Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Description

The Primer

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of essential amino acids that comprise of 3 amino acids -Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They make up 35% of the total amino acid pool of the muscles. BCAAs do not go through the normal metabolic process as other aminos do, and instead reach directly to the muscles. They have a branched molecular structure that is easily broken down in the body to provide readily available energy to fuel exercise performance. Hence, they are crucial for an exercising individual.

The Role of (BCAAs)

BCAAs are in high demand during exercise, as they are rapidly used for energy. This reduces their availability for muscle repair, slowing or limiting the rate of muscle growth. After the BCAAs are used up, the body cannibalizes existing muscle tissue to obtain more BCAAs for energy use.

BCAAs Help To

  • Stimulate muscle protein synthesis
  • Prevent protein breakdown
  • Act as source of energy by getting metabolized in muscle
  • Delay fatigue and allow longer and harder workouts.
  • Regulate blood glucose levels
  • Reduce post-training muscle soreness

Whey Protein V/s a BCAA Supplement

One of the main reasons why whey protein is so effective for muscle growth and recovery is because it has a high BCAA content. However, exercise demands additional BCAAs to fulfill the dual demands of energy provision and protein synthesis. Inadequate BCAA levels post-training can lead to increased catabolism and decreased anabolism.

A stand-alone BCAA supplement, along with Whey protein, can safeguard the existing muscle tissue from being catabolized for energy as well as trigger the protein synthesis machinery efficiently. These free form BCAAs can be immediately utilized by the muscle tissue. As opposed to this, the BCAAs in Whey protein are present as peptide bonds and can be utilized after they are broken down to free form. Since this may take time, a stand-alone BCAA supplement is required to optimize anabolism post-training.

Which BCAA ratio is better: 2:1:1 OR 8:1:1?

Leucine dominant BCAA formulations with Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine ratio as high as 8:1:1 are available to boost muscle protein synthesis. However, their potential to actually elevate protein synthesis is inconclusive.

A BCAA formulation providing Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine ratio of 2:1:1 is the most clinically studied ratio till date. And although Leucine is a major amino acid for triggering muscle growth, the other two BCAAs, Isoleucine and Valine also help in energy production and delaying fatigue. Isoleucine acts as a gluconeogenic amino acid and is converted into glucose, which helps maintain energy levels. Valine is reported to help in delaying perception of fatigue. Therefore, including these BCAAs in a ratio of 2:1:1 can provide optimum benefits.

A stand-alone BCAA supplement along with Whey protein can then safe-guard the existing muscle tissue from being catabolized for energy as well as trigger the protein synthesis machinery efficiently.

All the 3 BCAAs have different effects on metabolism. Amongst these, Leucine is a crucial amino acid for energy production and muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is the sole amino acid which triggers the protein synthesis pathway, an important step for muscle repair and growth.

BCAA

BCAAs on a low carbohydrate diet

A low carbohydrate diet is proven to be effective for the two most desired fitness goals - muscle building and fat loss. BCAAs become even more crucial amongst exercising individuals who are on a very low carbohydrate diet.

In such individuals they perform three separate functions – providing energy in the absence of glucose, providing an anti-catabolic effect through its protein sparing role and also causing enhanced protein synthesis (for enhanced protein synthesis, Leucine is the major contributor amongst the three). Hence it is anabolic as well as anti-catabolic.

Leucine – the star BCAA

All 3 BCAAs have different effects on metabolism. Amongst these, Leucine is a crucial amino acid for energy production and muscle protein synthesis.

Leucine is the sole amino acid which triggers the protein synthesis pathway, an important step for muscle repair and growth. Weight training primes the body for muscle protein synthesis. However, this protein synthesis is not fully stimulated and skeletal muscle remains catabolic without supplemental dietary Leucine, either alone or as a part of protein or an amino acid mixture. Leucine, therefore, is important for the muscle for maximizing anabolism and recovery.

Researchers have reported that Increased leucine intake results in greater protein synthesis signaling and therefore leads to better lean mass gains.

Whey Protein supplement with added Leucine

It has been postulated that simply supplementing your whey protein with Leucine by itself also stimulates protein synthesis significantly. Research studies comparing leucine and whey protein’s ability in stimulating protein synthesis have reported that leucine, along with low-dose of whey protein, is able to stimulate protein synthesis similar to a larger dose of whey protein alone. A whey protein product containing additional leucine therefore will provide a higher anabolic boost.

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