All You Need to Know About BCAA

BCAAs are a combination of three amino acids that are important components of the protein structureBCAAs are a combination of three amino acids that are important components of the protein structure

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Introduction to Amino Acids

The structure of valine (one of the three amino acids that make up BCAA)The structure of valine (one of the three amino acids that make up BCAA)

There are many muscles in the human body and they all differ in their functions and abilities. But their structure is similar: the most essential components are water (70–80%) and amino acids (10–20%).

BCAAs make up about 35% of all kinds of amino acids that form muscle (if we consider essential amino acids only, the proportion is 42%).

That’s a high percentage. BCAAs produce up to twenty five percent of energy during exercise. These amino acids are the first to get into the blood during consumption of high-protein food.

The abbreviation BCAA stands for "branched-chain amino acids". They differ from other amino acids in that they cannot be synthesized by the body. BCAAs are therefore essential and must be consumed from the diet or supplemental sources in sufficient amounts, especially at high physical activity.

They are split protein elements in the form of valine, leucine, and isoleucine that are absorbed by the body much faster than common protein, so the body does not need to spend too much energy on their absorption. BCAAs are mainly used during the "cutting" phase as a source of easily-digested protein from which the body can obtain energy and building material.

The main functions of the mentioned amino acids are described further:

In other words, the muscles begin to starve at BCAA deficiency. Regular weightlifting or powerlifting workouts lead to the destruction of a certain number of contractile proteins. During this time, it is very important to take the necessary kind of protein.

This is the structure of leucineThis is the structure of leucine

BCAA supplements reduce muscle fatigue and decrease the loss of other amino acids found in the body. If taken pre-workout, they enhance muscle endurance and reduce fatigue.

If used immediately after exercise, they can decrease the cortisol levels and increase the supply of other amino acids to muscles, provided that they will not break down to replenish the energy stores.

However, it should be noted that BCAA supplements cannot be used as a substitute for protein shakes.

It is simply unproductive, because one serving of protein powder delivers to your body 40–50 grams of protein, unlike the essential amino acids that have only half this amount. Of course, the chance of BCAA absorption by the body is much higher, but the price is much more expensive.

Therefore, only bodybuilders who are willing to spend large chunks of money for sports supplements can afford such luxury. BCAAs are often used during the cutting phase when carbohydrate intake should be minimized, because excess carbohydrates can turn into fat. The essential amino acids provide energy and help maintain the gained muscle mass, due to the fact that they do not deposit in the body.

The Main Functions

  1. The essential amino acids are split proteins that are the main building material for muscles.
  2. They promote formation of other amino acids needed by the body for proper functioning. In other words, they help create a more compound protein molecule out of the elements of a simple form.
  3. They positively affect insulin production that provides blood sugar circulation that, in turn, feeds the cells of the muscle fibers with energy. Once insulin is produced, the process of protein absorption goes faster.
  4. Amino acids help maintain proper cortisol and testosterone levels, increase protein synthesis, and stimulate the production of growth hormones. Thereby, they prevent protein breakdown and block the loss of muscle fibers. This is very important during a low-calorie diet.

Studies

The structure of isoleucineThe structure of isoleucine

The experiments show that athletes need to consume the sufficient amount of essential amino acids to reduce muscle exhaustion.

Also, it has been found that there are two phases of muscle recovery after a hard strength training workout.

The first phase is catabolism, and the second one – anabolism that is the process of muscle tissue growth. If the second process lasts longer than the first, the muscles start to grow faster.

If catabolism lasts longer – vice versa – the process of muscle growth slows down. If you reduce the catabolism period, you can achieve the rapid growth of muscle tissue. BCAA supplements help with this matter.

However, you can get the maximum benefit if you take amino acids after exercise along with fast-digesting carbohydrates that, in turn, give the muscles an additional source of energy and promote insulin production. Such a useful shake is easy to make. You should just mix 25 grams of carbohydrates with ten grams of the split protein. The food promotes satiety and BCAAs reduce catabolism and enhance the effect of training.

