The Universal Dietary Supplement: Branched –Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
More and more researchers are now convinced that a diet that is healthy and full of diversity can reduce the development of a variety of diseases which leads to achieving optimal health. Protein is the most important macronutrient that we need to consume, in order to stay healthy. Unlike carbohydrates, our bodies do not store protein, so there is no reservoir that your body can deplete when it is running low on protein. Optimum daily intake of protein play a vital role in boosting our immune system to fight off various onsets of diseases and can even help us achieve our optimal health goals such as losing weight or building muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks of life. Once scientists isolated BCAAs from edible muscle or protein tissue (such as poultry, beef, pork, lamb, milk, eggs) they have found that BCAAs possess significant biological effect on human body, exerting various over-all health promoting effects when consumed with a balanced diet regiment.1
BCAA’s – what are they?
Branched chain amino acids, or colloquially referred by their acronym as BCAA’s are a group of amino acids that are believed to increase muscle hypertrophy through elevated protein synthesis during heavy weight exercises. As mentioned previously amino acids are building block of muscle tissue- protein. They are classified into essential and nonessential amino acids. Essential amino acids are only found in animal sources such as meat, fish and dairy products and they cannot be synthesized in our bodies. Non-essential amino acids are found in vegetable proteins, such as soy products and our bodies are capable of synthesizing these amino acids. BCAA’s are a group of essential amino acids comprised of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They believed to play the most important role in elevating muscle hypertrophy during strenuous heavy weight lifting exercises.
According to the recent studies, leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, while isoleucine induces glucose uptake into cells. Further research is needed to determine the role of Valine in a BCAA supplement. BCAA’s are readily available as a food supplement. There are different amino acid concentration ratios of BCAA’s supplements. According to the recent scientific literature, the optimal ratio of BCAA’s is 2:1:1, the same ratio that naturally occurs in the muscle tissue.
It is currently believed that BCAA supplementation for people with low dietary protein intake could potentially attenuate physical and mental fatigue. BCAA supplementation for people with adequate dietary protein intake could potentially accelerate protein synthesis which eventually can lead to increased muscle hypertrophy over time. It is also documented that novice athletes supplement their diets with BCAA’s to prevent fatigue.
- Attenuates muscle atrophy and elevates liver health:
Recent studies have shown that a daily intake of BCAA’s may reduce the muscle atrophy in convalescent patients. A study that has been published in the American Society for Nutrition Journal in 2006 suggested that the daily supplementation of BCAA’s improved the nutritional support in surgical and cancer patients. This study revealed that BCAA-enriched daily supplemental food commodities, particularly enriched with leucine, reduced skeletal muscle catabolism and increased skeletal muscle protein and liver albumin synthesis, leading to an overall elevated liver health.2 This means that people who are recovering from a serious illness such as cancer should be supplementing their diet regiment with BCAA’s as it was shown to improve their overall health status significantly.
- Improves catabolic state and the quality of life in liver cirrhosis patients:
Recently scientists have discovered that an oral BCAA supplementation could improve the catabolic state and quality of life of liver cirrhosis patients. According to Nutrition journal (2007) in a multicenter, randomized study, 48 patients with liver cirrhosis received late-evening supplementation with the BCAA-enriched nutrient mixture of ordinary food, such as a rice ball or bread, for 3 months. During the study period, each patient had strict instructions to follow on energy and protein intake. The study has revealed that prolonged oral supplementation with a BCAA mixture is better than ordinary food as a late evening snack. It was shown that patients had improved on their serum albumin levels, which is responsible for the transport or various nutrients around the body and the energy metabolism in patients with cirrhosis.3 So if you chose to have a healthy late evening snack, supplement it with BCAA’s, as it will improve your liver health and will also aid in the transport of various vital nutrients around your body for an overall improved health status.
- Attenuation of onset fatigue from strenuous activity:
It is known that participating in strenuous activity such as strength and endurance exercise increases the production of serotonin which is believed to cause fatigue. According to the study conducted in 1998 BCAA supplementation actually reduced the serotonin production levels and enhanced the exercise performance. In that study, participants ingested either BCAA supplementation of a placebo before taking an endurance cycle ride in the heat. The group of people who took the BCAA supplementation increased their performance by almost 10%. A more recent Japanese study looked at the effects of a BCAA mixture on athletes during a one-month training stint and found that blood oxygen-carrying capacity were increased.4 This means that BCAAs could potentially help your body to carry oxygen more efficiently, leading to decreased feeling of tiredness during exercising.
