There are many health and performance benefits of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). A few of the most compelling benefits of BCAAs include the following:
- BCAA metabolites are a significant indicator of lean mass in a population of young and middle-aged adults.
- People who consume a threshold dose of BCAAs with every meal have less visceral belly fat and more muscle mass.
- BCAAs trigger protein synthesis and inhibit the breakdown of muscle cells.
- In healthy people, BCAAs improve glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity. In diabetics, BCAA dietary intake with other therapeutic interventions may improve metabolic markers.
- BCAAs play an important role in muscle and energy production during exercise.
- A higher dietary intake of BCAAs has been identified as a predictor of longevity.
- BCAAs reduce muscle soreness from intense muscle-damaging exercise.
- BCAAs improve training motivation, especially when fatigued.
This article will review BCAA basics and give you ten benefits of getting enough BCAAs.
The Basics of BCAAs
The BCAAs are made up of three essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are essential because the body is unable to make them out of other amino acids. You must get them through food or supplements. The BCAAs make up 40 percent of the daily requirement of all nine essential amino acids, indicating their importance.
The BCAAs are found in foods containing protein. The highest concentrations are in chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, and whey protein. Supplementing BCAAs can be useful for athletes because free form BCAAs have the benefit of bypassing the liver and gut tissue so that they go directly to the blood stream.
As their name suggests, BCAAs have a branched side chain that simplifies the job of converting each amino acid into energy during intense exertion. They make up about 35 percent of all muscle tissue. The more BCAAs that are present in the muscles, the more they will be used for energy, slowing the breakdown of muscles cells and preventing muscle loss.
Are BCAAs Worth It?
A common question is whether BCAA supplementation is worth the investment. For young, healthy individuals who get the threshold dose of 1.5 g/kg of protein spread evenly throughout the day, BCAAs are more of a bonus than a necessity. In this case, your number one goal should be a high BCAA and total protein intake through food with each meal supplying at least 20 grams of high-quality protein. The beauty of BCAA supplements is they are a convenient way to support intense training for less fatigue and faster recovery.
Other populations may get more benefit from BCAAs. Supplementation is recommended for individuals with a low total protein intake or who limit animal proteins that supply BCAAs, such as vegans. BCAAs should be used to offset muscle loss in long-duration endurance athletes or when dieting. BCAAs are a great tool when training in a fasted state. They are also indicated when recovering from an injury or in older adults who are at risk of muscle loss.
Benefits of BCAAS
#1: BCAAs Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis
BCAAs trigger protein synthesis. Combining BCAAs with resistance exercise results in maximal protein synthesis because they both trigger something called the mTORC1 signaling pathway that is essential for muscle building.
The BCAAs along with alanine, aspartate, and glutamate are all taken into muscle tissue for energy. Muscle fibers are designed to burn BCAAs for energy during exercise, making a large pool essential for performance.
Another great benefit of BCAAs is that if you have to take time off from training due to injury, increasing your BCAA intake will minimize muscle loss. In addition, because BCAAs trigger protein synthesis even in the absence of exercise, the preservation of lean muscle tissue can keep metabolism up and help prevent fat gain when inactive.
For example, in a rodent study, giving BCAAs to rats that had their hind-limbs immobilized for six days helped preserve protein synthesis. The BCAAs didn’t completely prevent muscle atrophy in the rats’ hind limbs, but they helped preserve the muscle to a greater extent than a placebo. The BCAA-fed rats also had lower body fat levels following immobilization.
BCAAs Trigger Protein Synthesis for Greater Muscle Growth and the Maintenance of Lean Muscle Mass during Time Off From Exercise.
#2: BCAAs Equalize Muscle Building Between Old & Young
The BCAA leucine can increase protein synthesis by as much as 145 percent when you take it after strength training. It’s become popular lately to take leucine alone without valine and isoleucine, however this is not supported by the literature.
