What are BCAAs?
BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are the essential amino leucine,
isoleucine, and valine. The combination of these three amino acids makes up
approximately 1/3 of skeletal muscle tissue in the human body. BCAAs play a
very important role in protein synthesis (the production of proteins in
cells from amino acids to build muscle).*
What do BCAAs do?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When you eat food
containing protein, it gets digested through the intestines and stomach.
During this process, the protein is broken down into individual amino acids
and short chains of amino acids. These amino acids are small enough to be
absorbed into the bloodstream.*
Once the amino acids are absorbed into the bloodstream they have
far-reaching effects across the entire body. Amino acids are involved in
muscle repair (lean muscle building), essential brain functions, and even
hair growth just to name a few.*
BCAA's Build Muscle
Increases Endurance During Performance
Decreases Muscle Soreness From Gym
Enhance Muscle Protein Synthesis
Increase Fat Burning and Can Support Weight Loss
Equalizes Muscle Building Between Young and Old
Supports Hormone Balance During Intense Training
Can Improve Strength Development
Prevents Muscle Loss During Training
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What is a metabolic pathway?
To understand just how important BCAAs are to muscle building and recovery
you need to know what a metabolic pathway is. Put simply, a metabolic
pathway is a chain of chemical reactions that take place within a cell (in
this case, a muscle tissue cell). When adequate amounts of BCAAs are
ingested they create their own metabolic pathway which results in increased
protein production. This means more muscle tissue will be grown and muscles
will be repaired faster.*
BCAAs and muscle growth.
Generally, after a session of resistance training the body is in a
catabolic (the breaking down of muscle tissue) state, with a protein
synthesis deficit. This is because post-exercise the MAPK signaling pathway
(the body's own way to signal muscle growth) is activated. While this is a
pathway that will increase protein synthesis, it is not as effective as
when combined with the BCAA signaling cascade.*
The two pathways act independently of each other. Because of this, when
adequate amounts of BCAAs are ingested post-workout (usually in the form of
a post-workout drink) the body is placed in a greater state of hypertrophy
with a positive amount of protein synthesis. This is extremely important
for athletes because it will decrease recovery time as it increases the
rate at which lean body mass is gained.*Essential amino acids cannot be
made by the body. You must get them from complete protein foods or
combinations of incomplete vegetable foods. See the list of
essential aminos. Your body can make non-essential amino acids by itself
from vitamins and other amino acids.
The term "non-essential" can be misleading since all amino acids are
essential for proper metabolism. There are some non-essential amino acids,
such as glutamine, that are very essential in the process of muscle tissue
repair. The 13 non-essential amino acids are listed in the table on the
The essential BCAAs are of special importance for athletes because they are
metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. This means they are
more likely to be used to build muscle rather than burned as fuel for
Are BCAA supplements safe to use?
Studies have shown that supplemental intake of the BCAAs in the range
of 5-20 grams per day in tablet form and 1 to 7 grams per liter in
liquid form with no adverse side effects. Higher intakes should be
avoided due to the possibility of competitive inhibition of the
absorption of other amino acids from the diet and the risk of
In the quest to build muscle, bodybuilders can't seem to get enough
protein. We eat copious amounts of chicken, steak, eggs, and fish to get
it. We isolate the various types of proteins like whey and casein and make
them into powders to take advantage of different digestion rates. We don't
stop there though, we then isolate individual amino acids that protein is
comprised of and consume them separately as well.
Even the most serious of lifters are left wondering why they need to take
additional amino acids when they are already getting so many amino acids in
all the protein they are consuming. The truth is that individual amino
acids can influence muscle growth through a variety of different pathways,
and of all the amino acids none have been shown to be more important than
the branched chain amino acids.
