BCAAs or Branch Chain Amino Acids, are often discussed within the bodybuilding community. These essential amino acids have anticatabolic traits, meaning they combat the primary reason behind muscle loss. There are literally hundreds of amino acid found throughout the world and the human body requires twenty of them.

Of these twenty amino acids, nine of them are considered to be essential. This means that they need to be ingested within our diet and cannot naturally be made in the body. While focusing on BCAAs, there are three different essential amino acids that fit into this category: source of energyIso-leucine, Leucine, and Valine. When it comes to energy, BCAAs deliver. They act as a primary source of energy for skeletal muscles.

• Iso-Leucine: This BCAA helps both proteins and enzymes and although this is its primary function, it also acts as a source of energy, while supporting brain stimulation and mental alertness.

• Leucine: Leucine offers the same effects as iso-leucine, however, it differs based in that it attaches to different enzymes. Unlike iso-leucine, leucine can help build muscle growth by producing protein from muscle cells.

• Valine: Valine is responsible for the 3D structuring of proteins.

When it comes to energy, these three amino acids can be converted into glucose or intermediates to produce ATP. Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs can be oxidized during exercise for energy use and are also important for producing muscle protein.

The level of BCAAs can help increase the availability of carbs, protecting muscles against protein breakdown. In turn, by incorporating BCAAs into your diet and supplementation schedule, you can increase muscle mass, performance, and capitalize on available energy.


BCAAs and Performance Levels

One interesting study focused on the mental performance of athletes before and after running a marathon. More specifically, they wanted to measure the physical and mental effects of BCAAs on performance levels.

Published in The European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, results showed that mental performance did improve when a BCAA was consumed during a marathon, in comparison to a placebo group.

When it came to physical performance levels, only the slower runners improved. Faster runners did not show any improvements when taking BCAAs which may be due to adaptation. Overall, the results show that both physical and mental performance can be influenced by taking BCAAs.

It’s also been found that BCAAs reduce the amount of tryptophan in the brain. In doing so, BCAAs can improve overall workout intensity. When taking this supplement, BCAAs compete with the amino acid tryptophan in order to reach the brain.

As you exercise, serotonin levels rise which promotes fatigue. Essentially, this means that the higher serotonin levels, the less intense your workout is likely to be. Since tryptophan is turned into serotonin in the brain, BCAAs can help lower overall serotonin levels. This can help you workout harder, for longer.

BCAAs and a Reduction in Muscle Damage

When taking BCAAs before and after exercise, individuals are able to reduce muscle damage and accelerate recovery. This supplement helps to improve protein production, reducing the effects of strenuous exercise. Based on these effects, BCAAs can also reduce soreness and decrease plasma levels of enzymes, such as creatine kinase.

If, for whatever reason, you need to take a break or take time off due to an injury, taking BCAAs will minimize the amount of muscle you lose. In one study, it was found that rats who’s limbs were immobilized for six days, were able to preserve protein production when given BCAAs, in comparison to a placebo group.

BCAAs Increase Fat Burning and Weight-Loss

It’s been found that individuals who include higher concentrations of BCAAs in their diet, actually have less body fat and a more positive body composition overall. In one large study, nearly 4,500 participants were studied. Those with a high intake of BCAAs were the slimmest in comparison to those with a low intake.

Researchers believe that leucine is the key reason behind this effect, but when combined with other BCAAs. Isoleucine has been shown to improve glucose tolerance and leucine increases energy and fat oxidation. It’s believed that BCAAs have a unique obesity-reducing effects because they reduce calorie intake and increase the signaling of muscle building pathways.

BCAAs Support Hormone Balance

Hormonal support when training is essential. Having the proper hormonal support not only protects your health but also increases an athlete’s ability to endure extreme training sessions. In one study, subjects were either given a placebo or 6 grams of BCAAs for a total of three weeks.

After the three-week administration, subjects took part in a week of high-intensity. It was found that those who were given BCAA had higher levels of testosterone but lower levels of cortisol. The BCAA group also exhibited lower biomarkers regarding inflammation.

A second study combined carbs, arginine, and BCAAs. Those who were given this combination should a better testosterone to cortisol ratio after exercising, in comparison to the placebo group. They also recovered much quicker and experienced lower levels of fatigue.

Possible Side Effects

When taking BCAAs, it’s possible to experience some negative effects, such as fatigue and loss of coordination. If you are currently taking any medications or suffer from a specific illness, speak to your doctor before taking BCAAs.