Frank Salvatore
Health and Lifestyle

Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids

January 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

After your body digests proteins, it leaves behind amino acids, of which there are nine essential types. These are not made by the body naturally, so they must come from a nutritional source. Three of the nine amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine, have a branched molecular structure, causing them to be considered branched-chain amino acids. These are different from the others because rather than being broken down in the liver, they are mostly broken down in your muscle. This means they help improve exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown.

Exercise Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids

BCAAs not only act as building blocks for muscles, they may also help regulate blood sugar levels and improve metabolism. BCAAs may also reduce fatigue during a workout. Studies have shown that BCAAs improved the performance of endurance exercisers, perhaps by limiting the brain’s production of serotonin, which is associated with feelings of tiredness. Other research has shown that BCAAs can possibly lower the ratings of one’s perceived exertion and mental fatigue.

Reduce Muscle Soreness

BCAAs are able to help reduce muscle soreness following a workout, and increase protein synthesis while decreasing the breakdown of muscle proteins. They also lower levels of enzymes in the muscles, such as creatine and lactate dehydrogenase, which are both associated with muscle damage.

Additionally, an animal study found BCAAs prevent inflammation, which accelerates recovery from muscle damage. They also seem to reduce muscle soreness after strenuous exercise.

Build Muscle

People who are trying to build muscle may supplement their diet with extra BCAAs, due to the fact that they are believed to enhance the growth of muscle and decrease the rate of muscle breakdown. A BCAA supplement may prevent muscle damage that is induced by exercise while also promoting recovery from any damage done to the muscle.

It is important to note, however, that BCAAs are also able to influence diseases such as diabetes and cancer, due to the role that they play in a number of metabolic pathways and their regulation of cell signaling pathways. For example, in diabetes, BCAAs have been found to both increase and decrease blood sugar levels, depending on the circumstances. An elevation in BCAAs has actually been shown to increase one’s chances of developing diabetes, due to its correlation with insulin resistance. When it comes to cancer, the basic needs for BCAAs become complicated due to the conflicting needs of the host and the tumor.

BCAA Effects

BCAAs are used in people who are suffering from liver disease to improve hepatic encephalopathy and help restore muscle mass. They can also improve the nutritional status, quality of life, and in people who are suffering from chronic liver disease.

BCAAs are associated with a lower likelihood of obesity in middle-aged adults, as they enhance the loss of fat and loss. Studies have shown that BCAA supplementation paired with a low-calorie diet reduced body fat by a greater percentage than calorie restriction alone.

Best Food Sources of BCAAs

BCAAs can be found in protein-rich foods, such as wild Alaskan salmon, organic grass-fed beef, pastured egg yolks, quinoa, raw grass-fed cheese, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. One of the best sources of BCAAs is whey protein concentrate, due to its high concentration of leucine.

Studies have shown that the amino acids that are found in high-quality whey protein supplements activate specific cellular mechanisms that promote muscle protein synthesis, maintain testosterone levels, and boost the thyroid after exercise.

Downsides of Too Many BCAAs

BCAAs are potent stimulators of mTor, an important metabolic signaling pathway in the body. BCAAs, and especially leucine, will negatively activate mTOR, which is not healthy for your body if you are not aiming to build muscle. If mTor levels are activated too much, it can have a similar effect as elevated insulin levels. Just like insulin, having too much mTor for long periods of time can result in type 2 diabetes. Elevated mTor levels may also contribute to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

As most things in life, moderation is key. It is important to keep your body balanced, and BCAAs may be dangerous when used in excess, but may also be beneficial when used correctly.

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Frank Salvatore