Branched chain amino acid supplements (BCAA’s) have been around longer than
others such as creatine and beta-alanine, but few realized the full range
of their capabilities regarding muscle growth and performance. Branched
chain amino acids have jumped to the forefront of research in recent years
and the results have been turning heads within the bodybuilding world. We
now know that BCAA’s go far beyond simply being building blocks for muscle
tissue and can affect muscle growth through pathways that few thought
The Three BCAA’s
The BCAA’s are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The name "branched-chain
amino acids" is derived from the structure of these compounds. Each one has
a forked outcropping that looks a bit like a branch, hence the name
branched chain amino acids. The three BCAA’s are incredibly essential and
actually fall into the category of essential amino acids. Essential amino
acids are amino acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own and
therefore must get adequate amounts through dietary sources. In fact, even
though there are about 20 amino acids that the muscles use for growth, the
BCAA’s comprise roughly a third of the aminos within muscle tissue. So if
muscle growth is your goal BCAAs are a must.
It may not seem like the metabolic process of different amino acids matters
as long as the endpoint is muscle tissue. The truth is that the manner in
which amino acids are metabolized plays a large role in their functions
within the body. The metabolism of BCAAs is different than the metabolic
processes of other amino acids. What truly makes BCAA’s special is how they
are metabolized. While most amino acids are metabolized in the liver BCAAs
are metabolized primarily by muscle. Despite their structural similarities,
the three branched-chain amino acids have different metabolic routes. The
breakdown of leucine is accomplished solely through fat pathways. Valine is
broken down solely through carbohydrate pathways, and isoleucine through
both. The different metabolic pathways of these three amino acids lead to
varying requirements for each.
BCAAs, unlike most other amino acids, are metabolized within the muscle
tissue, allowing them to be oxidized (used as energy) by muscle cells to
produce cellular energy in the form of ATP. ATP is the primary source of
energy that fuels muscle contraction and allows you to lift weights.
The fact that leucine, isoleucine, and valine are metabolized within muscle
tissue allows them to be a quick energy source when the body needs it.
There is a significant increase in BCAA metabolism during prolonged
exercise simply because the body requires more energy during periods of
stress such as training. This makes BCAAs incredibly effective when taken
around workout time.
The unique metabolic processes, requirements, and versatility of BCAAs
allow them to impact nearly every aspect of training.
BCAAs and Performance
Improving performance during training is of utmost importance no matter
what your goals. If you are an athlete, improved performance will help you
in your sport of choice during actual competition. Improved performance is
just as important to bodybuilders since improved performance translates
into more weight lifted for more reps, which eventually translates into
more muscle growth.
BCAA’s have been proven in many studies to be a potent performance
enhancer, and as previously mentioned, BCAAs make a great energy source for
working muscles because of their unique metabolism. This can have a
positive impact on performance. Not only can BCAAs be used as energy
themselves but they also enhance fat oxidation in glycogen-depleted
subjects. This allows individuals to train harder for longer without
fatigue due to the higher energy demands being met. This goes for both
high-intensity training as well as endurance training.
Another way that BCAAs can enhance performance is through their ability to
spare glycogen during training. Found as stored carbohydrates within muscle
tissue and the liver, glycogen is the favored fuel source for working
muscles engaged in high-intensity exercise. This makes glycogen
availability and preservation vitally important if you wish to continue to
train hard for longer periods of time. Studies have shown that by ingesting
BCAAs before and during training glycogen levels can be spared by 25%. It
is thought that the ingestion of BCAAs boosts blood alanine levels which
get converted to glucose in the liver and then sent back to a working
muscle to be used as fuel. This glycogen sparing effect of BCAAs will not
only allow for longer more intense training sessions but also allow for
faster recovery leading to a better workout tomorrow.
Effects on Hormones
They are the primary determinant for how much muscle someone will build.
They are what separate top-level bodybuilders from the rest, elite athletes
from everyone else, and cause the muscular differences between men and
women. They are hormones! The hormones that are of most importance to us as
serious lifters are anabolic hormones. Anabolic hormones are hormones
within the body that promote protein synthesis (muscle growth), and the
most notable anabolic hormones are testosterone, insulin, and growth
hormone (GH). These hormones play a large role in controlling your muscle-building destiny. Luckily it has been shown that BCAA intake can have a
positive effect on anabolic hormone release.
Testosterone may be the most well know of the anabolic hormones. BCAA’s can
have a positive impact on testosterone levels when consumed pre-training.
During intense training, it is normal for testosterone levels to rise.
