Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are so called because of their structure, which includes a “side chain” of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Of these, leucine is the most researched, and appears to offer the biggest physiological benefit. Because of their prevalence and involvement in protein synthesis and energy production, BCAAs are important to many metabolic processes. However, if BCAAs are going to participate in these processes, they must be available to the body. This means we have to eat enough BCAAs, and at the right times, to enable such processes to occur.
Why is adequate BCAA intake so important?
The BCAAs are the only amino acids not degraded in the liver. Instead, BCAAs head directly into the bloodstream. This means that dietary intake of BCAAs directly influences their concentrations in muscle tissue. In addition, BCAAs are burned for energy during exercise, so they’re also an important exercise fuel.
How much do you need?
For the body to make new proteins, it needs an estimated daily leucine intake of between 1 to 4 grams/day. But that’s just a baseline. Actual metabolic use, especially by athletes and people doing heavy resistance training, may be upwards of 12 grams/day.
How should you take BCAA’s?
Branched Chain Amino Acids are available in capsule or powder form. Although capsules are typically more convenient, on teaspoon of the powder may also be added to protein shakes to increase BCAA levels. Whey protein is also an excellent source of Branched Chain Amino Acids, although if you’re exercising intensely, you will most likely need more than you get from whey protein alone.
Some other reasons adequate BCAA intake is critical
- Consuming BCAAs before training can increase uptake into muscle tissue.
- BCAA supplementation may lower lactate levels after resistance training and improve muscular oxidation.
- BCAAs may increase growth hormone (GH) circulation, which may be related to anabolic mechanisms causing muscle growth.
- BCAA supplementation may decrease serum concentrations of the intramuscular enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase following prolonged exercise. Lowering the levels of these enzymes can decrease muscle damage and improve recovery.
- Adequate consumption of BCAAs may help manage body fat, spare muscle mass, and regulate glucose/insulin balance.
- Try adding BCAAs into your workout drink at a rate of 5 g BCAA per hour of training.
- During periods of lower calorie intake, try adding a BCAA supplement every 2-4 hours during the day.