Among the most beneficial and effective supplements in any sports nutrition program are branched chain amino acids. These are the essential aminos leucine, isoleucine and valine. Although these supplements have been around for a long time and the scientific understanding in the exercise performance benefits of BCAA supplementation is rich many people don't know exactly how they exert their effects or how and when to use them properly.
Before I get into any details describing these supplements I'd like to state my belief that whole foods are the foundation of sports nutrition and if you're not eating properly your supplements will not make up for bad eating habits! One of the hardest things to do is learning how to eat correctly but you should take some time and educate yourself and get in the habit of obtaining the bulk of your nutritional needs from plain wholesome food.
Food supplements are supplements and not nutritional replacements and should be used in addition to regular food not instead of it. Your most important nutritional purchases happen at the grocery store, not the health food store so don't be one of these guys who spends several hundred dollars per month on supplements yet lives on frosted flakes, potato chips, candy and coke!
Once you've learned the basics of all around nutrition, meal content, and timing you can progress further by directing some of your efforts towards targeted supplementation.
Once you decide to supplement it's not enough to pop a grab-bag of supplements and hope they'll do some good. For best results, supplement your diet with purpose! Decide what it is you want to accomplish as far as physical goals or performance and direct your eating and supplement program towards that objective.
Used correctly, targeted BCAA supplementation can have a "drug-like effect" on your body and can definitely blast you out of whatever rut you might be in and as this series progresses I will help show you how, but first I'd like to give a general overview of BCAA metabolism.
You probably know that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When you eat a protein food, it gets digested in the stomach and intestine into individual amino acids and short chains of amino acids that are small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream. These amino acids have far reaching effects in the body from building and repairing tissues, to producing chemicals that enable our brains to function optimally.
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. You must get them from complete protein foods or combinations of incomplete vegetable foods. There are 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan and valine. Your body can make non-essential amino acids by itself from vitamins and other amino acids.
The term "non-essential" can be misleading since all amino acids are essential for proper metabolism and certain non-essential amino acids, such as glutamine, become very essential during illness or trauma. The 13 non-essential amino acids are alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, cysteine, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline, proline, serine and tyrosine.
The essential branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) are of special importance for athletes because they are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. Here's how this works: After digestion once protein is broken down into individual amino acids these aminos can either be used to build new proteins or be burned as fuel to produce energy.
Eventually these aminos will go through the liver before being transported through the rest of the body. The liver has the ability to break down most amino acids for energy when it needs to, such as starvation or during intense exercise. The BCAA's are special because they aren't significantly broken down in the liver and this results in release of the BCAA's from the liver into circulation. Skeletal muscles, however, are able to break down the BCAA's for energy and will do so during increased energy needs such as starvation, trauma or exercise.
During resting periods when other fuel sources, such as carbohydrates and fats, are available they spare the BCAA's from oxidation, leaving them available for use in protein synthesis which is what you want them to do - serve you by building muscle. The important thing is that although BCAA's account for only about 20% of the total amino acids in a protein meal they account for 50-90% of the total amino acids released into general circulation to be taken up by the muscles. BCAA's are the most abundant amino acids incorporated into muscle protein and make up 1/3 of this muscle.
They are also heavily catabolized (broken down and used for energy) during exercise. These 2 reasons plus the fact that the body can't make it's own BCAA's increases the need for BCAA's for athletes. Are you starting to get the idea that BCAA's are important for anyone interested in muscle and strength? Next week I'll discuss more on how BCAAs function in the body and why they are especially important for those who engage in any form of strenuous exercise.
Feel free to contact me directly at Kingbags@hotmail.com with any questions or comments you might have. I look forward to hearing from you!
This book is 225 pages in paperback form, but can also be purchased as an e-Book that is only 5 Mb to download. In Renegade Training for Football, Coach Davies presents you with his full program for gridiron mastery.