You can walk into any supplement store these days and the range of BCAA’s on offer is almost as big as that of whey protein. We all know they’re important and that they should be part of any good supplement program… but how many of us know why?
What are BCAA’s and what do they do?
Branched chain amino acids or BCAA’s are made up of three essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Essential meaning, they can not be synthesized by the body and must be obtained through diet.
When you subject your body to intense physical exercise such as weight training a number of BCAA related physiological changes are initiated:
- Your body will begin oxidising free BCAA’s for energy
- If no free form BCAA’s are present, or you are on a calorie deficient diet (ie. dieting for a bodybuilding competition) your body will preferentially try to retain body fat and looks to break down muscle tissue for energy by releasing amino acids for fuel
- The overload and shear forces caused by weight training causes muscle tissue damage at a microscopic level, you literally tear your muscles apart which further depletes your muscle’s BCAA levels
To realise a net gain in muscle mass your rate of protein synthesis must be greater than the rate of muscle breakdown. So here’s what you need to know about BCAA’s to maximise your gains.
BCAA’s, and in particular Leucine, stimulate the process of protein synthesis in the skeletal muscle. They do this by “turning on” the protein synthesis signalling pathway, known as mTOR, which regulates muscle growth. Quite simply, if BCAA’s and in particular Leucine are not present in sufficient amounts, protein synthesis is not fully engaged and muscle growth is sub optimal.BCAA’s provide further benefits by reducing fatigue during intense physical activity by interfering with the amino acid tryptophan’s transport into the brain. This is where Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and increases feelings of fatigue.
Also the ability of Valine and Isoleucine to be easily converted to glucose is another benefit, reducing fatigue and providing energy to your workout. This is the principal behind good Intra Workout formulations that have high levels of BCAA’s.
Aren’t there BCAA’s in Whey Protein?
The answer is yes, there are! However, the BCAA’s found in whey protein are peptide bound, meaning that they need to go through a series of digestive processes before they make it into the bloodstream, which make them slower acting.
Free form or straight BCAA’s require no digestion, bypassing the liver and gut and increase blood levels at a more highly concentrated and much faster rate.
How you should use BCAA’s
A recent study has shown that in order to get the best results from supplementation with BCAA’s you should be taking 0.25g per kg of body weight, per day. Based on an 80kg individual, this is around 20g per day.
It is recommended this be spread over multiple serves throughout the day. So spreading a 20 gram serve over your day should look like: • Morning serve: 5 grams • Before workout or during workout: 5 grams • After workout: 5 grams • Before bed: 5 grams
What else should you know about BCAA’s?
With all the recent studies on Leucine and it’s benefits, BCAA’s with a high Leucine ratio will have a much more anabolic affect. If you want maximum muscle mass look for formulas with an 8:1:1 ratio or higher (MAX’S Lab Series is 10:1:1) Also beware of formulas that are “watered down” with flavours and sweeteners, make sure the amino acid and BCAA content is the major proportion of the formula and you are not simply paying for “fillers”. And finally, make sure your BCAA’s are mostly free form as they work faster to produce peak blood levels of BCAA’s which will give you the greatest protein synthesis.