The use of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) has become increasingly popular amongst the athletic population as sound research continues to endorse their use for building muscle tissue and preventing injury. BCAAs are generally regarded as being vital for the maintenance of muscle tissue, helping prevent tissue breakdown during exercise and replenishing muscle stores of glycogen.
Amino acids are nitrogen-containing compounds that make up the building blocks of protein. Amino acids can be classed as either ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential’. Essential amino acids are those that must be consumed in the diet because the body can’t produce them on its own. Of the eight generally termed essential amino acids, the three branched chain amino acids (Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine) are often considered to be the most important, especially in relation to exercise.
In this article we will look at some of the claims made around BCAAs and how important they really are to your personal nutrition plan.
When combined with intense resistance training, BCAAs have been shown to help increase muscle mass. An increase in muscle mass is largely down to a positive protein balance in the muscle. If your net protein balance is negative, then your body will not be able to generate muscle growth, however a positive balance (protein synthesis is equalled by availability of protein or amino acids within the muscle) will promote the metabolic mechanisms of muscle growth. Adequate amino acid ingestion is vital as it stimulates signalling pathways within the muscle(s) being stressed and provides the building blocks necessary for protein synthesis. Supplementing with BCAAs has also been found to maintain and even increase lean muscle tissue under extreme conditions. Research looking at the effect of BCAAs on performance during prolonged skiing at altitude, concluded that the ingestion of BCAAs helped to prevent a loss of body mass.
High intensity exercise may lead to muscular damage and recent studies have been carried out that demonstrate the ingestion of BCAAs, may decrease the soreness felt by individuals post training. BCAA supplementation pre and post workout may also decrease recovery time, as indicated by a reduction in muscle soreness following exercise (Nosaka, 2003). BCAA supplementation, pre and post workout, thus appears to be beneficial for reducing the level of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) enhancing the recovery process following exercise. BCAA powder is now available from Myprotein for an easily digestible post-workout drink.
A little-known benefit of BCAAs is the positive effects it has on endurance performance as it may help to prevent fatigue and lethargy. When exercising for a prolonged period, the serotonin production in the brain increases and causes drowsiness. Serotonin is made from the amino acid Tryptophan which competes with BCAAs to be transported to the brain. Supplementing with a product such as Myprotein’s BCAA Plus increases the supply of BCAAs and keeps the levels in the blood elevated, reducing the amount of Tryptophan transported to the brain. Increasing your BCAA consumption may therefore prevent central fatigue.
During bouts of intense training athletes often become ill as the body responds negatively to the high demands being placed upon the nervous system. BCAAs may help prevent illness as they increase levels of the amino acid glutamine, which has been closely linked with immunosuppression. During a period in which an athlete is training frequently and with great intensity, levels of glutamine within the body are depleted. If these stores are not replenished, there is a risk that the levels of glutamine needed to sustain an anabolic state will drop and your body reverts to a long term catabolic state. This is one way of becoming overtrained. Individuals suffering from overtraining are also more susceptible to illness as a result of lowered immunity. BCAAs therefore decrease the likelihood of this happening and increase the athlete’s ability to train harder for longer periods.
It is widely known that optimal Glycogen levels are crucial to athletic performance. Glycogen is the stored form of Glucose and is essential in helping the body generate fuel during both athletic and sedentary activities. Approximately twice as much Glycogen is stored in the muscles as is retained in the liver. Low levels of Glycogen contribute to fatigue and reduced performance. Recent studies indicate that ingestion of a high quality BCAA supplement may spare Glycogen during the initial stages of exercise, thus improving athletic performance.
To summarise, it is quite clear that the use of BCAAs as a sports supplement has been researched extensively. As a review of these studies and the research surrounding BCAAs, it is evident that they can certainly play a significant role in improving both aerobic and anaerobic performance. Several studies show BCAAs are also an effective supplement for enhancing muscle growth and improving recovery from exercise. They can also improve immunity and prevent illness during periods of hard training as well as reducing the risk of overtraining. Try Myprotein’s BCAA Plus and help enhance your performance and recovery.