There are 20 different amino acids in the human body that make thousands of different proteins. Nine of the 20 are essential amino acids, so your body cannot produce them. Therefore, they must be consumed through your diet. The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three of the nine essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Branched-chain refers to the chemical structure of BCAAs found in foods rich in proteins. Here are the health benefits of BCAAs supplements.
BCAAs Can Prevent Muscle Wasting
BCAAs can help prevent muscle loss. The amount of protein in the muscle is determined by the balance between muscle protein breakdown and synthesis (1).
Muscle waste or breakdown occurs when the breakdown of protein exceeds the synthesis of muscle protein. Muscle wasting is a symptom of malnutrition and occurs as a natural part of the aging process with chronic conditions.
BCAAs make up 35% of the essential amino acids found in muscle proteins in the human body. They contain 40% of the total amino acids the body needs (3).
Thus, it is necessary to add the BCAAs and other essential amino acids to your diet during muscle wasting times to prevent or delay muscle wasting.
Several studies have confirmed the use of BCAA supplements to prevent muscle protein breakdown. This can improve health conditions and quality of life in some people, such as elderly people and those with chronic diseases (4).
BCAAs Can Increase Lean Muscle Growth
Increasing muscle growth is one of the most common uses of BCAAs. The BCAA leucine stimulates a certain muscle protein synthesis in the body, which is the mechanism of lean muscle building (5).
In one research, people who consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs after their resistance exercise had a 22% higher increase in muscle protein synthesis relative to those who had a placebo (6).
That said, this increase in muscle protein synthesis is about 50 percent lower than in other studies where people consumed whey protein containing a similar amount of BCAAs (7).
Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids required for muscle building. Therefore, while BCAAs can increase muscle protein synthesis, without the other essential amino acids, such as those contained in whey protein or other complete protein sources (8).
BCAAs Can Reduce Muscle Soreness
Some research suggests that after a workout, BCAAs can help reduce muscle soreness. If you are new to exercise, it is common that your muscles will get sore. Such soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs after exercise up to 72 hours (9).
While we do not understand the exact cause of DOMS, researchers believe that after exercise, it results from small scale tears in the muscles. BCAAs have been shown to decrease muscle damage, which may lead to reducing DOMS duration and severity (9).
Several studies show that BCAAs decrease protein breakdown during exercise and decrease levels of creatine kinase, a sign of muscle damage (10).
BCAAs Can Reduce Exercise Fatigue
While BCAAs can help you reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness, they can also help to reduce exercise-induced fatigue. Everyone at some stage feels tiredness and fatigue from exercise.
How quick your fatigue depends on several factors, including intensity and duration of exercise, environmental factors, and nutrition and fitness levels (13).
During exercise, the muscles use BCAAs, causing blood pressure to decrease. The levels of essential amino acid tryptophan in your brain increase as blood levels of BCAAs decrease (14).
It transforms tryptophan into serotonin in your brain, brain chemistry that is thought to contribute during exercise to the occurrence of fatigue (15).
Participants who supplemented with BCAAs enhanced their mental focus during exercise in studies, which are believed to result from BCAAs ‘ fatigue-reducing effect. A decline in fatigue, however, is unlikely to result in the performance of exercises (16, 17).
The Bottom Line
The three essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Your body can not produce branched-chain amino acids on its own. Therefore, you must consume food high in protein. BCAA supplements can help build muscle, reduce muscle tiredness, and relieve muscle soreness. In patients, BCAAs can stop or delay muscle loss and improve chronic disease symptoms. However, since most people get a satisfactory amount of BCAAs from their diet. Therefore, adding BCAAs supplements to your diet will not benefit you.
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