What is BCAAs?
Although branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) may sound like some exotic, newly invented medical formula, they are just simply amino acids or proteins.
They are derived from traditional protein sources in our diet, such as milk, meat, and legumes. That they are branched-chain simply refers to their chemical structure. Leucine, valine, and isoleucine are the three most important amino acids in BCAAs.
These supplements are mostly used by bodybuilders and athletes for muscle growth and strength without the extra calories. BCAAs are also present in whey and other protein supplements, but they are the “leanest” and most stripped down in their own supplement form. They only contain amino acids and, as such, are preferred by people on low-calorie diets.
BCAAs have another added advantage over other proteins in that they require very little, if any, digestion time. This means they are very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Uses of BCAAs
BCAAs are used mainly to build up lean muscle mass. They are exercise supplements that help reduce muscle fatigue and speed up recovery in between workouts. BCAAs are also well known for enhancing protein synthesis inside a person’s body, enabling more intense workouts. To some extent, BCAAs also help in fat loss.
BCAAs are further known to help treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease (although links to lung tightness have changed professionals’ view on the usefulness of BCAAs in this particular case), as well as hepatic encephalopathy and other brain disorders caused by liver disease.
However, more research is needed to confirm whether BCAAs are indeed effective in the treatment of those diseases. Other existing (though not universally verified) uses of BCAAs are in improving mental concentration and preventing physical fatigue. Intravenous supplies of BCAAs are given to some hospital patients recovering from severe injury or infection.
Patients suffering from anorexia would be treated with BCAAs to try and build them up again after the abuse the body grows accustomed to with this kind of illness and the lack of protein experienced.
Form and Dosage of BCAAs
Tablets are the preferred form of BCAA supplements. A powder form is also available, but most people don’t like the taste when mixed with liquid. Anywhere between 5 grams and 50 grams may be consumed daily. No study has been conducted on the most optimal amount to take daily.
In general, take BCAAs close to a workout: just prior to it, during, and/or immediately afterwards. They may be also be taken first thing in the morning after waking up, especially if you intend to exercise on an empty stomach. Before taking this supplement, it’s a wise precaution to talk to a medical professional because he or she will know whether this is useful for you and what dosage would be a wise one.
Safety and Precautions of BCAAs
Like other protein supplements, leucine and other BCAAs do not interact favorably with Levodopa (a drug for Parkinson’s disease) and with glucose- lowering medications. BCAAs can lower blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for persons with diabetes or for those who are prone to hypoglycemia.
Those who are taking anti-inflammatory corticosteroids and thyroid hormone supplements are also cautioned against the unsupervised use of BCAAs. This is one of the reasons why it is worth mentioning that you MUST talk to a health professional before starting on a course of treatment.
Even on a calorie- controlled diet, BCAAs can help you to retain muscle mass, and considerable research has been ongoing to show that this is one of the most effective means of building muscle mass, used by people not only in competition but also in circumstances where a patient needs something that is fast acting. Given that there is no real problem digesting the product, it means that it goes to the places where it is needed right away.
One thing that is important to know is that BCAAs are not produced within the body unless the diet is balanced. These come from what you eat, and if you are working out, these help in muscle growth and in your exercise routine.
However, if you find yourself suffering any kind of loss of coordination, you must stop taking BCAAs immediately. These are only taken for a limited period of less than six months. Do read the instructions very carefully.
Best Food Sources of BCAAs
It is essential at all times when working out that you ensure that your diet is well balanced and that you are aware of which food sources provide a good amount of BCAAs. This will help you to establish if, in fact, your diet needs adjusting rather than needing extra supplements. The types of food that would be useful and that you should add to your diet are the following:
- Chicken breast
- Lean beef
- Canned tuna
- Turkey breast
If you are eating alternative meats, then replacing them with those suggested will help you to accumulate up to 36 grams a day, with eggs being the least rich for BCAAs and lean turkey and chicken breast being the richest sources.
You should aim for 3 grams of leucine per meal, and it’s quite possible that you are finding it hard to reach this level, which would include eating 12 eggs or a huge portion of the one food we have not mentioned yet, such as nuts, with peanuts being the richest source of leucine in the nut family. However, for obvious reasons, you need to avoid salted nuts if you have other health issues.
Eggs are also very good for you and should be included in your standard diet, but try to avoid eating these fried, as the fats that you are introducing may be the factor that is contributing to your bad health or health issues.