UNDERSTANDING SUPPLEMENTS: BCAA's

The three musketeers of the supplements industry: leucine, valine and isoleucine. Next to protein powder and creatine, BCAA’s has to be one of the most consumed supplements out there. A lot of people love them, while others think it is a waste of money. Today I am going to explain you what they are and my opinion on them, let’s get started!





WHAT ARE BCAAs?


The acronym BCAA’s stands for “branched chain amino acids” (which refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids), which are: leucine, valine and isoleucine. They are 3 essential amino acids, meaning that your body cannot manufacture them on its own, you need to consume them from foods and supplements.

There are 20 different amino acids in your body’s proteins. 9 of those 20 are considered essential (again, cause your body cannot make them on its own), and of those 9, three are the BCAA’s. These are different from the rest of amino acids since they are mostly metabolized in the skeletal muscle and not in the liver, and they also make up to 30 – 40 % of the essential amino acids that make your muscles.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins, as you may already know, play a vital role in your body. Once they are consumed, your body digests and breaks them down into amino acids, and then it absorbs and transports them to different tissues in your body, so your cells can use them to create new proteins required for muscle protein synthesis, blood cells, form antibodies and many other things.


WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BCCA’s


MUSCLE GROWTH


BCAA’s are key for muscle protein synthesis, for repairing muscle damage and preserving muscle tissue. Specially leucine. It is the king of muscle protein synthesis, it activates a critical compound in muscle called the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). mTOR is a protein found in our muscles that turns on all the muscle protein building process, and leucine is one of the major activators of mTOR.


However, your body needs all the essential amino acids in order to maximize muscle growth. BCAA’s can only take you so far, but if you want to maximize your progress, you’ll need to consume all the essential aminos.


REDUCE MUSCLE SORENESS AND FATIGUE


When you train, you cause muscle fibers breakdown and again, BCAA’s promote muscle protein synthesis, which, besides of being key for muscle growth, helps repairing the damaged muscle tissue and, therefore decreases muscle damage, reduces fatigue and reduces the length of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).


That means that your muscles will repair faster, and you will recover sooner.

Also, BCAA’s may help reduce muscle breakdown during your exercise and decrease your levels of creatine kinase. This can be especially helpful while cutting, since you want to maintain as much muscle mass as possible (read more here).


ENERGY PRODUCTION


Leucine can provide your muscles with high amounts of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is what moves energy to cells for contraction.

Also, there are 3 types of amino acids: glucogenic, ketogenic and a combination of both. Glucogenic amino acids can be used to create glucose (your body’s main energy source) through gluconeogenesis.


Leucine is ketogenic, valine is glucogenic and isoleucine is both glucogenic and ketogenic. That means that both valine and isoleucine can be utilized for glucose production.


That makes them unique, since they are the only amino acids burned by your muscles as fuel.


PRESERVE MUSCLE MASS


One of the risks of doing a cutting phase is muscle loss. The leaner you get, the more likely it is to lose muscle tissue as your body tries harder and harder to hold on to body fat stores,so it starts using muscle tissue as an energy source.


Muscle loss occurs when muscle protein breakdown is higher than muscle protein synthesis. Muscle mass = rate of muscle protein synthesis – rate of muscle protein breakdown. If its negative, you lose muscle. If it’s 0 you don’t build nor lose muscle mass. If it’s positive, you build muscle.


Here is when BCAA’s come into place. They can help reduce muscle protein breakdown and promote muscle protein synthesis, which leads to maintaining your muscle mass and avoiding catabolism when you are on a caloric deficit.


DO YOU NEED TO BUY A BCAAS SUPPLEMENT?


There are very different opinions on whether people should consume BCAA’s or not. Some say that absolutely yes, some say that they’re a waste of money. I stand in a middle point.

Honestly, if you are getting plenty of protein from your diet, you are probably already getting enough BCAA’s too so there is no need for extra quantities. Specially if you are bulking.

The big factor that you need to take into consideration is covering your overall daily protein needs, that’s what will truly determine if you build new muscle tissue or not and/or if you maintain your muscle mass or not.

That being said, I do really think that an extra dose of BCAA’s can be beneficial, specially while cutting. This is what I have experienced:

Whenever I am cutting, I can definitely feel how taking a BCAA’s supplement helps me recover faster and helps me delay fatigue while training. Don’t get me wrong, they do not make a crazy difference, but I can definitely feel the benefits of supplementing myself with BCAA’s even though I consume plenty of protein.


When I am bulking, I do not even consider taking BCAA’s: I consume more than plenty of protein, there is no need to “preserve muscle mass” since I am in a caloric surplus and muscle loss can’t occur, and I don’t need their energy since I am consuming industrial amounts of carbs.


But yes, I do consume plenty of protein when I am cutting, and I take BCAA’s anyways because, despite of all the theories, I have really experienced its additional benefits. Besides, I find more enjoyable sipping on BCAA’s while training rather than on water, and it also helps me control my cravings.

Some of you may not agree with me in this, and some may do. This is just what I have experienced, but if you have experienced something different, please let me know in the comments, I would love to talk about this!!


Whether you decide to take them or not, it is a personal choice. You do not need them. BCAA’s supplements are exactly that, supplements, and as supplements, you DO NOT NEED to take them. That is something that you need to have very clear. But if you don’t mind spending 30 – 50 extra bucks on a tub of BCAA’s, one thing is for sure: they won’t hurIf you decide to take them, you can take them, pre, intra and/or post workout. I just take 5 gr intra workout, since my post workout protein shake already has BCAA’s too.

That is all you need. One scoop, maybe 2 if you are a big dude, but that’s it. 

That’s it for today’s post!! If you have any doubt, question, suggestion or constructive critic, please do not hesitate to let it in the comments section or use my social media.


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See you in the next one! :)