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BCAAs - Increase Muscle Endurance & Recovery

Author:Britt Maughan RD
1701   1349 


Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins; they serve as the foundation for all body proteins. This includes muscles (one of the largest components to the body, second to water), connective tissues, and bones. Amino acids also supply the body with nitrogen that is important for the growth and maintenance of all tissues. Outside of proteins, amino acids perform critical roles in processes such as neurotransmitter transport and biosynthesis. 

There are many amino acids (roughly 500 are known), with 21 that are standard to human nutrition. There are nine amino acids that are considered essential (as they are not made in the body) and must be taken in through the diet from food. These nine are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. 

BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are the most common essential amino acids - isoleucine, leucine, and valine - and account for roughly 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins. They are metabolized mainly in skeletal muscle, unlike the other 18 amino acids (these must first pass through the liver before they are available to muscle tissue). 

BCAA and Muscle
Strengthening and maintaining muscle mass is an important goal for everyone, no matter what the activity level or the sport. As you strength train and increase overall muscle mass, you increase the efficiency of your metabolism and overall calories burned – which in turn helps you lose weight. As for overall health - increased muscle mass and strength training makes athletes stronger, faster, and more resistant to injury. 

After you workout, your body replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands (myofibrils). These myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth (1). Since amino acids are the building blocks for protein, this is where the BCAAs come in. 

BCAAs Function
BCAAs are highly beneficial to athletes because they help to build and maintain muscle, as well as prevent muscle protein breakdown during rigorous exercise. They also help to reduce fatigue in both anaerobic and endurance sports. 

Leucine: This is the most effective essential amino acid when it comes to muscle growth. This BCAA is responsible for the regulation of blood-sugar levels, the growth and repair of tissues in skin, bones and skeletal muscle. Leucine is not only a building block for protein, but also signals your muscle to increase protein synthesis. Leucine has shown to do this even in times of food restriction or prolonged physical hardship. Food containing this amino acid includes whey protein concentrate, raw cheese, beef, salmon, almonds, poultry, and eggs (3).

Isoleucine: This BCAA also promotes muscle recovery, as well as regulates blood-sugar levels and stimulates HGH release. Food sources include chicken, cashews, fish, almonds, lentils, liver and meat. 

Valine: Similar to the other two BCAAs, this amino acid helps the repair and growth of muscle tissues. Nutrition sources include dairy, meat, soy, peanuts, grains and mushrooms. 

Leucine, isoleucine, and valine work synergistically together and are responsible for supporting muscle protein synthesis, and promoting strength and muscle enhancement. In the human diet, leucine naturally occurs in great amounts compared to isoleucine  and valine; as such, it is believed that an effective BCAA supplement includes a higher ratio of leucine. Human studies show leucine supplementation including isoleucine and valine results in a great muscle protein synthesis response during recovery (4).

Research shows that the use of BCAAs during exercise results in an increased the plasma BCAAs during exercise, which suggests that BCAA supplementation may enhance endurance exercise capacity (4). In another randomized control trial, BCAA supplementation increased nitrogen retention, which reduced the loss of lean muscle tissue during resistance training. According to researchers, BCAAs may be beneficial as an endurance and muscle recovery aid, and support immune function during athletic performance. BCAAs may also be useful in delaying mental fatigue in endurance exercise (4).

Summary: There are nine essential amino acids that are required for optimal muscle building and tissue growth. The three that are most effective in this process are the branch-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three amino acids are quickly absorbed in the skeletal muscle and do not have to pass through the liver (as with the other amino acids). In addition to diet, supplementation of BCAAs has shown to increase muscle endurance and recovery, as well as support overall immune function and athletic performance. Regardless of your activity level or sport, BCAAs can serve as a great addition to your nutrition program to increase overall muscle maintenance and building, as well as improve your performance by delaying fatigue.  






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