There are 20 naturally occurring amino acids encoded in our genes. Nine of the amino acids are Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s) meaning your body cannot make them, so you must eat them. Three of the EAA’s are further sub-classified by their chemical structure and are called Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). The BCAA’s are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine make up 35% of the protein in muscle. They play critical functions in muscle growth and repair via a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS). They also play a large role in fat metabolism, immune function, and neurologic function.
For Muscle Growth:
BCAA supplementation helps maintain and build lean muscle tissue.
The body is always cycling between muscle breakdown and muscle growth. That said, BCAA’s help decrease breakdown, and actually turn on the process that stimulates muscle growth known as MPS. It does this by turning on mTOR, the biochemical switch that activates MPS.
It is interesting to note that leucine supplementation alone can increase MPS by 145%. When you add in the BCAA cofactors isoleucine and valine, the MPS boost is further magnified.
Also important to note, BCAA’s have a positive effect on the Testosterone to Cortisol ratio in athletes performing high-intensity exercise.
Testosterone helps produce muscle growth. Cortisol, on the other hand, leads to muscle breakdown. Thus, the higher the Testosterone:Cortisol ratio, the more anabolic an individual will be.
For Endurance & Recovery:
BCAA supplementation increases endurance and decreases fatigue.
Intense exercise decreases normal BCAA blood levels, which leads to increased brain serotonin levels. Elevated serotonin levels are associated with athletic fatigue.
BCAA supplementation boosts BCAA blood levels, suppresses serotonin levels, and thus decreases fatigue and increases endurance.
Additionally, BCAA supplementation decreases muscle breakdown and minimizes the muscle damage intense exercise produces. In fact, taking BCAA’s prior to exercise will even decrease Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Finally, studies also indicate BCAA’s reduce perceived exertion, soreness, and central nervous system fatigue during exercise.
For Weight Loss:
BCAA supplementation, when combined with exercise and a reduced-calorie diet, will help decrease the amount of fat around your organs.
Adequate BCAA supplementation also naturally decreases your appetite, allowing you to decrease your calories, and thus decrease your body’s desire to store fat.