Side effects

Many people underestimate this combination of amino acids. Some find it dangerous to take it. But it all comes from the lack of knowledge of internal functioning of the body. BCAAs are the same amino acids that are contained in food, for example, milk or meat. Therefore, all the danger is only in the poor quality of the product you use.

How to Take BCAAs?

You should not take kilograms of the amino acid blend, just use the recommended dosageYou should not take kilograms of the amino acid blend, just use the recommended dosage

There is an optimal dose that suits the majority of people – from four to eight grams at one time both for the purpose of gaining muscle mass and fat burning. Amino acids should be used up to three times a day.

Consuming fewer BCAAs is ineffective because small amounts cannot satiate the body. Many manufacturers understand that some people are unaware of some things and deceive their customers.

For example, they release amino acids in small doses, but set high prices for them. To avoid falling for this trick, always pay attention to the number of servings per package and the serving size. There is no need to take breaks from taking BCAA supplements.

For better results, you should take BCAA complex separately from other amino acids, because this way they can be absorbed by the body faster.

Due to the fact that amino acids are better absorbed at increased insulin levels, they should be taken during the meal, half an hour before and after exercise. This is the best time for activation of recovery processes and creation of favorable conditions for anabolism.

Can You Do With Natural Food Only?

It is also possible to get sufficient amounts of BCAA from usual food. However, athletes who need larger doses of essential amino acids have to overload their jaws and stomach by eating large amounts of meat per day. The amounts of BCAAs contained in various foods are shown in the table below:

PER SERVING

PER 1 G OF PROTEIN

FOOD

SERVING

PROTEIN

BCAAs

LEUCINE

ISOLEUCINE

VALINE

BCAAs

LEUCINE

Chicken breast

170 g

36 g

6.6 g

2.9 g

1.8 g

1.9 g

0.18 g

0.08 g

Lean minced beef

170 g

36 g

6.2 g

2.8 g

1.6 g

1.8 g

0.17 g

0.08 g

Canned tuna

170 g

33 g

5.6 g

2.5 g

1.5 g

1.6 g

0.17 g

0.08 g

Wild salmon

170 g

34 g

5.9 g

2.7 g

1.5 g

1.7 g

0.17 g

0.08 g

Beef steak

170 g

36 g

6.2 g

2.8 g

1.6 g

1.8 g

0.17 g

0.08 g

Tilapia

170 g

34 g

5.9 g

2.7 g

1.6 g

1.6 g

0.17 g

0.08 g

Turkey fillet

170 g

40 g

5.2 g

2.8 g

1.1 g

1.3 g

0.13 g

0.07 g

Egg

1

6.3 g

1.3 g

0.54 g

0.3 g

0.4 g

0.21 g

0.09 g

Egg white

1

3.6 g

0.8 g

0.3 g

0.2 g

0.3 g

0.23 g

0.09 g

Peanuts

170 g

12 g

6.8 g

3.1 g

1.7 g

2 g

0.14 g

0.07 g

Top BCAA Supplements

There are several amino acid complexes. The most popular brands are:

  • Xtend от SciVation;
  • Intra Fuel от SAN;
  • Best BCAA от BPI Sports;
  • BCAA 3:1:2 от MusclePharm.

Conclusion

Let’s briefly summarize the main points of the article:

  1. BCAAs are a combination of three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine;
  2. They make up about 35% of all proteins that form our muscles;
  3. BCAA intake is not a substitute for using protein shakes;
  4. The average recommended dose of BCAAs per day is about 12–32 g;
  5. It is difficult for people with high physical activity levels to get the necessary amount of essential amino acids from natural food.
Shalukhin Alexander
Shalukhin Alexander
Personal trainer, sports doctor, physical therapist
  • Builds individualized exercise programs and leads personal training sessions;
  • Specializes in sports traumatology and physiotherapy;
  • Provides classic therapeutic and sports massage sessions;
  • Conducts research studies on new exercise and recovery techniques;
  • Chief website editor. Writes articles on sports injuries and sports supplements reviews.

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