All protein foods contain amino acids. When you eat animal or plant proteins it takes a while for your body to digest the food into its individual components and to absorb all of the amino acids. This is the same fact for taking protein powders.
There are 22 amino acids. Nine of them are essential, meaning that the body must take them in as food because the body cannot manufacture them on its own. Thirteen of the essential acids are non-essential; we can survive without eating them. Three of the nine essential acids are called Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). They are called branched chain as they have a chain structure that protrudes from the body of the structure.
This diagram depicts the structural difference between regular amino acids and the branched chain amino acids. The right hand top structure has several branches compared to the first two. The bottom structures are also highly branched.
The groups of people who know about BCAA’s are body builders. The reason is that these amino acids play a critical role in muscle building. Body builders know that when they work out with heavy weights or intense training that they are actively breaking down muscle. If they are mindfully calorie restricted, they are breaking down even more. Drinking water that has BCAA’s in them will prevent muscle breakdown and will preserve the muscle in order to build bulk. Body builders who don’t use BCAA’s have leaner, less bulky bodies.
The names of BCAA’s are L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine and L-Valine. Each of these has unique properties but they all act as fuel for the muscle to build. This is called Protein Synthesis. The body makes protein from amino acids. If body builders simply drink a protein shake after working out they don’t get these 3 isolated amino acids at high enough doses to protect muscle breakdown.
L-Leucine specifically increases insulin secretion. The purpose of this is to assist the body in utilizing carbohydrates and proteins efficiently for fuel, rather than breaking down muscle tissue for energy. L-Isoleucine specifically assists hemoglobin formation, which is how red blood cells carry oxygen to our tissues. L-Valine specifically helps to maintain proper nitrogen balance, which is essential for muscle metabolism, growth, and repair. Together BCAA’s help to preserve and protect bones, skin and muscle tissue.
You can see how important BCAA’s are for anybody who works out strenuously and why they are used widely within the exercising population but there is a great need for the general population. I will list the general everyday person who might benefit from BCAA supplementation.
- Injuries – bone, muscle or skin heal faster when BCAA’s are taken between meals on an empty stomach. Remember if you take them with a meal there is no spike of the individual amino acids that repair tissue. Even people who have surgery, elective or otherwise heal faster with BCAA’s.
- Dieters – when the body is in a calorie deprivation, with or without exercise, the body pulls energy stores from the body to maintain energy. One of the most efficient sources of energy is the BCAA’s that are in muscle tissue. The body mobilizes them from the muscle belly and uses them for fuel for the rest of the body. Muscle mass shrinks and the body becomes weaker. Dieters who take BCAA’s between meals preserve muscle tissue.
- Stress and Fatigue – represents a deficient state. BCAA’s among other nutrients are too low to protect against the effect of stress on the body and too low to restore energy. Taking BCAA’s between meals can minimize stress and improve energy.
- who undergo chemotherapy of have health challenges that induce weight loss.
Dosing BCAA supplementation is guided by what they are being used for. Athletes take them during and after exercise in an amount of 5 grams minimum, 10 grams optimally. Average people take 1200 mg to 2400 mg throughout the day. Athletes typically use a powder form, as the alternative would require a minimum of 16 capsules for lean body mass protection.
The healthiest body had high lean body mass and low body fat. If there is one thing that helps remodel the body composition it is BCAA’s. They are underutilized for this purpose. In addition, as mentioned above, healing is greatly enhanced.
In summary BCAA’s:
- Increase energy production
- Reduce cortisol levels
- Speed recovery
- Protect from muscle breakdown
I encourage you to be open to a novel way to enhance overall health. It will be well worth your time. Blessings to a vibrant, strong, independent, and satisfying life.