MRMNutrition 101: Branch Chain Amino Acids
Welcome to MRM Nutrition 101, our newest blog addition where we highlight different nutrition topics and products that are relevant in the world of nutrition and sports.
Let’s start with Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Maybe you’ve heard of them, maybe you’ve seen one of your favorite fitness influencers drinking some Reload BCAA+G after a strength training workout, or maybe you’re just generally curious as to what they are. Well you’re in luck, we’re breaking down the science behind these amino acids and discussing their benefits. Let’s get into it.
What are BCAAs?
BCAA are a group of three essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, that are a top priority for muscle protein synthesis. These amino acids are broken down in the skeletal muscles (whereas other amino acids are catabolized in the liver), which is why they are so important for protein synthesis. (1) Essential amino acids are those that your body is unable to prdouce, therefore they must come from the diet.
In addition, Glutamine, another abundant free amino acid, is also heavily involved in protein synthesis. It is used by inflammatory and damaged cells to decrease muscle soreness and cellular damage.
What are they used for?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are also involved in multiple metabolic functions including neurotransmission, glucose metabolism, immune response, and oxidative stress. Leucine is the most important amino acid for muscle protein synthesis because it is involved in the initial signaling pathway for protein metabolism. (2)
Can I get BCAAs in my diet?
Consuming dietary proteins and amino acids stimulate the body’s protein synthesis to promote muscle regeneration following exercise. The composition of amino acids can vary between protein sources which is why protein quality and bioavailability is important for overall protein synthesis. Whey protein has been suggested as one of the best supplemental source of protein because it has a high bioavailability of BCAAs, especially leucine. However, supplementing with BCAAs alone, like with our Reload BCAA+G, has also become quite popular because of its low caloric value and potential ability to mitigate the negative effects of strenuous workouts.
Why do people take them?
The goal for taking BCAAs is to potentially mitigate the negative effects from resistance training, i.e. muscle soreness. Exercise, specifically resistance training, induces muscle damage in two phases. Primary damage occurs from mechanical stress on muscles. BCAAs have been shown to reduce the presence of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and creatine kinase (CK), two enzymes used as indirect markers for muscle damage.(3) LDH is involved in the transformation of lactate in muscle cells, a natural process that happens during physical activity. With increased training, like elite athletes, your muscles become more efficient, and the production of these muscle damage enzymes decrease. Supplementing with BCAAs has also shown to help decrease the production of these enzymes through lowering decreasing serotonin levels, a central fatigue substance. (4)
The second phase involves a loss of muscle membrane integrity causing intramuscular proteins to leak into the bloodstream for several days following exercise. This secondary damage is associated with inflammation, which is essential for adaptive remodeling— clearing damaged cells (through phagocytosis) followed by cell regeneration. The overall remodeling process can take multiple days before inflammation is resolved. (2)
Working out with these consequences can result in reduced workout capacity, which is why BCAAs have been considered to mitigate these issues. In order to build and regenerate muscles, your body needs a significant nitrogen source, which comes from protein, not carbohydrates or fat. In turn this increases in nitrogen is also able to shorten the second stage of inflammation, resulting in quicker regeneration. (2)
Current research indicates that supplementation with BCAAs might reduce muscle soreness <24h post exercises, however it might depend on ones age, gender, dietary protein intake, and training status.
When is the best time to take BCAAs?
BCAAs can be taken before/during/or after a workout to potentially mitigate muscle soreness and muscle protein breakdown.
(1) VanDusseldorp T, Escobar K, Johnson K, Stratton M, et al. Effects of branch-chain amino acid supplements on recovery following acute eccentric exercise. Nutrients. 2018;10(1389)
(2) Holecek M. Branched-chain amino acids in health and disease: metabolism, alterations in blood plasma, and as supplements. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2018;15(33).
(3) Asjodi F, Khotbesara R, Gargari B, Izadi A. Impacts of combined or single supplementation of branched-chain amino acids on delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle damage following resistance exercise. Progress in Nutrients. 2018;20(2).
(4) Kim D, Kim S, Jeong W, Lee H. Effect of BCAA intake during endurance exercises on fatigue substances, muscle damage substances, and energy metabolism substances. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2013;17(4):169-180