What is a BCAA?
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), so named because of their nonlinear (“branched”) carbon atom configuration. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins, as you probably know, make up the structure of the body. Amino acids are either produced in the body (termed, “nonessential”), or they must be supplied from the diet (termed, “essential”).
Six BCAA Benefits
1. BCAAs Delay Fatigue During Prolonged Exercise
BCAAs have been found to inhibit the onset of both central and peripheral fatigue during exercise, so you can go stronger for longer. Peripheral fatigue (when your muscles get tired) is delayed because BCAAs are used as an additional energy source during prolonged exercise. Event after your body has used its glycogen stores, you can pull power from BCAAs in your muscles. Central fatigue (when your brain gets tired) may also be delayed by BCAAs that block the amino acid tryptophan from getting into the brain. Tryptophan (the same tryptophan from your post-thanksgiving drowsiness) is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, a central fatigue substance which produces feelings of relaxation and sleepiness .
2. BCAAs Improve Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance When Taken Regularly
Trained cyclists supplementing with 6 g BCAAs for a week leading up to a graded exercise test to exhaustion achieved a 4% higher VO2max, including 13% higher VO2 at the lactate threshold (LT) and 6% greater power output at LT compared to placebo. As any athlete knows, a a small increase in performance can mean the difference between a podium finish…or not. In another study involving trained cyclists, researchers found that 10 weeks of BCAA supplementation (12 g/day) resulted in a 19% increase in all-out sprint peak power and 4% increase in average power relative to body mass when compared to placebo. Importantly, the results of these studies indicate that BCAA supplementation can improve both aerobic exercise capacity and anaerobic performance!
3. BCAAs Fortify the Immune System
Intense, high volume training repeated over days and weeks can lead to fatigue, immune suppression, and overtraining if an athlete does not recover adequately between training bouts. Chronic (long term) supplementation with 12 g BCAA daily has been shown to improve the immune response to several weeks of intense endurance training in cyclists. But how? Researchers have found that BCAAs can also be used by immune cells within the gut as a fuel source, which allows the immune system to regenerate itself more efficiently and protect against harmful pathogens. A strong immune system aids in recovery and makes you less likely to get sick.
4. BCAAs Protect Lean Muscle (Insurance for your Muscles!)
BCAAs have been shown to preserve muscle mass under extremely catabolic conditions characterised by protein breakdown and muscle wasting, such as ultramarathons and high altitude mountaineering. During exercise, muscle protein breakdown, and in particular, BCAA breakdown for energy is increased. By providing supplemental BCAAs, the body is less likely to consume its own amino acid (protein) stores. Think of them as your muscle insurance policy!
5. BCAAs Promote Muscle Protein Synthesis
This is probably the number 1 reason weight lifters (aka meatheads) love BCAAs! As mentioned before, leucine is the most important of the three BCAAs for initiating muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is necessary for muscle building. A dose of 2-3 g leucine (depending on body weight) is generally considered effective to maximally stimulate MPS, and is often referred to as the leucine threshold. That is why we have included BCAA in our protein.
6. BCAAs Reduce Exercise Induced Muscle Soreness and Damage
BCAA administration prior to and following exercise may reduce the severity and duration of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the painful sensation that lasts for several days after an intense or unaccustomed exercise bout. Furthermore, studies have shown that BCAA intake reduces muscle damage in response to both resistance training and endurance exercise. That means you can bounce back faster and have less muscle soreness between challenging workouts.