- Intake of BCAA’s help to reduce muscle soreness and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Another recent study conducted in the UK revealed that a daily intake of BCAA supplementation reduced the pain experienced after exercising. According to the study twelve males were provided with either a dose of 10 grams of BCAAs twice daily or a placebo before and following resistance exercise that elevates muscle hypertrophy and in turn induces muscle damage. The BCAA supplement was comprised of a ratio of 2:1:1 leucine, isoleucine, and valine, respectively. This ratio is quite standard in many BCAA supplements in the industry. In addition to this initial dose, after an overnight fast, participants who took the BCAAs were given a 20 gram bolus dose, one hour prior to, and one hour after exercise. The participants performed a series of strenuous exercises such as 100 drop jumps from a height of 0.6meters and a 90o squat. At the end of the experiment it was revealed that the group that was administered BCAA supplementation experienced accelerated recovery time and in turn experienced much less muscle soreness when compared to the group that took the placebo. The study was concluded in a favor of consuming BCAA supplementation when performing strenuous exercise routines for muscle hypertrophy. 5
Very similar study was conducted in Japan in 2010, where 12 untrained, healthy female participants were given a daily supplementation of BCAAs (1.2 : 3 : 1.2 ratio) and were asked to perform a series of weighted squat exercises which consisted of 7 sets of 20 squats/set with 3-min intervals between sets. The experiment was conducted with a crossover double-blind design. The level of soreness was significantly lower in the BCAA trial than in the placebo. Plasma BCAA concentrations, which decreased after exercise in the placebo trial, were markedly elevated during the 2 hours post-exercise in the BCAA trial. The concentration of plasma elastase (an enzyme that is responsible for a muscle break down) as an index of neutrophil activation (appears as a result of a muscle tissue breakdown) was shown to increase after the squat exercise in both trials, but the change in the elastase level was significant only in the placebo trial. These results suggest that muscle damage may be suppressed by BCAA supplementation. 6
5.May help to reduce body fat:
It is known that athletes and bodybuilders are supplementing their diets with BCAAs to cut body fat percentage and maintain their muscle mass. Although the insulinogenic effects of BCAAs are not substantial, they do provide the important materials that are responsible for feeding the muscle when the blood glucose is low. Thus when the goal is to reduce body fat whilst training strenuously and being conserved to a restricted balanced diet, branched chain amino acids will compliment your diet and training efforts to reach your goals effectively. It was also found that BCAA’s are responsible for activating the brain signaling molecules which are responsible for regulation of hunger and food cravings also known as Leptin. They decrease both hunger and food cravings due to their ability to regulate blood sugar levels pre and post workouts. It was found that BCAA’s have both gluconeogenic (they convert to glucose easily) and ketogenic (they help with the release of ketones in the bloodstream) activity. Glucose and ketones are the only two fuels used by the brain. Given the fact that fat loss often involves lower carb intake, BCAAs become a fat loss seeker’s best friend in terms of regulating hunger, energy and cravings by supplying the brain with the energy it needs.
For optimum results in supplement form, it is desirable to take your BCAA’s separately from the other amino groupings, because they dominate the race for entry into the bodies systems. This means that if you want to take BCAAs and your whey protein isolate or hydrolysate shake, take the BCAA’s first and then your shake. This is due to the fact that BCAAs are a lot smaller molecules than whey proteins, so they take less time to get absorbed by your body and into your bloodstream, so they take precedence. BCAA’s account for upward to 90% of the total amino acid uptake in the three hour period following a meal. Therefore, taking BCAA’s with each meal and before during and after a workout is ideal. They should also be taken within 30-60 minutes preceding and following an intense workout to assist in muscle regenerative process and create optimum anabolic conditions.
According to the articles published among the general population, the most conducive BCAA ratio that supports all of the health benefits listed above is 2: 1 :1. Since BCAA’s are branch chains of amino acids or proteins, our bodies are capable of eliminating a surplus of amino acids through urine without any adverse health effects. There are no documented adverse side effects from taking BCAA’s on a daily basis. Still, do not consume more than the stated dose on the supplement packaging, not because of the fear of overdosing, but because your body will just excrete the unused BCAA’s. In other words, you will end up producing a very expensive pee 🙂
According to the most recently published scientific literature, incorporation of BCAA’s into your daily diet regimen is highly recommended. Whether you are trying to build muscle or shed a few pounds or just to up keep your wellbeing, BCAA’s is one of the most important and universal dietary supplement you could invest in. It exerts a series of health benefits that would optimize your training routine and help you reach your goals more effectively.
Points to remember:
- Optimum BCAA ratio: 2:1:1 (Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine) as it is observed in the normal muscle tissue;
- No more than 10g per day or as advised on the packaging. Excess of BCAAs will be excreted in urine;
- Helps with muscle hypertrophy, attenuates muscle atrophy;
- May help with fat loss;
- Stimulates Muscle Growth;
- May keep the hunger and food cravings at bay;
- May help to keep a healthy liver;
- ALWAYS consult your general practitioner if you are permitted to supplement your diet with BCAAs;
- Should be used to “supplement” your food intake, not to be consumed instead of a food source.
Edvardas Kiaulakis (Eddie)
 Zizyte D “RP‐HPLC Quantification and Anti‐Proliferative U373MG & HeLa Cell Line Bioactivity Assay of Ursolic Acid Extracted from Lyophilized Whole Cranberry Fruits” unpublished BSc. thesis research. Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), 2014
 Choudry H.A , Pan M, Karinch A.M , and Souba W.W. (2006). Branched-Chain Amino Acid-Enriched Nutritional Support in Surgical and Cancer Patients1,2. Americal Society for Nutrition. 136 (1), 3145-3185
 Nakaya Y, Okita K, Suzuki K, Moriwaki H, Kato A, Miwa Y, Shiraishi K, Okuda K, Onj M. (2007). BCAA-enriched snack improves nutritional state of cirrhosis. Nutrition. 23 (2), 113-120.
 Men’s Fitness. (Revised 2016). BCAA’s. Available: http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/supplements/supplement-guide-branched-chain-amino-acids. Last accessed 26th June 2016.
 Wortman J.. (2016). The Effect of BCAAs on Exercise Induced Muscle Soreness. Available: http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/the-effect-of-bcaas-on-exercise-induced-muscle-soreness. Last accessed 27th June 2016.
 Shimomura Y,Inaguma A, Watanabe S, Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K. (2010). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation Before Squat Exercise and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness . International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,. 20 (1), 236-244.
 Teta J. (2012). The 3 Secret Weapons To Control Hunger and Cravings. Available: http://www.metaboliceffect.com/the-3-secret-weapons-to-control-hunger-and-cravings/. Last accessed 27th June 2016.
 G. van Hall, J. S. H. Raaymakers, W. H. M. Saris and A. J. M. Wagenmakers. (1995). Ingestion of branched-chain amino acids and tryptophan during sustained exercise in man: failure to affect performance. Journal of Physiology. 486 (3), 789-794.