Branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs have become immensely popular in the past few years, due to their alleged positive impact on physical performance. And it’s true that they offer a lot of benefits. Let’s delve deeper into their structure and the science behind why they’re deemed a great sports supplement.
Proteinogenic amino acids
BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAAs)
Why getting BCAAs from your diet only isn’t enough
A lot of people make the assumption that BCAA supplementation is pretty much useless since they already eat a diet which has a high amount of protein. However, food processing tends to diminish the amount of protein usually found in domestic meats and many other rich protein sources, which is why most people fail to meet their daily BCAA needs. Which is why it is advised to take a BCAA supplement even if you think you’re consuming enough protein from your diet.
The top 5 benefits of supplementing with BCAAs
As we mentioned previously, studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs can significantly reduce the time it takes your body to recover from very intense training sessions. It seems that happens because BCAAs become a readily used substrate while training, and supplementing with BCAAs prevents your body from using an alternative source of energy. Additionally, the increased muscle protein synthesis seen when supplementing with BCAAs directly impacts the recovery rate and allows you to train a lot harder and with increased frequency.
BCAAs are basically unbound, free-form amino acids, which means that will be absorbed very quickly and increase the plasma amino acid levels once you consume them. On the other hand, the protein you get from food will need to be digested or hydrolyzed to a certain degree first, before the aforementioned plasma amino acid levels increase. Plus, drinking a tasty beverage with BCAAs in it is a lot more practical and refreshing then opening up a Tupperware filled with chicken breast, not to mention doing it between sets or when running on the treadmill. It’s practically impossible.
BCAAs have the potential to act as anti-catabolic substrates while fasting because they’re insulinogenic amino acids, insulin being a hormone which has a strong inhibiting effect on muscle catabolism (breakdown). So, when you ingest BCAAs, even a small increase in plasma insulin has the potential to suppress gluconeogenesis in the liver by decreasing proteolysis in the muscles and some other tissues.
This basically means that supplementing with BCAAs will prevent the skeletal muscles from using amino acids as a source of energy in prolonged fasting periods, like 8 hours of sleep. Plus, insulin is a hormone with high anabolic properties when the necessary substrates are present. Insulin can increase muscle protein synthesis by getting essential amino acids directly from the amino acid pool found between the cells. That’s why having increased quantities of BCAAs in your body when insulin levels are increased can speed up muscle protein synthesis.