BCAA: What are Branch Chain Amino Acids & Why Do They Matter?


By now, especially if you are a regular reader of my blogs and essays, you likely have at least a vague understanding regarding the importance of proper nutrition. Nutrition is vital as it pertains not only to working out, but in terms of our general health and well being. Over the years, I have unearthed many popular, yet scientifically unsupported fitness myths, and in the process, debunked many of them, such as detox cleanses, for example. I have also explained the differences between fats, the good carbohydrates versus the bad ones, and how they are important to our bodies as a fuel supply. The other macronutrient I’ve discussed in various writings, is protein, and how important it is to our bodies if we are to build new muscle. I have also outlined and explained the importance of protein if we are to allow our worked muscles any chance of ample recovery. There are a vast amount of supplements, both legal and illegal, healthy, and otherwise, available to us to aid in that recovery process. One large corner of that market is the supplements containing BCAA.

What are BCAA? They are branch chain amino acids, and they are quite literally, as people like to say, the building blocks of protein. BCAA form together, and in that binding process, become proteins. Considering the human body is comprised of roughly 20% proteins, amino acids factor into almost every biological function from cell structure, to the transportation of nutrients, and the elimination of waste. They are of vital importance in the repair of connective tissue, such as tendons and ligaments, as well as muscle tissue. Because of their innate ability to repair and help regenerate new tissue, BCAAs have been looked upon favorably by the health and wellness community for years as a great supplement.

BCAA are categorized three different ways. Essential, non essential, and conditional. Essential BCAA, like anything categorized as essential, such as essential lipids, are necessary for our survival. Nine of the 20 BCAA are categorized as essentials. Of those 9 essential BCAA, 3 of them, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are what comprise over 30% of our skeletal muscle tissue. Essential amino acids are the kind that our bodies cannot produce, so we must get them through our diet. Non essential BCAA are the one’s that our bodies naturally produce, such as aspartic and glutamic acid, for example. Conditional branch chain amino acids, such as arginine and glutamine, are essential only when our body is sick, injured, or stressed in some way, and thus, are examples of conditional amino acids.

Many supplement companies extol the virtues of using BCAA for increased athletic performance, as well as recovery, since during exercise, muscle tissue is routinely broken down. This is an intuitive conclusion, but science has not quite been able to validate all of the claims of these manufacturers just yet. In fact, a large recent study revealed that those supplementing with just BCAA did not achieve higher aerobic performance at all.

The logical question arises that if you don’t get better performance from BCAAs, then why bother with it? The answer lies in a combination of BCAA and a simultaneous small amount of carbohydrate supplemention. Those people in the study who compounded the two, experienced a higher rate of endurance, as their lactic acid thresholds were pronouncedly lower. Was it the BCAA or the carbohydrates? The control group in the study had the same amount of carbohydrate solution, mixed with a placebo, and had the same results. So are BCAA a bust, merely a myth? Perhaps for those looking for greater athletic endurance they are, but for those who practice resistance training, as in the lifting of weights for hypertrophy and strength, the study told a much different story.

For those subjects in the study who were lifting weights, a notably higher level of testosterone was measured post workout. A higher level of testosterone equates to a quicker, and more efficient recovery from the workout, and subsequently, a greater amount of muscle tissue will be built, as it allows a greater and faster protein synthesis. This is why steroids are so effective. If we are able to raise our testosterone levels post workout, and synthesize protein as a result of BCAA supplementation, we will see better hypertrophy. This is not to suggest that BCAAs are steroids, are even comparable, nor is this meant as an endorsement of anabolic steroids, but the science behind them is indisputable, just as it is with BCAA. While there are some similarities in the end results, slight as they may be comparatively, they are 2 vastly different things.

There’s a lot of misconceptions about carbohydrates, and as a personal trainer in Austin for over 20 years, I think I’ve heard most all of them by now. My personal favorite was hearing a lady tell me that vodka doesn’t convert to sugar in the body any more than water does. That’s why they look the same, according to her tipsy wisdom. The scientific truth is that carbohydrates are the body’s most efficient and effective fuel, followed by fats, and in a distant third place, protein. This is why protein rich, carbohydrate-free diets drop water weight from bodies, but they don’t do a lot for one’s energy supply. This further explains why the aerobically focused control group in the aforementioned study, who supplemented with the carbohydrates, experienced increased endurance, but nothing more in the way of much else, such as hypertrophy, or decreased recovery times.

What we can conclude from this is obvious. If you want to have a lower lactic acid threshold, and an enhanced aerobic capacity, an increase in your carbohydrates pre workout may be just the answer. Think about running a marathon on an empty stomach. You’ll likely not make it too far, but if hypertrophy and recovery from weight bearing exercise is your goal, supplementation with BCAA is a valid consideration.

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BCAA: What are Branch Chain Amino Acids & Why Do They Matter?
Article Name
BCAA: What are Branch Chain Amino Acids & Why Do They Matter?
BCAA (branch chain amino acids) are the building blocks of protein. They are essential if we are to gain, or even maintain muscle mass. Austin personal trainer Andy Bruchey explains why.
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Andy Bruchey- Complete Fitness Design
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My name is Andy Bruchey and I am a longtime Austin personal trainer having founded Complete Fitness Design over 20 years ago. I specialize in weight loss/gain, including the addition of quality, lean muscle mass, corrective flexibility, post injury rehabilitation, nutrition, and sports specific training for professionals. Contact me today to see how I can help you!
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