Research shows that when leucine intake is out of balance with the other BCAAs, it can lead to an imbalance in the blood amino acid levels, reducing the anabolic response. A ratio of about 4-to-1 of leucine to the other two BCAAs is most effective for muscle development.
For older people, leucine intake with the other BCAAs is paramount. As you age, creating a muscle-building environment in the body is important, but hard to do. Protein synthesis decreases, dropping off after age 35. Known as anabolic resistance, the decreased muscle-building effect leads to muscle loss and sarcopenia with aging.
Leucine-enriched BCAAs (a BCAA mixture that is 40 percent leucine) are a “cure” for anabolic resistance. They prolong protein synthesis even in older people in a dose-dependent manner after resistance training.
A Protein Intake that is Enhanced with Leucine Is Necessary for Older Trainees Who Want to Put On Muscle.
#3: BCAAs Increase Fat Burning and Can Support Fat Loss
Surveys show that people with a higher BCAA intake in their diets have less body fat, more muscle, and better body composition. For example, a large study of 4,429 subjects found that those with higher BCAA intake were the slimmest and had significantly less chance of being overweight compared to those with lower BCAA intake.
Leucine increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Isoleucine improves glucose tolerance. Valine helps the other two BCAAs to increase metabolism and glucose uptake.
In a review of the role that the essential amino acids play in body composition, scientists wrote that the BCAAs “appear to have unique obesity-reducing effects” because they decrease food intake and body weight by increasing the gene signaling of muscle building pathways.
BCAAs Increase Fat Burning and Glucose Tolerance to Keep You Lean. For Fat Loss, Favor Foods with a High BCAA Content.
#4: BCAAs Support Hormone Balance During Intense Training
BCAAs have the benefit of supporting hormone balance, which plays a role in an athlete’s ability to respond to extreme training loads.
For example, a study that tested the effect of “loading” BCAAs with 6 grams of BCCAs for 3 weeks. Participants then did a week of high-intensity resistance training. Compared to a placebo group, the BCAA group had higher testosterone (T) and lower cortisol (C). In addition to a better T:C ratio, the BCAA group had lower biomarkers of inflammation, indicating that they were responding to the training load effectively.
A second study found that by combining BCAAs, arginine, and carbs, trainees had better hormone balance and a better T:C ratio after an exhaustive exercise test compared to a placebo. Participants who received the BCAA drink recovered much more quickly than those in the placebo trial and had a lower fatigue score at 120 minutes post-workout.
BCAAs Improve Hormone Balance for Greater Strength, Power & Endurance Adaptations from Intense Training.
#5: BCAAs May Improve Strength Development With Training
BCAA supplementation allow you to handle heavy training loads better. A study of untrained young men taking 4 g/day of leucine gained more strength than a placebo group after 12 weeks of training. The leucine group increased strength by an average of 31 percent more on all exercises compared to the placebo group.
This study hasn’t been replicated with BCAA supplementation; however, protein supplementation has been found to lead to greater strength development in conjunction with strength training.
A large-scale analysis of training studies showed that protein supplementation led to greater increases in leg press strength to the tune of an average of 13.5 kg. This review included a variety of protein sources, but all had a high content of BCAAs.
This evidence suggests a diet rich in amino acids from multiple sources including meat, eggs, protein powders, and BCAA supplements is best for maximizing strength results from training.
Boosting Protein Intake Enhances Strength Gains from Training Because The BCAAs Improve Neuromuscular Adaptations.
#6: BCAAs Enhance Endurance Performance and Decrease Fatigue
Reducing fatigue and improving endurance performance is the clinical trial area where BCAAs perform most impressively. There are two mechanisms via which BCAAs improve performance.
First, BCAAs are burned as energy to maintain ATP energy levels during glycogen-depleting exercise. BCAAs may also enhance the body’s ability to burn fat, increasing the accessible energy pool.
Second, BCAAs prevent central fatigue of the nervous system by inhibiting uptake of tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin in the brain, increasing tiredness and fatigue. Scientists who study the limits of human performance believe that the real limiting factor in performance is when the brain tells you “I’m done.”
