If You Don’t Know What BCAAs Are, Then Read This Now
Most bodybuilders know that amino acids are important for building lean mass since they’re the Lego blocks of protein synthesis. But not all aminos are as important as others or function the same way in our bodies, and the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are a special class of aminos that may hold great promise for hard-training bodybuilders.
Let’s take a look the basics of BCAAs and just how they might help your muscle-building efforts.
What Are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids are a special subset of the eight essential aminos. The essential amino acids are ones that we require for life (and muscle growth) but that our bodies cannot manufacture.We have to consume the essential amino acids through the foods that we eat, and any protein source that contains all eight essential amino acids is called a complete protein.
The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and the name “branched-chain amino acids” comes from their chemical structure. Rather than forming a continuous backbone, the main carbon chain in each of these essential amino acids features a “branch” that juts off to the side.
Because of this structure, BCAAs have unique properties in the body that could make them a real boon to fitness enthusiasts.
How Can BCAAs Help Bodybuilders?
Building muscle is all about maintaining a positive nitrogen balance, or controlling your rate of protein turnover.
Your body is constantly tearing down protein as you move through your day, and then rebuilding it from the amino acids you consume through your body.
In simple terms, if you build more than you lose, you’ll gain muscle overall. On the other hand, if muscle breakdown exceeds muscle synthesis, you’ll lose lean mass.
While heavy, intense weight training is necessary to stimulate muscle growth, it can also tilt the balance toward muscle breakdown if you don’t have your nutrition in check.
What’s more, dieting tends to accelerate muscle breakdown because your body would rather hold on to fat than muscle in the long term because fat is just a storage mechanism, but muscle requires calories to maintain.
From a survival standpoint, then, fat is beneficial, but excess muscle is a burden. Your body will always err on the side of survival unless you give it a good reason to change that equation.
Luckily, branched-chain amino acids have been shown to offer help on both sides of the protein-turnover battle.
In particular, the BCAAs can help to improve the rate of protein synthesis and to help you build more of the cell components responsible for creating new protein. That means you get a boost immediately and in the long-term as your capacity for protein synthesis increases.
The BCAAs also appear to limit protein breakdown by inhibiting the the cellular elements that contribute to the tear-down mechanism.
Beyond just helping you to control nitrogen balance and protein turnover, however, BCAAs may also help you improve workout performance.
In particular, the BCAAs compete with another amino acid, tryptophan, for space in the receptors in your brain. Tryptophan stimulates the release of serotonin, which causes you to relax and feel fatigued.
By helping to keep tryptophan out of your brain during exercise, BCAAs may keep you more alert and pumping away for longer periods.
These ideas aren’t just the creation of gym lore, either, as science is backing up the benefits of BCAAs. For instance, a 2015 study from the Chinese Academy of Science found that l-leucine can stimulate both muscle synthesis and fat burning in animals. The scientists speculate that the same will hold true in humans and speculate that leucine will become an important treatment for various metabolic conditions.
For bodybuilders, those conditions include “a desire to build lean muscle”!
Get the Most from BCAAs
Some folks will tell you that simply taking whey protein will give you all the branched-chain amino acids that you need, and that’s probably true in the strict sense.
However, to reap ALL the benefits of aminos, you probably need a more targeted solution.
The aminos in whey supplements and other protein sources are peptide-bound to each other, which means you’ll need to digest them first before they hit your blood stream and can exert their benefits.
If you take separate BCAA supplements, though, you don’t have to wait since there is no peptide-binding involved. What’s more, the “branched” nature of BCAAs makes them less likely to be modified by your gut during digestion, so they pass more or less intact into your blood stream.
Grabbing your aminos before training, then, could yield big benefits.
If you’re looking for a quick boost in workout intensity and alertness, along with some help in the battle for new muscle growth, branched-chain amino acids may be exactly what you need.