional Tips To Boost Muscle Growth
- Eat! You have to eat enough total calories and protein to fuel muscle growth. Because protein balance fluctuates throughout the day, it is best to consume small meals throughout the day, each containing at least 20 grams of protein per meal.
- Periodize your workouts. Your workouts should be specifically designed to produce the changes you want. And, they should be changed as your body adapts so you continue to make muscle gains.
- Lift for strength or hypertrophy (depending on your goal). Yes, the two are different. Lifting for strength will not necessarily increase muscle size but will enhance neuromuscular adaptations boosting muscle strength. Lifting for hypertrophy will increase muscle size.
If getting stronger or bigger is your goal (and just about everyone from 18 - 80+ should want to build their muscles, both for functional strength and bone health), then you should consider adding BCAAs to your supplement arsenal. BCAAs may influence muscle breakdown, recovery, and muscle damage. Plus, emerging research continues to focus on leucine's key role in muscle protein synthesis. If you are looking for a better body, look to BCAAs.
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