After training is ceased testosterone levels will begin to fall back to
normal baseline levels. Studies have shown that when athletes were given
BCAA’s prior to training, post-workout testosterone levels remained
elevated for several hours, whereas the control groups noticed a
significant drop in testosterone once training ceased. This can go a long
way to maximizing growth from every single training session.
Ingestion of BCAA’s not only increases testosterone in the post-training
period but also builds muscle by improving the body’s testosterone to
cortisol ratio. While testosterone is an anabolic hormone and promotes
muscle growth, cortisol is a catabolic hormone and breaks down muscle
tissue. Anyone looking to build muscle will want testosterone levels to
remain high while minimizing the release of cortisol. It has recently been
found that taking BCAA’s while resistance training results in significantly
higher testosterone levels with a lower creatine kinase and cortisol
response. This leads to more muscle tissue being built and less muscle
tissue being broken down.
Lastly, the amino acid leucine has also shown promise for increasing
insulin sensitivity. Essentially, insulin sensitivity ensures that the
insulin within your body maintains its effectiveness. This leads to easier
fat loss, more muscle growth, and defense against diabetes.
As a natural lifter, it is important to take advantage of every opportunity
we get to optimize anabolic hormone levels. BCAA’s are a safe and effective
way to naturally manipulate hormone levels leading to greater results all
BCAAs and Fat Loss
The effects of BCAA intake on fat loss is something that has only been
explored in more recent years. Newer research is showing that BCAA’s can
have a positive effect on fat loss. This doesn’t mean you can eat pizza at
every meal with a side of BCAA’s and the fat will just melt away though.
BCAA’s seem to maximize fat loss when one is already on a fat loss diet. On
any fat loss diet, carbohydrates will need to be lowered to some degree. It
seems that BCAA’s ability to spare glycogen and increase insulin
sensitivity may play a role in speeding up the results of a fat loss plan.
BCAAs should also be used as a supplement during any fat loss plan because
of the muscle-preserving effects. On any calorie-restricted diet plan,
muscle tissue loss is a serious concern that must be addressed. All of the
positive effects that BCAA’s have on muscle growth will also serve to
protect muscle during periods of calorie restriction. It is always
important to remember that anything which builds muscle will also preserve
BCAAs as Signaling Molecules
Last, but most certainly not least, of BCAA’s many functions is their
ability to act as signaling molecules within the body. This has been
bringing about some of the most exciting new research within the
bodybuilding community in recent years. To get an understanding of how
important this is you must first understand the role of protein within the
It has long been known that amino acids act as a substrate for muscle
tissue. This essentially means that when you consume protein, your body
will take the amino acids from that protein to compose muscle tissue and
other proteins. This is why people often refer to amino acids as building
blocks. BCAA’s have been proven to be much more than simple building blocks
though. Within recent years it has been discovered that BCAA’s,
particularly leucine, an act to send signals to the body that inform it to
One of the ways leucine works to signal muscle growth is through its
interaction with mTOR which stands for mammalian target of rapamycin. The
mTOR is located within the cells and, among other things, is responsible
for detecting an excess of amino acids. It has been shown to play a key
role in regulating muscle hypertrophy (growth). Though this process is not
entirely understood, the mTOR pathway has been discovered to be extremely
sensitive to the amino acid leucine. Recent tests have shown that when
leucine is taken orally it activates mTOR, which activates protein
synthesis (muscle growth), and increases a cell’s capacity to produce new
proteins (muscle tissue). This means that along with resistance training
there is a way to send messages that control growth right at the cellular
level. This is truly exciting news.
Many people will ask “If leucine has the greatest effect on muscle growth,
then why not take leucine alone without isoleucine and valine?” It has
consistently been shown that the greatest results in protein synthesis are
seen when a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine are taken. When
leucine is taken alone it can lower concentrations of the other two amino
It is also important to note, although BCAA’s can act to signal muscle
growth, there must be a full spectrum of amino acids to act as a substrate
for muscle growth. This means that you can send signals to your body to
build muscle all you want, but if it has nothing to build with you are out
of luck. So make sure you ingest enough
LifeSource Vitamins - BCAA 1,000 mg - Vegetarian Capsules - Branched Chain
Amino Acids play a very important role in protein synthesis, the production
of proteins in cells from amino acids to build muscle, strength, and
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