For example, participants who took 300 mg/day of BCAAs for 3 days and then completed in an exhaustive exercise trial had 17.2 percent greater resistance to fatigue compared to a placebo, due to greater fat oxidation in the BCAA trial.
Using BCAAs Is an Easy Way to Test Your Endurance Performance Limits by Helping Your Body Burn Fuel More Efficiently.
#7: BCAAs Decrease Muscle Soreness & DOMS for Greater Training Frequency
A series of studies on both trained and untrained individuals show that BCAAs are worth the time and money to reduce DOMS in response to both resistance and endurance exercise.
For example, taking 100 mg/kg of BCAAs reduced muscle soreness at 48 hours and allowed for faster recuperation of strength in untrained women. That BCAAs were effective in an untrained population is noteworthy because DOMS tend to be more severe in untrained muscles.
A second study of trained men found that dosing BCAAs before and after doing 100 muscle-damaging drop jumps reduced muscle soreness significantly. Maximal strength was decreased 33 percent less than a placebo.
The dosing protocol had trainees take BCCAs for 7 days before and for 2 days after training as well as 20 grams before and after the workout for a total of 280 grams. Researchers point to the steady stream of essential amino acids hitting the blood as the reason BCAAs were so effective in this study.
BCAAs are the gem of workout supplements because they preserve the integrity of muscle fibers and reduce post-workout soreness, allowing you to train at a higher intensity more frequently.
Using BCAAs to Decrease Soreness and Accelerate Recovery Will Allow You to Train More Frequently & Reach Your True Strength and Size Potential.
#8: BCAAs Prevent Muscle Loss During Long-Duration Exercise
BCAAs prevent muscle loss during ultra-endurance exercise. Muscle wasting is a major problem during ultras: One study found that trained athletes who performed a 24-hour-long exercise trial that included 12 cycles of running, cycling, and kayaking experienced significant muscle loss. There was a pronounced drop in plasma levels of BCAAs over the exercise trial and evidence of significant metabolic stress linked with muscle damage.
Scientists recommend BCAA supplementation to provide “simultaneous nutritional support” during ultra endurance efforts. BCAAs can help prevent catabolism by improving the overall energy-burning pool so that amino acids aren’t released from muscle tissue.
Consuming BCAAs is a No-Brainer to Support Performance in Long-Duration Endurance Sports Since They Protect Muscle Tissue.
#9: BCAAs Improve Insulin Health & May Reduce Diabetes Risk
The BCAA isoleucine improves glucose tolerance on its own, and the whole trio of BCAAs can benefit insulin sensitivity for lower diabetes risk.
One thing that should be noted is that diabetics have dysfunctional BCAA metabolism and taking BCAAs elevates insulin, so they should not be used as a treatment for diabetes. Naturally, diabetics should focus on achieving optimal body composition through diet and exercise and work with their doctor to cure diabetes.
Non-Diabetics Can Focus on Getting A High Dietary BCAA Intake in Food and Use BCAAS with Training To Support Insulin Health and Reduce Diabetes Risk.
#10: BCAAs Correlate With Longevity and Are Therapeutic
BCAAs are used in medicine to treat liver disease, prevent muscle loss with aging, and reduce mortality risk with cancer. In addition to being therapeutic, BCAAs have an anti-aging effect because they increase the formation of new mitochondria.
BCAAs have longevity benefits. In a review on BCAAs and human health, scientists write that BCAAs “behave as evolutionary conserved modulators of lifespan,” meaning they will help you live longer if you get enough of them. They also have been found to improve cognition because of the effect they have on the neurotransmitters, improving synthesis of glutamate and GABA and inhibiting serotonin.
BCAAs Improve Health and Keep You Young. Tell Your Parents and Grandparents!
- amino acids
- body composition
- branched chain amino acids
- fat loss
- insulin resistance
- insulin sensitivity
- muscle mass
- reduce fatigue
- resistance training
- strength training
- weight loss
- whey protein