Takeaway: The benefits of BCAAs include reduction in fatigue after a workout, enhancement of muscle recovery, increased muscle mass, weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and reduction in complications in liver disease. BCAAs are also called the “building blocks” of the body, and they are required to produce different types of protein. Our body does not naturally produce BCAAs, so the only way to attain them is through diet or supplementation.
Building strength and muscle is a long term commitment. Even trained athletes and active health enthusiasts need to commit time and effort if they want to see any real progress.
Despite the widespread availability of drugs and fitness equipment that promise faster results, serious bodybuilders know that nothing beats the natural way of gaining muscle. There are no shortcuts when it comes to healthy and sustainable physical transformation – or is there?
In more recent years, BCAA supplements have been the most talked-about solution to faster muscle gains. But, what exactly are they and how do they work? And more importantly, is it safe for consumption and long term use? Find out below.
What Are BCAAs?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids, and it consists of three essential amino acids namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. And true to its name, these three essential amino acids are the only ones of its kind to have a chain branching off to one side in its molecular structure.
Although structurally unique, BCAAs are not that different from the other six essential amino acids. BCAAs are also called the “building blocks” of the body, and they are required to produce different types of protein. Without them, our body may not be able to function as it should.
Moreover, as part of the essential amino acids group, it is crucial for the body to get its proper daily dose of BCAAs. Our body does not naturally produce essential amino acids, so the only way to attain them is through diet or supplementation. And, since BCAAs make up a considerable portion of the body’s total amino acid count, our bodies won’t be able to function properly without sufficient BCAA levels.
Do BCAAs Work?
With a nutrient-rich diet and by making healthy lifestyle choices, it’s not that hard to provide the body with the suggested daily dose of BCAAs. So you might be wondering, why do some people feel that there is a need to take them as supplements? Many people take BCAA supplements for a variety of reasons, but they mainly take it for its positive effect on those who live a more active lifestyle.
Like all essential amino acids, BCAAs help in breaking down proteins into energy for the body. However, they are unique from other amino acids because BCAAs can be oxidized in the muscles and act as another energy source of the body. Additionally, most amino acids are metabolized in the liver while BCAAs skip the liver altogether and head directly to the body’s muscle located away from the core.
Because of this, BCAA supplements are ideal for those who partake in rigorous exercises. Not only do they serve as another source of energy for the body, but BCAAs are also said to promote muscle building and recovery. According to research, BCAAs increase muscle mass and resistance to fatigue, while also preventing muscle damage. All of which are desirable results for athletes and those in training.
That said, BCAA supplements do work. However, researches have yet to prove that they are more effective than a BCAA-rich diet. Milk, whole wheat, and animal proteins like beef and chicken are some food choices that are high in BCAAs. On the downside, these choices are on many people’s blacklists. For those with dietary restrictions, it may be difficult to ensure the right amount of BCAAs every day, but taking supplements can help prevent BCAA deficiencies.
If you’re looking for a BCAA supplement, we recommend you give Naked Nutrition’s BCAAs Powder Supplement a try.
Here’s why we think this is the best BCAA supplement:
- It is among the highest pharmaceutical grade, fastest dissolving, and rapidly absorbed BCAAs available on the market
- Improves strength and muscle development, speeds recovery, and increases endurance for men and women, regardless of their fitness levels
- No artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors
- Certified vegan
- Soy free, gluten free, and GMO free
If you are interested in learning more about the effects of BCAAs, below is a comprehensive list of its uses and benefits.
Improves Exercise Performance
As we’ve learned earlier, BCAAs can serve as another source of energy for the body. Having another source of fuel is beneficial, especially for intense workout routines as it gives the body the extra push it needs.
Among all three BCAAs, valine is the least well understood. That said, records of its biological effects are very minimal while others are based on theory. However, one thing that is clear about valine is that it is a glucogenic amino acid which means that it can create or turn into glucose – another important source of energy for the body. Valine methyl carbons are used to produce glucose and ultimately, glycogen.
Having enough energy improves exercise performance by motivating physical activity. Thanks to the energy provided by BCAAs, the body can focus on training the body.
Reduces Fatigue After a Workout
Intense workouts can easily wipe out even the most active athletes. But with the help of BCAA supplements, it can reduce exercise-induced fatigue. It is important to note, however, that there are a variety of factors that affect how quickly one tires from a workout. Conditions like the level of intensity and the duration of exercise, as well as a person’s fitness level, can affect a person’s stamina. It’s not always about having lower levels of BCAA.
During a workout, the body utilizes BCAAs as fuel. And, as physical activity is performed, BCAA levels in the blood decreases. When this happens, another essential amino acid, tryptophan, increases in the brain. The essential amino acid tryptophan is then converted to serotonin, a brain chemical that may help reduce fatigue.
Reducing fatigue after a workout does not guarantee any improvements in one’s exercise performance. But, in theory, it might help motivate a person to continue exercising by reducing discomfort and pain after having to go through intense physical activity.
Enhances Muscle Recovery
Apart from its significant role in preventing muscle damage, BCAAs also promotes muscle recovery. According to studies, BCAAs inhibit cortisol, a substance which can cause muscle breakdown and damage. With the right amount of BCAAs, the body’s muscles are then able to recover faster after performing serious exercises.
