Many people (especially bodybuilders) swear by the rule of eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight every day (especially during periods of high intensity training). In the past, researchers have argued that too much protein may be harmful to the kidneys. But now, most people agree that in individuals with healthy kidneys, high protein diets seem to be safe.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they promote protein synthesis and muscle re-building. There are two types of amino acids, essential (our bodies can’t make these and we must get them from food and supplementation) and non-essential (our bodies can produce these ones). We can’t function without a diet rich in essential amino acids.
Animal protein sources (meat, fish, eggs, etc.) provide complete proteins; which means that they contain all of the amino acids in adequate amounts. Slower digesting proteins (meat and casein) release amino acids more slowly over time, while faster digesting proteins (eggs or the whey that is found in Body Mechanics Whey Protein) release amino acids quickly. There are just a few plant sources that provide complete proteins (quinoa, hemp seeds, etc). But there are other plant foods that can be incorporated to provide the combination of all amino acids.
Breaking this down even further, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are those that include a “side chain” of one carbon atom (forming a branched structure) and three hydrogen atoms. Most amino acids go to the liver to digest and then they can be broken down as the body needs them. However, BCAAs bypass the liver and go directly to the bloodstream and muscles. BCAAs are absorbed faster than smaller amino acids and can be used directly by the muscles for fuel. This is what makes them such an essential supplement for those looking to take their training to another level. But let’s look at the different benefits that are associated with BCAAs and see just what makes them so valuable.
BCAAs can be taken throughout the day to help reduce muscle breakdown, boost energy, promote fat burning, reduce hunger and regulate blood sugar. Since BCAA levels decline during exercise because they are used as a fuel source, it’s a good idea to take some before and after training to ensure that your muscle tissues have access to adequate amounts. Consuming BCAAs during workouts can reduce the amount of fatigue you feel when working out by increasing the lactate threshold. BCAAs also reduce levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol, especially during exercise. Since cortisol normally increases muscle breakdown and inhibits testosterone’s anabolic actions, reducing cortisol works to increase muscle growth and strength gains. If that’s not enough, BCAAs have also been shown to decrease post workout soreness.
With the increase in the popularity of intermittent fasting and similar dieting styles, amino acids can help people get through fasting periods while keeping their blood sugar levels regulated and staving off hunger. Also, if you train in a fasted state or don’t eat after you train, you will lose more protein than you rebuild--not good for burning fat or building lean muscle! [Side note: This is not a good style of eating for me, but I do understand the benefits for some people. I will be writing another post soon about meal timing in general].
BCAAs come in pill and powder form and are now even chewable (which aren’t that chewy--more like Tums). I enjoy taking them in powder form because I like the flavors--including fruit punch or grape. You can find them as a stand-alone supplement, and many of the higher quality protein powders are starting to include them in their formulas. So…how much should you take?
During workouts, test out how you feel by adding in 5g of BCAAs. During periods of lower calorie intake (or if you feel like you need a little energy boost), sip on one serving every 2-4 hours. Adding in some BCAA supplements--particularly right around workout time--will help you reap all the benefits that we listed above. It should also help you take both the level of your training--and the results you get from that training--to new heights.
Do you use BCAA supplements to help you achieve your muscle gain and/or fat loss goals? Be sure to share your experience in the article discussion section!
Amanda Perry - Amanda is a 31 year-old mother who is passionate about helping other women get into the best shape of their lives through proper training and nutrition. She is a blogger at Sistas of Strength and owns a gym Skill of Strength, in Chelmsford, MA with her husband. Amanda has a Bachelor’s Degree from Loyola College and she is a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT). Additionally, she is a Russian Kettlebell Instructor (RKC), Functional Movement Screen Certified Specialist (FMS), Precision Nutrition Level 1 (Pn1), and a FitfFluential Ambassador.