Branch Chain Amino Acids

What are BCAAs?

Amino acids form the building blocks of proteins. There are twenty amino acids, out of which nine of them fall under the essential amino acids category. They are essential because our body can not produce these amino acids, and an external supply is necessary.

BCAA full form is Branched Chain Amino Acids, which includes three essential amino acids – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They fall under the same group because of the similarity in their chemical structure that extends on one side only. 

Let’s understand the individual role of BCAAs in the body.

  1. Leucine: This amino acid is hydrophobic (repels water) in nature. Leucine is involved in essential processes of the body. It is needed for protein synthesis, regulating energy metabolism and tissue regeneration.
  2. Isoleucine: Isoleucine is present in abundance in muscle tissue. This essential amino acid is critical for energy metabolism, proper immune function, muscle growth and haemoglobin synthesis. 
  3. Valine: Similar to leucine and isoleucine, valine is required for muscle growth to prevent muscle breakdown, energy metabolism but also vital for an ideal nitrogen balance in the body and smooth cognitive function.

BCAA supplements are a part of the workout essentials of many pro, elite athletes and active individuals. They are primarily beneficial to stay energized throughout the workout, minimize muscle damage and delay muscle fatigue. 

BCAAs are pivotal for optimal health. Low levels can hamper our energy levels significantly. Gym-goers, endurance athletes, bodybuilders and other active people having intense exercise schedules need a continuous supply of BCAAs; hence it is essential to supplement. 

BCAAs: Benefits & Uses

Although BCAAs are naturally present in protein supplements. But here are some of the ways by which taking an additional BCAA supplement can benefit.

  1. Trigger muscle growth: This is one of the critical benefits which makes BCAA a popular supplement among bodybuilders and powerlifters. Leucine, isoleucine and valine act together in the body and activate enzymes responsible for muscle building and lean muscle growth.
  2. Prevent muscle wasting: Vigorous exercise exerts stress on our muscles leading to muscle atrophy. Continuous supply of BCAAs help prevent muscle breakdown and protect lean muscles. 
  3. Delay exercise fatigue: Exercise results in a decline of BCAA levels in the body. This declined level triggers tryptophan conversion to serotonin, which accounts for the feeling of fatigue. BCAA obstruct this action of tryptophan, hence delay fatigue. Therefore, a BCAA supplement pre or during a workout is perfect for gaining that extra strength, endurance and giving the best shot while one trains or competes. 
  4. Diminish muscle soreness: BCAAs under a rapid metabolism and, absorbed directly into the muscles; they bypass the liver to provide a quick muscle recovery. If it is a struggle to recover post an intense workout session, then a BCAA supplement is helpful to get rid of that muscle pain, soreness and regain strength. 
  5. Support immune health: Poor immune health is an obstacle to peak performance. BCAAs act as fuel for lymphocytes (immune cells) and strengthen them to fight against foreign bodies and diseases.
  6. Maintain blood sugar levels: Decreased supply of glucose to skeletal muscles can affect energy levels and overall athletic performance. BCAAs, especially leucine and isoleucine, increase glucose uptake from the blood to muscles, prevent high blood sugar levels and regulate muscle protein synthesis.  
  7. Promote weight loss: Go for a BCAA supplement if aiming to shed extra pounds. BCAAs regulate blood sugar levels, prevent unwanted sweet cravings, provide fullness, promote fat burning and preserve lean muscle mass. 

Types of BCAA Supplements:

BCAA supplements are available in various forms and flavours. One can choose as per the need and preference. 

  1. BCAA Powder: Powder is the most preferred, widely available form and is primarily consumed during the workout. 
  2. BCAA Capsule: Capsules are convenient to use, but the absorption time is more than the other states.
  3. BCAA Liquid: They have the highest absorption rate and provide the fastest delivery of amino acids. 

Some BCAA supplements also contain electrolytes, which gives them an extra edge as they prevent muscle cramps and maintain the body’s electrolyte balance.

How to choose the right BCAAs for you?

It is essential to check the ingredients, amount of BCAAs and ratio of BCAAs before opting for any BCAA supplement. Leucine should always be higher as compared to the other two amino acids. The product should be certified, without any added sugar, and free from all prohibited or banned substances. 

Although BCAAs in the ratio of 2:1:1 are considered ideal, bodybuilders and active people with intense workout schedules can choose BCAAs having higher leucine content. 

How to use BCAAs?

Anyone can consume BCAAs with water, fruit juices or any preferred beverage. 

BCAA supplements are very versatile to take at any time of the day. But for better results, prefer consuming before or during your workout. Active people can consume BCAAs post-workout again to speed up the recovery rate. If an endurance athlete likes taking any energy drink before the sport, then BCAAs can also be mixed in an energy drink and consumed together. It will provide the dual benefit of maintained energy levels and lesser muscle damage.

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