What are BCAA Benefits? The body has a number of different proteins that contain amino acids. BCAAs is an acronym that stands for branched-chain amino acids. Nine out of the 20 amino acids are essential amino acids, which can be obtained through the diet.
Among the nine essential amino acids, three of them are BCAAs. They are isoleucine, leucine, and valine. You can get these amino acids by consuming eggs, meat, dairy products, and other types of food that are high in protein. Although you can get BCAAs through your diet, BCAAs are also conveniently available in the form of dietary supplements.
BCAA supplements are often taken to help improve both muscle growth and exercise performance, particularly in body builders and athletes. Taking these supplements can also promote weight loss and help prevent fatigue after exercising.
The Importance of BCAAs
Approximately 14-18 percent of BCAAs are found within the muscles and represent around 35-40 percent of the total essential amino acids in the body.
Instead of being broken down in the liver like most amino acids, BCAAs are broken down in the muscles. This is the reason why BCAAs are thought to have a significant role when it comes to energy production, particularly during exercise.
Other important functions of BCAAs are:
- Help manage blood sugar levels
- Decrease the production of a chemical called serotonin in the brain to reduce feeling tired or fatigued during exercise
- Used as building blocks for the body’s muscles and proteins
Leucine particularly influences the growth and recovery of muscles, while valine and isoleucine are more effective in energy production and management of blood sugar levels.
Foods with High Levels of BCAAs
The following types of foods are excellent sources of BCAAs:
- Beans and lentils
- Soy protein
- Pumpkin seeds
Health Benefits of Using BCAAs
- Reduce both muscle fatigue and soreness
After performing any type of workout or exercise routine, feeling sore is normally expected. This type of soreness you are experiencing is also called as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which tends to develop within 24 hours after exercise. Fortunately, taking BCAAs can help relieve the severity of DOMS according to some studies (1, 2, 3).
- Help maintain normal blood sugar levels
Insulin secretion is said to be increased by two types of BCAAs called leucine and isoleucine. They enable the muscles to accept more glucose from the blood, causing the levels of blood sugar to drop (4, 5). However, more studies are still needed to confirm this BCAA effect since most of these studies were done on animals, making the results inconclusive for humans.
On the other hand, early studies have suggested an improvement of insulin response when people with diabetes consume a mixture of protein and amino acids along with carbohydrates.
- Lower risk of developing liver disease complications
Taking BCAAs instead of other types of supplements may help reduce liver disease complications, particularly hepatic encephalopathy (6). Hepatic encephalopathy is a syndrome seen in people who have liver cirrhosis. People with this condition may experience loss of brain function due to poor liver function. A healthy liver is able to get rid of toxins from the blood, but when liver problems arise, it becomes unable to perform its function well.
- Enhance muscle mass
BCAAs tend to be a popular supplement used to increase muscle mass. According to one study, taking BCAAs can trigger certain enzymes that play a significant role in muscle growth (7).
Aside from taking BCAA supplements, you can also get your daily dose of BCAAs from your diet and other food sources, such as whey or soy protein.
- Prevent muscle wasting
BCAA supplementation can help prevent the occurrence of muscle wasting. Muscle wasting tend to develop when a person does not have enough physical activity. People who have certain health conditions and those with limited movements due to physical injuries are usually at risk of muscle wasting. However, muscle wasting can also be an indication of other conditions, such as cancer, malnutrition, and chronic illnesses. It can also be a natural sign of aging.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids, which means that you need to get them from your diet and other sources because your body cannot produce them. Taking BCAAs can also help improve your overall health aside from helping you enhance muscle growth and exercise performance.
- Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S, Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab.(2010)
- Leahyand Pintauro S. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Plus Glucose Supplement Reduces Exercise-Induced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in College-Age Females. ISRN Nutr. (2013)
- Cruzat VF, et al. Amino acid supplementation and impact on immune function in the context of exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2014)
- Doi M, et al. Isoleucine, a blood glucose-lowering amino acid, increases glucose uptake in rat skeletal muscle in the absence of increases in AMP-activated protein kinase activity. J Nutr. (2005)
- Doi M, et al. Isoleucine, a potent plasma glucose-lowering amino acid, stimulates glucose uptake in C2C12 myotubes. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. (2003)
- Metcalfe EL, et al. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation in adults with cirrhosis and porto-systemic encephalopathy: systematic review. Clin Nutr.(2014)
- Blomstrand E, et al. Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. J Nutr.(2006)