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 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. 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.
What Are Branch Chain Amino Acids?
Branch chain amino acids, otherwise known as BCAAs, 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 and 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.
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.
The benefits of BCAAs go far beyond simply muscle growth. They are known to aid in recovery and also decrease muscle soreness (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 are something to consider when looking into a supplement.
Are They Worth Taking?
A lot companies and online sites will try and convince you to take BCAA supplements to maximize your overall health and performance. In reality, if you have a high protein diet, you are already getting 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 a 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.
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, 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.
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 taking this supplement may be beneficial. 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)