Branched-chain amino acids, which are commonly referred to as BCAAs, include amino, isoleucine, valine, and leucine. Your body cannot make them out of other amino acids, which means you must ingest them via nutritious food or BCAA supplements.
BCAAs make up 40 percent of your essential amino acid requirements each day, and for good reason. Amino acids are responsible for facilitating most of your bodily functions including muscle growth, digestion, and hormone production.
Ingesting enough BCAAs, via food or supplementation, leads to the following heathy benefits.
1. They Enhance the Synthesis of Muscle Protein
Muscle tissues absorb branched-chain amino acids along with glutamate, alanine, and aspartate to create energy. When you use BCAAs in combination with resistance exercises, they trigger the mTORC1, an essential signaling pathway for building muscle. The BCAAs burn during exercise and help to create more muscle.
Do you need to take time off from your training? People who lack time to train or who are recovering from an injury often find that increasing their intake of BCAAs minimizes the amount of muscle lost during the break. Preserving muscles results in a higher metabolism that helps to prevent fat gain during periods of inactivity.
2. They May Support the Loss of Fat
One study of nearly 4,500 participants found that people who take more BCAAs into their diets have an overall better body composition that includes more muscle than fat. According to some researchers, the reason for this is that leucine, when used in combination with other BCAAs such as isoleucine, improves a person’s ability to tolerate glucose as well as oxidizes fat and increases energy use. Overall, foods that are high in BCAAs make you feel fuller, so you eat less and build more muscle at the same time.
3. They May Improve the Development of Strength
People who are looking to improve their strength often turn to BCAA-rich foods for assistance. The amino acids available in meat and eggs helps strength trainers to develop more muscle. Protein powders are also an option. One study of young men showed those who increased their leucine intake by four grams per day gained more strength than those who didn’t over a period of 12 weeks. Most notably, people who take in more BPAAs have more leg press strength.
4. They May Prevent Muscle Loss
In the past, exercise over a long duration eventually showed muscle loss. Now it’s been shown that higher BCAAs in the body prevent the loss of muscle while participating in ultra-endurance exercises. Scientists believe better nutritional support in conjunction with the BCAAs improve energy burning and prevent the muscle tissue from releasing amino acids. One study showed this. During a 24-hour-long duration exercise trial that includes running, kayaking, and cycling in 12 cycles, participants who did not take in a higher number of BCAAs showed significantly more metabolic stress that resulted in damage and degradation to the muscle proteins.
5. They Support Hormone Balance
Hormones play an important role in an athlete’s body. The right hormonal balance ensures an athlete can take on his or her training loads. BCAAs help to keep that hormonal balance where it should be. At least two studies were conducted regarding BCAAs and their effect on hormones.
In one study, athletes who combined arginine, carbs, and BCAAs had a better balance of hormones after completing an exhaustive exercise test. They also recovered more quickly than those who did not take in more BCAAs. In the second study, athletes who loaded BCAAs for three weeks and then completed high-intensity resistance training had higher testosterone and lower cortisol. They also had less inflammation in the muscles.
6. They May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of BCAAs is the fact that they may reduce the risk of diabetes. Isoleucine alone improves glucose tolerance. When used in combination with other BCAAs, those with a sensitivity to insulin or metabolic rate may have an improved body composition. However, it is important to note that BCAAs should not be used by diabetics in place of traditional medication. Taking BCAAs elevates insulin and can cause issues for diabetics since they have dysfunctional BCAA metabolism. Never use BCAAs as a diabetic treatment without first speaking to a medical professional.
If you decide to purchase a BCAA supplement, research the different types first. Some are better for athletes while others are better for weight loss. Some promote muscle growth while others are better for overall strength. The right supplement may even depend on whether you are a man, a woman, eat keto or eat a more traditional diet. Talk to a doctor or fitness professional if you need more information.