Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, no debate about that. Without a sufficient supply of these critical nutrients, you will be hard-pressed to gain any respectable amount of muscle mass. And while there are 20 known amino acids, in the pursuit of muscle, three of them stand tall; valine, leucine and isoleucine.
Consuming these three critical amino acids at the right time and in the right proportions, otherwise known as a BCAA blend, can make a significant difference on your muscle gain bottom line. If you’ve never truly taken the time to appreciate these miraculous amino acids for what they are, then you’re in luck, as this article will knock your pants off and have you running to get your hands on some of this muscle gold (be sure to put back on your pants first! )
Benefits of A BCAA Blend
Branched-chain amino acids are considered essential, since the body does not synthesize its own, and while you are likely to find varying amounts in food, if there’s one thing that needs emphasizing, it is the fact that if muscle is your primary goal, nutrient timing is everything. Solid food does not score well in terms of timing.
Here are some of the most notable benefits BCAA supplementation has on offer for you:
BCAAs Can Help Reduce Fatigue Experienced During Exercise
One frequently underused nutrition interval that can contribute significantly to the quality of your work out is during the actual work out. Referred to as the intra-workout interval, a well-timed shot of BCAAs and rapidly digesting carbohydrate can help keep performance up throughout the duration of your session.
One study compared people given a BCAA drink against those that weren’t, and found an average 15% less[i] fatigue in the group not given placebo. Another study also revealed that subjects given BCAAs during their workout helped actually contribute to an average 17% longer time before exhaustion was reached[ii].
Helps Prevent Muscle Loss
Muscle loss is inevitable during exercise, but if the balance between muscle loss (catabolism) and muscle building (anabolism) is not favourable, then you will show no net change in terms of lean muscle gain. BCAA supplements taken at least prior to your work out can reduce muscle loss as characterized by ammonia levels subsequent to your work out.
Higher ammonia levels correlate with increased muscle breakdown, but can be significantly blunted in the presence of high serum branched-chain amino acid levels.
Supports Muscle Hypertrophy
Hyper trophy is the name of the game in the gym. Increases in muscle and strength are the most tangible indicators of progress, and ones which most athletes seek. BCAA supplements can help with accrual of lean muscle mass by virtue of them helping to activate enzymes involved in protein synthesis pathways[iii].
These effects are most prominent following your workout, so it is a good idea to consume a serving of BCAAs immediately following your workout, and another protein rich meal/drink about 30 minutes later.
Mitigates Muscle Soreness
There is a large degree of overlap between the muscle soreness that occurs 24 to 48 hours after your workout and muscle loss, since in effect they share the same genesis. If you are like the millions of other sane humans on this planet, you don’t want to be in pain longer than you have to be. This can be achieved thanks to using BCAA supplements.
They have been shown to help decrease protein breakdown and subsequent levels of creatine kinase, a strong indicator of the extent to which muscle damage has occurred[iv]. And to be quite clear, branched-chain amino acids will not in any way suppress muscle gain by inhibiting this muscle breakdown.
Timing your BCAAs before your work out can help to limit the extent of damage incurred, and at the post workout window, kick start rapid rebuilding for an effective one-two punch.
Promotes Mental And Psychological Drive
It is a little-known fact that the neurotransmitter serotonin actually doesn’t contribute to a successful work out. The amino acid tryptophan, which is subsequently converted into serotonin, can make you feel more fatigued and reduce your motivation in the gym[v].
An effective way to overcome this? Use BCAAs. This is because the branched-chain amino acids compete with tryptophan for uptake into the brain, effectively limiting the rise in serotonin one can experience. In the gym, dopamine reigns supreme, so be sure to take advantage of this little-known fact if your mental game fees a little under the weather.
This effect is marked, but not definitively conclusive, as research into the topic is a work in progress.
Enhances Post Workout Nutrient Uptake
The uptake of amino acids and other nutrients into muscle cells following your work out is dictated to a large extent by the hormone insulin. While the carbohydrate and whey protein shake can do the job quite nicely, consuming some BCAAs prior to this can kick start the process earlier, since during your workout a large amount of glucose might actually be produced from the conversion of these branched-chain amino acids.
While this benefit is great, you may also need to keep this in mind if you are on a low-carb diet and still can’t seem to get insulin under control for weight loss purposes.
You really can’t beat the utility of BCAA blended supplements, especially thanks to their speed of action and the fact that they can support a wide range of athletic disciplines. Try to shoot for daily intake of about 15g, from a combination of supplements and whole foods.
Be sure to take advantage of the branched chain amino acids, especially around the peri-workout window to truly enhance the returns you get from the blood, sweat and tears you invest in your body.
[i] Blomstrand E, Hassmén P, Ek S, Ekblom B, Newsholme EA. Influence of ingesting a solution of branched-chain amino acids on perceived exertion during exercise. Acta Physiol Scand. 1997 Jan;159(1):41-9. PubMed PMID: 9124069.
[ii] Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P, Roschel H, Dos Santos Costa A, Luiz Marquezi M, Benatti F, Herbert Lancha Junior A. Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2011
Mar;51(1):82-8. PubMed PMID: 21297567
[iii] Blomstrand E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HK, Köhnke R. Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):269S-73S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.1.269S. Review. PubMed PMID: 16365096.
[iv] Coombes JS, McNaughton LR. Effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on serum creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after prolonged exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2000 Sep;40(3):240-6. PubMed PMID: 11125767.
[v] Choi S, Disilvio B, Fernstrom MH, Fernstrom JD. Oral branched-chain amino acid supplements that reduce brain serotonin during exercise in rats also lower brain catecholamines. Amino Acids. 2013 Nov;45(5):1133-42. doi:
10.1007/s00726-013-1566-1. Epub 2013 Aug 1. PubMed PMID: 23904096.