Jerry Brainum details the importance of supplementing with BCAAs and when to use them.
STRAIGHT FACTS WITH JERRY BRAINUM is an in depth exploration of the more complicated elements behind bodybuilding such as training, nutrition, and supplements. Hosted by legendary and longtime industry expert, Jerry Brainum, Straight Facts answers user questions so no one is left in the dark. Check it out as he dives into all things BCAAs:
Branch chain amino acids, more commonly called BCAAs among fitness and bodybuilders, have always been considered a very important aspect of a bodybuilding diet if you want to build muscle mass and enhance energy production. It’s basically just taken for granted that this is the case – but how true is it? Or more importantly, do you need to take additional BCAAs on top of your meals and protein powders?
Whether you’re questioning it or not – Jerry Brainum has an in depth answer for you. Get the full details above, and check out our deep dive on the topic below. Amino acids are organic compounds that serve as building blocks for protein synthesis, which is important for building and maintaining muscle. There are a few foods that contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs, such as beef, fish, chicken, poultry, dairy, eggs, and soy.
What Are Branch Chain Amino Acids?
There are branch chain amino acids, otherwise known as BCAAs, then there are essential amino acids (EAAs). While both of these things can be beneficial supplements to take, there are some differences that separate BCAAs from EAAs. In total, there are 20 amino acids that make up protein.
Of those 20 amino acids, only nine are considered essential amino acids, including histidine, isoleucine, lysine, leucine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, and valine. Of these nine essential amino acids, only three are branch chain amino acids being isoleucine, leucine, and valine. These three differ in chemical structure and their side chain branches out allowing for a difference in metabolic rate.
These are commonly found in foods high in protein such as meat, poultry, and fish. What they do is stimulate protein synthesis in order to increase muscle growth. Leucine is a key ingredient for muscle protein synthesis and is a direct stimulant for mTOR. MTOR stimulation leads to massive muscle protein synthesis and hypertrophy. Simply put, this is what allows you to see those huge gains. During exercise, your body uses glycogen stores for energy resulting in a loss in fuel. The body then turns to alternative sources for an energy boost and turns to protein which leads to fatigue.
Taking a BCAA supplement before a workout, maybe even mixing it with your pre-workout, can be a way to keep on muscle for your body uses the supplement for fuel first. Eating a nutritious diet that includes optimal amounts of lean protein for an active lifestyle can also lead to muscle building, especially when combined with resistance training, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Because natural forms of complete protein, such as meat, eggs, fish, cheese, and certain protein powders, contain all essential amino acids (including BCAAs), focusing on getting an adequate amount of complete protein every day will help you with your fitness goals. Adding beans and lentils to your diet will help you increase the amount of BCAAs you get each day.
Benefits of BCAAs
Leucine plays a vital role in muscle growth and is a great stimulant for protein synthesis (1), but isoleucine is great for that boost of energy and can assist in recovery after strenuous activity as well. Valine is great for maintaining muscle while also regulating your immune system (2). It seems as though these work to cover all fronts when it comes to your muscle growth and overall health. Working to assist protein synthesis while also maintaining that muscle, and additionally providing immune support, makes BCAAs a worthwhile supplement to consider.
Putting on muscle requires a stable level of muscle protein synthesis to muscle protein breakdown and while BCAAs can enhance protein synthesis, they will also work to prevent muscle breakdown. Amino acids and proteins also play a crucial role in metabolism. BCAAs inhibit cortisol, which can cause muscle breakdown, and therefore contribute to faster muscle recovery (and less soreness ),” says Auslander “And leucine in particular is great at stimulating muscle protein synthesis—it acts almost like a command sergeant in lining up other amino acids to together form new muscle tissue. Isoleucine’s role is to regulate glucose uptake in the cells.
The benefits of BCAAs go far beyond simply muscle growth. They are known to aid in muscle recovery and decrease muscle soreness and fatigue (3), giving your body that much needed time to rest and your muscles that well-deserved time to grow. When it comes to cognitive function and mental fatigue, BCAAs have been shown to convert brain chemicals to reduce whatever fatigue may creep in (4). Being able to work at a high level requires all cylinders to be firing at maximum capacity and with the benefits of muscle growth, recovery support, and cognitive assistance, the benefits of BCAAs, including reducing muscle exhaustion, are something to consider when looking into a supplement.
Are They Worth Taking?
A lot of companies and online sites will try to convince you to take BCAA supplements to maximize your overall health and performance. In reality, if you have a high protein intake, you are already getting enough BCAAs. All animal protein is loaded with them, and if you also take a whey protein supplement, you are getting plenty of BCAAs without the need for an additional supplement.
Jerry Brainum talks about how if you are on a high protein diet and use whey, taking a supplement is really doing nothing for you and your money could be spent elsewhere. He did say, however, that if you are on a diet that lacks whey or protein, then taking a BCAA supplement is beneficial since you do not receive the benefits naturally. So, if you can consume enough BCAAs pretty easily through your diet, should you take supplements? The reality is, most people get enough BCAAs from the food they already eat, says Koskinen. “People who aren’t eating enough protein or carbs may benefit, but it’s much more effective to make diet corrections than try to supplement your way to peak performance,” she adds.
To put something else in the mix are EAAs. EAAs must be present for full muscle protein synthesis to take effect (5), so for those looking to put on muscle mass and reduce body fat, it may be wise to look towards an EAA supplement as opposed to solely a BCAA supplement. Taking EAAs is also beneficial because your body cannot produce them on its own. People have started to push EAAs as opposed to BCAAs for this reason, so it may be worth your time to research both and see what works for you. Branched-chain amino acid supplements, including BCAAs and grams, can be a valuable addition to your fitness routine, especially when it comes to muscle growth, physical performance, and reducing body fat. However, BCAAs can also be found in whole protein supplements as well as in a large variety of protein-rich foods.
With so many supplements, we are all looking for the best ways to maximize our gains. When it comes down to it, we need to do what is best for us and our personal needs. If your diet is low in protein, then consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) may be beneficial before considering this supplement. However, if you already have a high protein diet and you use a whey supplement, then you are getting the proper nutrients without the need for a supplement. Running a solid regimen and having consistent workouts is the initial key to see growth, but research both BCAAs and EAAs to see if these will benefit you.
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- Blomstrand, Eva; Eliasson, Jorgen; Karlsson, Hakan K.; Kohnke, Richard (2006). “Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise”. (source)
- The Journal of Nutrition (2006). “Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Immunity”. (source)
- Howatson, Glyn; Hoad, Michael; Goodall, Stuart; Tallent, Jamie; Bell, Phillip G.; French, Duncan N. (2012). “Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branches chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study”. (source)
- Newsholme, Eric A.; Blomstran, Eva (2006). “Branched-chain amino acids and central fatigue”. (source)
- Borsheim, Elisabet; Tipton, Kevin D.; Wolf, Steven E.; Wolfe, Robert R. (2002). “Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise”. (source)