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What are BCAAs? How important are they?

If you have read some of our recent contributor bios you will see there is a question asking what 3 supplements could you not live without? A lot of the answers are obvious, protein, creatine etc but one that many people are not aware of, but is common answer is BCAA’s.

One of the most effective ways to be lean and strong for life is to familiarise yourself with the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). A few of the most compelling reasons to know about BCAAs include the following:
•    BCAA metabolites were found to be a significant indicator of lean mass in a population of young and middle-aged adults.
•    People who consume a threshold dose of essential amino acids that contain 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, which is the reason that they are often used during workouts.
•    BCAAs convey many health benefits and a higher dietary intake has been identified as a predictor of longevity.
•    They have ben found to reduce muscle soreness from intense muscle-damaging exercise.
•    They improve training motivation, especially when fatigued.

The Basics of BCAAs

The BCAAs are made up of three essential amino, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are essential because the body is unable to make them out of other amino acids, meaning they must be ingested 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, with the highest concentrations in chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, and whey protein. They can also be supplemented, which can be useful for athletes because free form BCAAs bypass the liver and gut tissue and 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 “necessary” or “worth it” for athletes and body builders. Despite the fact that there’s boatloads of research showing BCAAs improve protein synthesis both after resistance training and in the absence of exercise, there’s not much evidence that this actually leads to greater muscle mass gains in the long term.
It appears that total protein intake above a threshold roughly defined as 1.5 g/kg is most important for gaining muscle from resistance exercise. Foods with a high BCAA content, such as whey protein, have been shown to produce greater muscle gains with resistance training.
Based on the evidence, focusing on having a high BCAA and total protein intake will produce the greatest increases in muscle with training. The beauty of BCAA supplements as you’ll see below is they can be easily used during exercise to reduce fatigue, accelerate recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and improve the use of fat for energy.