What is it?
Amino acids consist of 9 substrates that are left after proteins are broken down. They are the basic building blocks of bodily tissues, organs, and the precursors to many enzymes and neurotransmitters participating in vital bodily functions. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids (Valine, L-Leucine, and Isoleucine) and can only be obtained from diet while the other 6 can be synthesized within the body. The optimal ratio for a BCAA supplement to have is a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Look for this when you’re reading the label of your BCAA.
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The main benefit of BCAA supplementation is the ability to spare muscle by encouraging the use of fat and sugar in the form of glycogen for energy instead of breaking down protein and muscle. The more muscle you are able to maintain, the more fat you will be able to burn. For intense anaerobic exercise (hard-breathing work), the after-burn will continue longer with more muscle mass so that your body is able to continue to mobilize fat for energy even after discontinuing exercise. This increases the availability of amino acids to restore and repair muscle for growth. BCAAs have been researched quite frequently over the years, other benefits may include the following:
- Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) may be suppressed when ingested during, before, or for four days following exercise
- An anabolic effect may occur by the activation of insulin, a hormone that increases the uptake of sugars and amino acids by cells for muscle building
- BCAAs compete for neurotransmitters in the brain with tryptophan, which is an amino acid that produces the hormone serotonin that increases your perception of fatigue. Therefore, it may enables you to workout for longer periods
Contraindications/Ingredients to beware of
Some brands add in coconut water, sunflower lecithin, or other ingredients to make powders mix more easily in water, you should strive for a product with less ingredients.
Because BCAAs may help to reduce blood sugar, if you are taking diabetic medication it is important to monitor the effect and consult your doctor prior to ingesting BCAAs as a supplement. It is unclear if it is safe to consume BCAAs while pregnant, consult your medical practitioner before doing so. Also, be advised that consuming above the recommended amount of BCAAs may in fact cause negative effects. BCAAs compete with other amino acids in the body so that consuming too much could result in metabolic and hormonal imbalance.
When shopping for a brand, it is very important to look for one that does not contain any artificial sweeteners. They are unfortunately much too common in most popular brands, so you may need to do a real search to find one without. Artificial sweeteners are well know to damage the brain and may cause brain tumors among other brain issues. Stevia sweetened and cane sugar sweetened are both much better options.
- Red meats, pork, poultry
- Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, other dairy items
- Whey protein
- Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat
- Adzuki beans
- Lima beans
- Soybeans: tofu
- Nuts: almonds, & cashews
Due to the low protein diet involved with veganism, supplementing with BCAAs is a good opportunity to keep the rate of protein synthesis above the rate of breakdown. The combination of a good availability of BCAAs and ingesting the correct amount of calories to avoid caloric deficit, which leads to a catabolic state, provides an environment where muscle is more easily maintained or grown. Do be cautious when shopping for BCAA’s by checking the ingredients list for items such as gelatin or other animal products. Some companies source their product from animals and therefore would not be suitable for a vegan. A product made from plant sources such as corn or fermented foods is recommended. Some brands add in coconut water or sunflower lecithin to make powders mix more easily, but strive for a product with less ingredients as supplements are not regulated well. There are several items that fit this criteria available on Amazon if you cannot find them at your nearest health food shop stop.
When shopping for BCAAs, it is most desirable to have a BCAA ratio of 2:1:1 Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Some people believe one can take Leucine alone, but studies have shown that the combo of the three works the best to reduce fatigue and improve endurance. Choosing a BCAA supplement with the least amount of ingredients is desirable to avoid unnecessary fillers being that supplements are not regulated well.
- Tablets: A common form of a vegan supplement due to the non-use of gelatin (an animal product). However, some people struggle with the large size of tablets like these
- Gel Capsules: Most of these are made from animal product, however they may be easier to take than tablets or powders for some. Capsules are generally fast-absorbing.
- Powders: Some may come as flavored, but most are tasteless even though the powder itself may have a strong odor
- Fermented Foods: May be better for the stomach when considering gas, bloating, or cramping.
- EAAs vs BCAAs: Essential amino acid supplements contain more than just the 3 BCAAs. Most contain all 9 EAAs. Some researchers believe the addition of other amino acids will aid in other processes beyond the benefits described above such as boosting of red blood cells or maintaining bone and liver health. It’s ultimately up to you if you feel you are not able to consume a wide variety of foods to achieve the recommended amount of aminos.
If you are a supplement minimalist who retrieves enough protein in your diet, BCAA supplementation may not be necessary. However, if you participate in fasted cardio, high intensity exercise, or endurance exercise for extended periods of time, it is especially important to take BCAAs since muscle glycogen will be spent and the body will begin to breakdown protein and muscle for energy.
- 2:1:1 Ratio Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine
- 6-8g/day, 2-4g of that being leucine 10-15g? .. 5g per hour of exercise, during low cal intake every 2-4 hours
- No more than 2g/kg of body weight per day
- Take before workout to prevent muscle fatigue ie. on HIIT or metcon day 12 reps +
- Take during and after intense, longer workouts to help prevent fatigue
- During low calorie eating plans, consume 5g every 2-4 hours
It is by no means necessary to consume BCAAs to achieve muscular gain. With a wholesome diet, you could easily be getting a substantial amount of BCAAs per day. The concern steps in for those who train vigorously or fasted where supplementation might be a necessity to prevent muscle degradation. While there is loads of research continuously investigating BCAAs, it is best to pay attention to how supplementation affects your body at an individual level instead of the hype. If you are uncomfortable taking multiple supplements, you may consider consuming a beverage or food source that has a high glycemic index to replace spent muscle glycogen which will discourage the rise in cortisol levels which promote muscular breakdown as.