Among all three BCAAs, many would consider leucine to be the most important essential amino acid. It is well known for its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. It manages amino acids in forming new muscle tissue, making it an irreplaceable amino acid for bodybuilders as it proves to be very beneficial when it comes to muscle building.
Increases Muscle Mass
One of the most attractive benefits of BCAAs is the effect that they have in increasing muscle mass. Bodybuilders are familiar with how difficult it is to grow muscle. It takes regular training and a strict diet before they could see any progress. But, with the help of BCAAs, they may be able to see results faster than laborious training.
According to studies, BCAAs can activate enzymes that are responsible for building muscle. Additionally, BCAA supplements that contain a higher ratio of leucine than valine and isoleucine are the most effective in increasing muscle mass.
Prevents Muscle Atrophy
BCAAs can help decrease the blood levels of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase – two enzymes that are involved in the damage of the muscles. With a decrease of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, the muscles have more protection against muscle damage, and it can also recover faster after a workout.
Promotes Weight Loss
It is said that branched-chain amino acids may also help prevent weight gain while also promoting fat loss. Studies report that consuming 15 grams of BCAAs daily has a 30% potential of lowering the risk of becoming overweight in comparison to those with lower levels of BCAAs.
Although there are not enough studies that can fully support the effectiveness of BCAAs in weight loss, several studies have shown that BCAA supplement consumption can help the body get rid of unwanted body fat. It is important to note, however, that the results in these studies are inconsistent.
Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
BCAAs as a method to lower blood sugar levels is a controversial topic in the medical field today. Although it has been proven that BCAAs can help maintain blood sugar levels, this is not always the case for some individuals.
The effectiveness of branched-chain amino acids in lowering blood sugar levels is dependent upon a person’s diet. According to medical studies, persons with a high-fat diet do not respond well with BCAAs in terms of their blood sugar levels. In fact, instead of lowering it, it was found that BCAAs were the cause of its increase. That said, it is also important to note that this study was tested on animals or cells and may not be applicable to humans.
Reduces Complications in Liver Disease
Some studies suggest that BCAAs have direct effects on liver function. According to the study, BCAAs can reduce liver complications such as hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Symptoms of this complication involve loss of consciousness and coma.
More importantly, the study found that BCAAs have more beneficial effects than most supplements attempting to reduce the symptoms of HE. However, the same research also states that BCAAS do not improve or reduce other related symptoms such as gastric bleeding and infections. But interestingly, taking BCAA supplements can reduce water retention and lower the risk of premature death in liver cancer patients by up to 7%.
What Do BCAAs Do?
Like all essential amino acids, branched-chain amino acids are also known to be the body’s building blocks. Its primary responsibility is to breakdown protein sources into usable energy for the body’s daily activities.
But, in comparison to other essential amino acids, BCAAs have specific key roles in the body. Due to its effect on the muscles, it is highly beneficial for those who do regular, intense workouts. Competitive athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts can take advantage of muscle growth and recovery provided by BCAAs.
BCAA Side Effects
Any kind of supplement would have side effects, especially without the proper healthy diet or lifestyle. Although very rare, BCAA supplements may show some side effects. As mentioned above, those who have a high-fat diet may observe an increase in their blood sugar levels.
More common side effects of BCAAs include nausea and headaches. The causes will vary from person to person. But, more often than not, the culprit is usually an underlying disease or a type of health complication brought about by said underlying disease.
That said, taking BCAA supplements are not for everyone. Before giving them a try, it is important to check in with your doctor. But, despite these side effects, many people have experienced positive effects on their health.
Most of the BCAA supplements available in the market today contain amino acids that were derived from animal sources such as cheese and meat. This may not be favorable towards vegans. To support the vegan diet, some brands have successfully formulated a special type of BCAA supplements.
Although some believe that vegan supplements are less potent than others, there are no studies or researches that support such claims. If anything, vegan BCAAs may be as effective as animal protein-sourced BCAA supplements depending on the brand and the quality of its contents.
BCAA vs. Creatine
A lot of people mistake BCAAs for creatine; both of which promote muscle growth and overall health. Though they may provide similar results for the body, they still have a few differences. BCAAs, for example, is best consumed before or after a workout.
Meanwhile, creatine is best used before exercising. On the other hand, most creatine supplements are soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free, making it the more appropriate supplement for those with dietary restriction. Compared to the animal protein-sourced BCAA supplements, vegans are more likely to pick up creatine instead.
Amino Acids vs. BCAAs
BCAAs are a special group of essential amino acids, but they are no different from those outside its exclusive group. They are all valuable and irreplaceable to the body but what makes it unique and desirable for some people is its effect on the muscles. However, there are no claims that taking BCAA supplements is better than supplementing the body with complete amino acids.
Most medical experts would recommend the complete amino acid option simply because amino acids are co-dependent to one another. Though BCAA may have one or more benefits targeting the muscles and for weight loss, the body needs an equal distribution of amino acids to function. Even with complete BCAA levels, the body may not function properly with a deficiency in other amino acid types.