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Should You Supplement With BCAAs

One of the most effective supplements for building muscle and speeding recovery are BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body and help to facilitate cell growth and muscle repair and contribute to countless other functions in the body.

You may already be taking a supplement including BCAAs, as they are in your protein powders and many intra-workout products. But despite that fact, do you know why you need to supplement with them or how to properly use them? This post will give you the low-down on BCAAs, so keep reading!

What Are BCAAs?

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body. Therefore, we can only obtain these critical amino acids from the food we eat. Although there are nine essential amino acids, there are only three BCAAs—Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. When it comes to building muscle, these three aminos are by far the most important.

The Benefits of BCAAs

BCAAs play many important roles when it comes to building and maintaining muscle during and after exercise, as they stimulate pathways involved in muscle development. They can also help reduce exercise-induced muscle pain and decrease muscle fatigue. Additionally, their presence can help preserve muscle tissue and reduce muscle breakdown.

Each of the BCAAs has a specific role and function. Isoleucine helps to regulate blood sugar levels, assists in the formation of blood cells and supports muscle growth and repair. Valine helps support the recovery and muscle building process, but it also plays a role in cognitive and nervous system functioning.

By far the most important and most anabolic of the BCAAs is Leucine. This amino acid is a direct regulator of the muscle-building pathways that activate the mTOR complex, which essentially turns on protein synthesis. In fact, Leucine’s presence in the muscle determines if the muscle is in a state of anabolism or catabolism. This is why supplementing with BCAAs before, during and even after a workout is so important.

Who Should Use BCAAs?

If you workout regularly—lifting weights, performing conditioning work, participating in sports or cross fit —BCAAs should be part of your supplement regimen to help improve performance, speed recovery and support muscle-building goals.

How To Dose & When To Use BCAAs?

Since BCAAs help to regulate protein  metabolism, they can be supplemented before, during and after a workout to ensure the muscles have a steady supply of aminos. If you supplement before, aim to take them about 15 to 30 minutes prior to your workout and continue to sip them during your workout.

If you choose to supplement after, be sure to get them in immediately following your workout when your muscles are most receptive to nutrient up-take. Another popular time to supplement is before a fasted morning cardio session. Supplementing with BCAAs before a fasted cardio session helps you to preserving muscle tissue, which forces the body to tap into fat as fuel.

Most BCAA products are powders to be mixed with water in a shaker cup, and are flavoured.  You can also add a few other ingredients to up the effectiveness of your BCAAs.  Try this recipe here!

Watermelon Slushie

Products with BCAAs

You can find BCAAs in pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout products, but you can also find them on their own in a powder, liquid, chewable or pill format. When deciding on a product, choose free-form BCAAs, which are more readily available and more quickly absorbed. The majority of formulations are sugar-free but be sure to check the supplement facts panel to ensure the product fits with your dietary plan.  A typical serving is about 10 grams. For maximum results, look for a ratio of BCAAs of 3:2:1 or even 2:1:1 of Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine. These optimal ratios are supported by research.

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Until Next Time,

Be Fierce & Rule the World!

Lauren Jacobsen

References:

Da Luz CR, Nicastro H, Zanchi NE, Chaves DFS, Lancha AH. Potential therapeutic effects of branched-chain amino acids supplementation on resistance exercise-based muscle damage in humans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011. 8:23

Blomstrad E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HKR, Kohnke R. Branched Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise. J Nutr. 2006. 136(1): 269S-273S.

Karlsson HK, Nilsson PA, Nilsson J, Chibalin AV, Zierath JR, Blomstrand E. Branched-chain amino acids increase p70 phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. AJP. 2004. 287(1): E1-E7.

Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 May 8;9(1):20

Pasiakos SM, McClung HL, McClung JP, Margolis LM, Andersen NE, Cloutier GJ, Pikosky MA, Rood JC, Fielding RA, Young AJ. Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances post exercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):809-18.

Mourier A, Bigard AX, de Kerviler E, Roger B, Legrand H, Guezennec CY. Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. Int J Sports Med. 1997 Jan;18(1):47-55.

MacLean DA, Graham TE, Saltin B. Stimulation of muscle ammonia production during exercise following branched-chain amino acid supplementation in humans. J Physiol. 1996 Jun 15;493 ( Pt 3):909-22.

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