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The Benefits of BCAAs
- May 18, 2017 -

As the building blocks of protein, Amino Acids are necessary for the growth and repair of muscles and tissue. Without them, protein in the body breaks down, resulting in muscle loss. The body needs 20 total amino acids. About half are non-essential, meaning they’re made by the body; the other half are essential, meaning they must be obtained from food or supplements.

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), named according to their molecular structure, include the essential amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine. BCAAs can be taken in supplement form before, during or after a workout to help improve exercise performance and endurance in addition to potentially aiding in muscle recovery. (Always consult your doctor before taking them, though.)

Amino acids from food travel first to the liver, where they’re broken down for use as fuel or assigned to muscle repair. BCAAs bypass the liver and go directly to the muscles for fueling, building and repairing. Thus, they can be used during a workout for endurance and after for muscle-recovery.

During exercise, increased levels of serotonin, the hormone that regulates mood, can cause fatigue. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin signals the brain that the body is tired as the amino acid tryptophan travels to the brain. Several studies have proven that BCAAs, specifically valine, can potentially help reduce serotonin levels and help prevent tryptophan from entering the brain as a means of bypassing exercise fatigue. 

BCAAs can also potentially help with muscle soreness. According to celebrity nutrition and health consultant, Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., BCAAs can be used to help prevent post-exercise muscle soreness by impeding exercise-induced muscle damage andhelping stimulate growth and repair. In particular, the amino acid leucine directly stimulates muscle growth in two ways:

1.  It triggers muscle protein synthesis: the stringing together of amino acids to build stronger protein.

2.  It can also potentially increase insulin levels to help create a protein-synthesizing anabolic environment -- the right balance of nutrition, hormones and metabolic activities needed for muscle growth. 

Stoppani also notes that BCAAs can potentially help enhance muscle growth by boosting growth-hormone levels and lowering cortisol levels. The more growth-hormone present after a workout, the more benefits may occur. Protein synthesis with BCAAs is optimal up to 24 hours post-exercise, typically 5-10 grams mixed into a shake. Never begin this or any supplementation, however, without first consulting with your doctor, and remember that this is not a substitute for any medical or treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.

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