Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

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As I was thumbing through my latest issue of Oxygen Magazine, I came across this great article on Branched-Chained Amino Acids (BCAAs). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to explain to customers the importance of these particular amino acids. I too at one time was unaware of their powerful affect on the body and the integral role they play in muscle tissue (formation and breakdown). I feel it’s imperative that men and women alike understand what these little guys do. Supplementation and knowledge of these alone can mean the difference between an average body and an extraordinary physique. Please- read on, open your mind, and learn…
You’ve been putting your body and your free weights through the mill, chugging whey protein shakes and eating clean for some time now- and results are starting to show. So you may be asking: “Is there anything else I can do to speed up my training results?” The short answer is: Yes. The longer answer follows. In a nutshell, BCAAs- branched-chain amino acids- can get you even closer to the body you want. According to assorted research, BCAAs can provide you with extra zip during your workout, fight mental sluggishness while you exercise and spare your muscles from being used for fuel. Additionally, BCAAs can promote faster recovery from your workouts, which translates into faster improvements to your body.
But before we put the cart before the horse, it may help to get a little background about branched-chain amino acids and what they can do for a hard-charging reader like you.
So what the heck are they? Branched-chain amino acids refer collectively to leucine, isoleucine and valine- three of the eight essential amino acids (there are 20 to 22 amino acids in all, the number varies slightly depending on the authority) involved in numerous processes of the body. During exercise, levels of these three amino acids fall, which may make you want to bail from your workouts too soon. Because what you want most at this point is more energy to continue training, your body will basically seek out the most readily available source of energy: your muscle, the very thing you’re trying to develop, grow and shape. And that’s not a good thing. So what’s a person to do? Think BCAAs!! If you take BCAAs right before (and after) your workout, you’ll go a long way toward providing your body with the fuel it needs so that your body doesn’t go dipping into your precious muscle for it. The magic wrought by BCAAs has to do with the fact that these three amino acids are directly metabolized in your muscle, unlike most other aminos you ingest, which have to pass through the liver. By getting shunted directly to your muscle tissue, BCAAs act like standby fuel- either for your workouts or for muscle growth and recovery when you’re resting.
What BCAAs can do for your body…?
1. Improve Muscle Gains BCAAs can promote your muscle growth in a number of ways, but chief among them is that they directly kickstart protein synthesis, that is, the way that muscle tissue is created. Additionally, they impact several hormones that are critical to muscle growth. One study has found that BCAA supplementation can even increase levels of a muscle growth hormone. What this means is that your training efforts may be optimized.
2. Boost Endurance Because BCAAs offer a fuel source to muscles, they automatically increase the amount of energy your body has available during workouts (assuming, of course, that you’ve supplemented with sufficient amounts to replace what your body burns while training). However, one of the branched-chain aminos, valine, actually increases energy in a particularly interesting manner: In short, it alters the way tryptophan, one of the eight essential aminos, behaves. Thanks to valine, tryptophan does not as readily signal the brain that the body is tired, which means that the person can have longer, harder workouts.
3. Improve Your Strength BCAAs also have an impact on your strength. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, people who supplemented with both leucine and whey protein (which also contains all three BCAAs) gained significantly more strength after an eight week leg training program than the subjects in the group that wasn’t taking BCAAs.
4. Protect Against Muscle Breakdown Because your own stores of BCAAs deplete so easily during training, your body will turn to alternative sources for energy. Most often, your body will start cannibalizing your own muscle tissue, since it’s the easiest to convert to energy. In short, your body will rip up muscle tissue in order to supply itself with ample BCAAs. Supplementing is the easiest way to avoid this scenario. One study found that supplementation reduced cortisol levels- the hormone that breaks down muscle tissue. Another factor to consider is your carbohydrate intake. As an active person, at least half of your daily food intake should come from energy-sustaining carbs. They prevent your body from burning too much of its BCAA supply, so if you’re not eating enough in your diet, supplementing with BCAAs may provide muscle-damage protection for you.
5. Burn More Fat In addition to giving you the muscle tone, shape and strength you’re after, BCAAs can also help you burn through your fat stores. Studies conducted in both humans and rats have shown that supplementing with BCAAs, particularly leucine, while dieting resulted in greater reductions in overall body-fat levels. This could be another result of the increase in protein synthesis- the body needs more energy to build that muscle, so it draws on fat stores to fuel your efforts.
6. Reduce Cravings Leucine has been shown to act on the brain to blunt your appetite. A study in the journal Science found that when leucine was injected into rats’ brains, they ate less and gained less weight than the rats in the placebo group. The researchers hypothesize that when the brain thinks that there’s enough leucine available, it’s satisfied that the body will have enough fuel and therefore it won’t trip your hunger alarm.
How safe are branched-chain aminos?

