Branched-chain amino acids are the biggest selling muscle building supplement on the market with many bodybuilders consuming BCAAs without really knowing the correct amounts to take for their bodyweight and the real benefits of this supplement.
By consuming the wrong amounts of BCAAs will you really be getting the full beneficial impact before, during and after your resistance session? Probably not.
The main focus of this article is to point you in the right direction in terms of the amount required to get the maximal benefits for muscle gains.
What are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids are essential amino acids that are not produced in the body, they include L-valine, L-leucine and L-isoleucine.
Therefore, the BCAAs should be consumed in foods and/or supplements to get the right amounts to build muscle mass.
A top tip is to have a look at the nutritional information on your protein tub and the BCAAs profile should be there.
The main difference between amino acids and BCAAs, is that the BCAAs go directly to the working muscles and are used for growth, repair and re-fuelling.
Amino acids on the other hand, are broken down in the liver and are then sent to the muscle for growth, repair and re-fuelling.
Hence, much of the amino acids potential is lost in translation and by the time that they reach the muscle, their impact is some-what diminished.
By working backwards from this scenario we can determine that BCAAs have a higher growth, repair and re-fuelling potential than amino acids, especially during and after your work outs. The question is why?
What are the 3 main roles of supplementing with BCAAs
Supplementation of BCCAs helps to build muscle via the following three physiological mechanisms:
- Firstly, it triggers muscle protein synthesis and pulls together the amino acids within the muscle to build a stronger structure
- Secondly, it increases insulin levels to help to create a protein synthesising anabolic setting. This creates the correct balance of nutrition, hormones and metabolic function that are essential to build muscle
- Lastly, it boosts growth hormone levels and reduces cortisol levels which are absolutely essential in building muscles.
Research has indicated that branched-chain amino acids can reduce serotonin levels within the body, which are a hormone that helps to regulate mood, tiredness, cognition, sleep, memory & processing.
When we exercise serotonin levels are heightened and this mechanism acts as a neurotransmitter as the amino acid tryptophan journeys to the brain. BCCAs especially L-valine blocks tryptophan from entering into the brain cells.
It is this gate keeper approach, that allows you to train for longer because exercise fatigue has been evaded and overall exercise performance is enhanced.
This equates to improved strength and muscle mass gains because you can exercise at a higher intensity for a longer duration.
As mentioned previously, branched-chain amino acids are synthesised with in the skeletal muscles and not in the liver. It is this mechanism that’s blocks post exercise muscle soreness by halting exercise induced muscle damage and this boosts muscle growth and repair.
L-Leucine in particular is a strong catalyst for muscle growth, as it lays the platform for protein synthesis and binds together proteins ready to be used as the building blocks for muscle gains.
In addition, it increases insulin levels during and post exercise which is required to create the right anabolic environment.
It is this anabolic environment, which L-Leucine has a part to play in combined with its protein synthesising potential that creates the correct balance of nutrition and hormones to foster muscle growth.
In terms of hormonal response and muscle growth, branched-chain amino acids can lower cortisol levels and enhance human growth hormone levels.
Cortisol is a stress hormone when in high amounts within the body is ‘catabolic’. Cortisol has the following negative effects on muscle growth:
- It reduces protein synthesis which makes it more difficult to build muscle
- It reduces fat and carbohydrate metabolism
- It slows down your thyroid gland, increase body fat, reduces lean body mass and increases the bloat appearance
The higher the growth hormone levels within the body post exercise, the more benefits occur in terms of muscle growth and gains.
Growth hormone helps to build muscle, stops the accumulation of fat; this increases the use of fats for energy whilst decreasing the use of carbs for energy.
Protein synthesis which is manufactured by the branch-chain amino acids is beneficial up to 24 hours post exercise and this nitrogen balance is optimal at 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
Research has indicated the pre training shake is more important than the post training meal, in terms of protein synthesis; however the post training shake is required for muscle growth, recovery and injury prevention.
BCAAs are utilised by the body far quicker than other amino acids.
They should be on your shopping list to aid muscle growth and recovery and if they are not already in your protein shake; then maybe you really need to switch brands.
Which BCAA supplement is recommended?
If you are looking to increase your intake of BCAA’s then I would recommend trying BCAA Plus, which is available to buy online from MyProtein.
This particular supplement contains the BCAA’s Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, yet costs just £10.99 for a bottle of 90 capsules.