On a number of occasions I've had clients notice folks drinking colourful drinks at the gym; asking me what it is whether they should be drinking it as well.
Those colourful drinks are usually Branched Chain Amino Acids. And if you've heard about them and are curious as to whether they are for you, here is some info to consider before making that purchase.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs consist of 3 amino acids; leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are essential amino acids, which means the body cannot make them, so we need to ensure that we are getting them from our diet or from supplementation. BCAAs comprise about 35% of all muscle tissue and are actively metabolized by muscle as energy, while the liver can use BCAAs as energy as well.
Leucine, one of the main BCAAs, has a role in muscle protein synthesis, which means it can help you put on some lean muscle over time. However, if you are not consuming adequate BCAAs through your diet, your super-smart body will essentially consume them from its next available source; your muscle.
You can naturally intake BCAAs through your diet. By including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products (such as milk and cheese), nuts and seeds, soy products (such as tofu and tempeh), and eating legumes (beans, peas and lentils), you can ensure that you are getting adequate BCAAs in your diet. However, supplementation may be necessary for people with insufficient protein intake (1-1.5g per kg of bodyweight a day or more should provide you with sufficient protein).
BCAA Supplements and Exercise
When training at a high intensity, you're rapidly depleting your body's stores of nutrients like glucose and glycogen. When this happens, BCAAs can be used as energy. The release of BCAAs into your body triggers your body to continue synthesizing protein instead of ceasing protein synthesis due to the stress of exercise. Protein synthesis is exactly what you want when you're trying to build and maintain lean muscle. Supplementing with BCAAs will allow all three aminos to be directly taken up by your muscles rather than first being metabolized by your liver.
Research suggests that BCAA supplements may support your exercise regimen in at least six ways:
Reduce fatigue during exercise: Higher levels of BCAAs help limit the entry of tryptophan (another essential amino acid) into your brain (turkeys are high in tryptophan -- so think of that tired feeling you have after eating a turkey). Your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin, which may contribute to exercise fatigue.
Reduce muscle damage and soreness: BCAAs may relieve soreness caused by the strain and inflammation of exercise.
Promote muscle building after exercise: BCAAs stimulate the synthesis of protein in your muscles and suppress the breakdown of muscle protein.
Provide a source of energy during prolong exercise: When glucose, your muscles' main energy source, becomes low, BCAAs can serve as a source of energy.
Support immunity: Strenous exercise can result in reduced immunity, which may be due to a decrease in the amino acid glutamine, a fuel for immune cells. BCAAs can be converted into glutamine in muscles.
Help with fat loss: Research has confirmed that leucine increases the adipocyte (fat cells) release of fats for energy. Additionally, some people experience muscle loss while dieting; taking BCAAs will prevent the loss of muscle tissue during dieting.
In a 2009 study involving 36 strength athletes who had practiced strength training for at least 2 years, researchers randomly assigned them into 3 groups; receiving 3 different supplements that would assist them with their recovery:
Group 1: 14g BCAAs
Group 2: 28g Whey Protein
Group 3: 28g Carbohydrates From Sports Drink
Researchers found that the participants who used the BCAAs had a more significant decrease in body fat and a greater increase in lean mass compared to the other groups.
Are BCAAs safe?
BCAAs are generally safe and pose no threat when used appropriately and can be used before, during or after a workout for recovery.
If you want to try BCAAs out, by all-means, give them a try. Speaking for myself, although I intake sufficient protein in my diet, I do find increased muscular endurance and better recovery from BCAA supplementation, as I train quite a bit and with intensity.
Be advised though, some of these supplements contain dyes as well as other ingredients that may not be suitable for all. Look for supplements with less ingredients and a 2:1:1 (leucine-isoleucine-valine) ratio. Lastly, try to follow the recommended dose.
If you have questions, please feel free to ask!