In a phrase, quite safe. But there are a few simple caveats. Since little is known about the effects of BCAAs during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, it likely best to avoid their use (through extra supplementation). If you drink alcohol chronically, avoid using BCAAs. If you’re facing a surgery, stop using BCAAs at least a couple of weeks earlier, since they will impact the control of blood sugar, which is more difficult at that time. Additionally, if you’re taking medication for diabetes, check with your physician first, because BCAAs have been shown to alter blood sugar levels when taken along with certain diabetes-control meds. Also, if you’re taking any corticosteroids for treatment of inflammation, don’t take BCAAs; the same applies if you’re taking any thyroid medications.
How much BCAA is enough?

In time you may forget what BCAA stands for or how branched-chain amino acids are metabolized. But if a lean, muscular, strong and energy-packed body is what you’re really after, remember this single, very important point: take three doses a day. Have three to five grams at breakfast, 30 minutes before a workout and within 30 minutes after a workout. And don’t forget your whey protein shake as well. (As a point of interest, don’t worry that your shake contains branched-chain amino acids. One scoop of whey, for example contains fewer that two grams of leucine). The bottom line is: If you’re training regularly with weights and cardio, it’s not possible to “overdose” on BCAAs, because they’ll be used by your body to deliver all of the benefits mentioned earlier.
Back in the day- actually not that far back- you only had one option with BCAAs: Choke down the monstrous tablets with plenty of fluid. Happily, the days of horse pills washed down with loads of water are long gone. You actually have lots of options at hand and today matters are a bit different- you can still get tablets, but you also have soft gels capsules and very popular powdered forms of BCAAs to make your life, and swallowing, much easier. See a list of BCAA products we carry at The Fit Factory below…
Of the 20 to 22 amino acids responsible for millions of the processes taking place within your body as you read this, eight are called essential because they cannot be synthesized by your body.
These eight must come from what are called “complete” protein sources: most notably chicken, eggs, fish, dairy products, beef and pork. For vegetarians, protein sources would include dried beans, soy products (men should avoid excess), nuts, seeds and peas. Unlike meat-based sources, however, these foods are often not as complete in their amino-acid profile structure as animal-based foods. But that’s easily remedied. Here’s a list of the essential eight and for the fitness-minded vegetarian: a go-to chart for how to complete the amino acid profile by combining certain foods.


Isoleucine* Muscle recovery, hemoglobin formation, helps blood-sugar level regulation and blood clot formation
Leucine* Muscle recover, regulation of blood sugar levels and hormones
Lysine Helps manage triglycerides, promotes antiviral properties, necessary for hormone production and bone growth, conserves calcium, plays a role in collagen formation, essential to skin
Methionine Aids in the breakdown of fats, has antioxidant properties, aids in the production of creating, which is essential for muscle building
Phenylalanine Works with B-6 to aid in depression management, acts to suppress appetite by signaling satiety- a feeling of fullness
Valine* Muscle repair; also maintains proper nitrogen balance
Tryptophan Aids production of serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical
Threonine Helps stabilize blood sugar (to be optimally utilized, requires adequate B-6, magnesium and niacin); helps collagen production
*Isoleucine, Leucine and Valine are referred to as branched-chain amino acids, and their role in post workout muscle recovery cannot be underestimated.
Vegetarian Protein Requirements
Food Limiting Amino Acid Combine with…
Grains: rice, oats, barley, corn, wheat, rye Lysine, threonine, isoleucine (BCAA) Legumes such as beans (kidney, black) and lentils
Legumes: beans, peanuts, alfalfa, lentils and peas Methionine, tryptophan Grains, seeds and nuts
Nuts and seeds: cashews, filberts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds Lysine, isoleucine (BCAA) Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils
Article by Oxygen Magazine Feb 2010
At The Fit Factory, we carry several Branched-Chain Amino Acid products to assist you in your supplementation needs.
Dymatize BCAA (tablets) 200 Count= $16.95, 400 Count= $29.95
Dymatize BCAA Complex 5050 Powder 10.7oz= $23.95
Dymatize Liquid Super Amino 32oz= $19.95 (one serving, 4 tbsp, also supplies you with 23g of protein!)
Assured Health Products Muscle Amino Complex 365 Caps= $19.95
There are several pre and post workout products we carry that contain BCAAs.
Also, all protein powders sold at our locations contain an amino acid profile, including BCAAs.
As always, thank you for reading!! If you have any further questions, please visit one of our two locations, or email me at:

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