For any of us who play sport or workout in the gym, we’re going to find it hard to put on lean muscle if we aren’t sensible about how we supplement our dietary intake. With this inmind, one of the most important supplements that we add to our diet has got to be BCAA’s.
What on earth are BCAA’s? BCAA’s are branched chain amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and as our muscles are made of protein, it makes them essential to our growth and development. When you eat a protein food, it gets digested in the stomach and intestine into individual amino acids and short chains of amino acids that are small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
We categorise amino acids into two groups, Essential and Non-Essential. So what’s the difference between the two? Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. You must get them from complete protein foods or combinations of incomplete vegetable foods. There are 9 essential amino acids in this group. Your body is pretty clever and can make non-essential amino acids by itself from vitamins and other amino acids. There are 13 amino acids in this group. Since all amino acids are essential for proper metabolism, the term "non-essential" is a bit harsh.
The BCAAs are among the nine essential amino acids for humans, accounting for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the preformed amino acids required by mammals. BCAA’s are made up of 3 amino acids, Leucine Isoleucine and Valine.
Branch Chained Amino Acids have been shown to promote protein synthesis, increase testosterone and growth hormone and improve the testosterone/cortisol ratio - meaning that it is anti-catabolic (will prevent muscle breakdown). BCAA’s will also reduce soreness post training, increase strength levels and help reduce fat levels (particularly around the stomach). An added bonus is that they can be used for energy (prolonging endurance performance) and also compete with chemicals in the brain that make you feel tired and sleepy - again allowing you to resist fatigue.
Let’s have a look at these benefits in more detail... Increase Testosterone/Reducing Cortisol - In a study undertaken at the Department of Health and Human Performance, College of Charleston in 2010, eight previously resistance trained males were randomly assigned to either a high branched chain amino acids or placebo group. Prior to and then again a month after training under this protocol, their blood was tested and the serum showed to contain not only higher levels of testosterone but also, reduced levels of cortisol. What does this mean? In laymans terms it means potentially bigger muscles and reduced body fat!
Reducing Soreness - Perhaps the greatest benefit to us hard training individuals is the increase in metabolic recovery that follows this kind of supplementation. It has been shown that most users of BCAA’s feel a substantial decrease in the amount of post exercise muscle soreness (DOMS) soon after beginning supplementation. This reduced soreness benefits us two-fold:
- We don’t ache so much so we won’t lose training time
- Faster recovery from exercise induced protein damage (remember your muscles grow when you damage them), means faster size and strength gains
Increased Strength Levels - BCAAs are essential for preventing muscle breakdown in the recovery period after exercise and they can also flip the switch in favour of muscle growth. After a hardcore workout where you are busting through your lifting routine, two processes increase: muscle growth and muscle breakdown. However, if you donʼt ingest something, muscle breakdown exceeds muscle growth. So, by consuming BCAA’s post training we reduce the muscle breakdown therefore maintain our lean mass. In very general terms a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.
Stimulate Fat Loss - Supplementation of BCAAs has been shown to help reduce body fat levels. One theory as to how they do it is this: When present in high amounts during exercise, the body senses high levels of BCAA in the bloodstream which is typically a sign of excessive muscle breakdown. Our bodies, being the clever things that they are, stops muscle breakdown and uses more fat for fuel. At the same time the extra BCAAs in the blood stimulate insulin so the BCAAs are driven directly to the muscle. So the result is people lose body fat and gain muscle at the same time.
Now that you’re hopefully sold on the benefits of using BCAA’s, you’re probably wondering how much you should consume? Dosage wise there are a few different options but the best results we’ve seen are between 0.22g(absolute minimum or don’t even bother) and 0.44g of BCAA per KG body weight.
So for a 100kg person, its between 22g and 44g of BCAA per workout. You need to take half the dose 30 mins before and the other half directly after. Now be warned, if you are taking it in powder form and adding it to a protein or carb drink, it’s not the best tasting supplement, so tablet form may be preferential!
One very important point to remember... The ratio of BCAA should be 4 Leucine to 1 Isoleucine and 1 Valine - a 4:1:1 ratio. Some products are only 2:1:1 so will not be as effective as Leucine is far and away the most important of the BCAA’s.