Recently in the RadLab™ blog, I’ve discussed why it's not such a great idea to sip BCAAs all throughout the day (read that article here), but what I haven’t given much attention to yet is what makes BCAAs so special, and the most important reason you’re reading this; how to get better gains with them.
If you are wondering why you should bother taking BCAAs in the first place and want to know how to get better gains with BCAAs, then you want to read this article…
BCAAs and Protein Synthesis
Many know that BCAAs help in stimulating protein synthesis, and protein synthesis relates to muscle gains; but that’s not really the true benefit of BCAA supplementation.
In regards to stimulating protein synthesis, you can achieve that through any protein-rich meal or protein supplement. You don’t specifically need a BCAA supplement to do that. This article explains how you can get the most out of your BCAAs and what they are really dedicated for.
Energy Expenditure During Exercise
The true benefit of BCAA supplementation is captured when used before or during exercise. As we exercise, the bulk of the energy comes from some combination of carbohydrate and fat metabolism. The relative expenditure of those two macronutrients are largely determined by the intensity and duration of exercise.
However, what is commonly forgotten, is the energy that comes from burning through protein or amino acids for energy.
As you’re exercising, a small but significant portion of your metabolism is coming from the oxidation of certain amino acids. As you may have guessed at this point, those amino acids are predominantly the branched chain amino acids; leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Our muscle cells like to maintain a constant pool of free BCAAs for this purpose, however, when this pool is being consumed, for example due to exercise, the muscle cell can always keep this pool topped up by extracting from the richest source of amino acids in the body: muscle protein.
So the irony is, that while you’re trying your hardest to build muscle, some of your muscle is being taken away for the sole purpose to provide energy for said workout.
Muscle Catabolism and BCAAs
The catabolism of the BCAA are regulated by a single enzyme complex called the branched chain α-keto acid dehydrogenase (BCKDH) complex located in the mitochondria where oxidation takes place. It is known that exercise activates the BCKDH complex in humans which results in the oxidation of BCAA during exercise.
While we can’t easily change how our muscles metabolize amino acids, what we can control, is where the muscle gets those amino acids from.
Muscle Sparing and BCAAs
An oral BCAA supplement before or during exercise has been reported to increase intracellular and arterial BCAA levels during exercise. As a result, the increased BCAA levels has been shown to suppress the normal muscle breakdown that typically occurs with exercise.
Therefore, the clever benefit from BCAA supplementation with exercise, is to spare the muscle protein that would typically be burned from exercise by providing those specific amino acids before the muscle gets the chance.
Should You Inhibit Protein Breakdown?
Some critics of this may question whether or not it’s beneficial to inhibit protein breakdown to optimize muscle growth. This is a valid critique because muscle protein breakdown is a critical step in the maintenance of healthy muscle growth.
However, it is important to distinguish the separate needs for protein breakdown. On one hand, resistance exercise is a physically traumatic and damaging process that results in myofibrillar disruption.
This type of protein damage provides a stimulus for muscle growth and repair, the first step of which, is the breakdown of the damaged proteins, followed by the synthesis of new proteins.
This is a completely separate process compared to the breakdown of healthy protein simply to liberate energy.
The former is what we want to maintain and the latter is what we can reduce through BCAA supplementation. The net result is less muscle loss during exercise while still preserving the stimulation for muscle growth during the recovery phase.
The Bottom Line on Getting Better Gains Out of BCAAs
So to recap, if you want to get the most out of your workout, consuming BCAAs before or during exercise is a way to provide free-form amino acids to the muscle before they are extracted from your muscle and metabolized for energy.
This will help limit the unfavorable breakdown of muscle protein that naturally occurs during exercise, thereby preserving your gains that would otherwise be lost.
If you’re looking for an additional edge on your muscle growth, saving the muscle you have already built may be the perspective you’re missing.
You can further improve muscle performance with the muscle sparing effects of BCAAs by combining them with a proper carbohydrate source, which is exactly why Blue Star Nutraceuticals™ AminoFast™ contains exactly that…
[![AminoFast™](/content/images/2017/04/AminoFast-.png)](http://bit.ly/2qrmgbE) [AminoFast™ - Intra-Workout](http://bit.ly/2qrmgbE)
Each serving of AminoFast™ contains clinically validated doses of fast-acting, long-lasting carbohydrates, branched chain amino acids, and electrolytes that provide you with the energy your body needs to conquer even the most grueling workouts.
- MacLean DA, Graham TE, Saltin, B. Branched-chain amino acids augment ammonia metabolism while attenuating protein breakdown during exercise. Am J Physiol. 267; E1010-E1022, 1994.
- Rennie MJ, Bohe J, Smith K, Wackerhage H, Greenhaff P. Branched-Chain Amino Acids as Fuels and Anabolic Signals in Human Muscle. J Nutr. 136; 264S-268S, 2006.
- Shimomura Y, Yamomoto Y, Bajotto G, Sato J, Murakami T, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mwatari K. Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle. J Nutr. 136; 529S-532S, 2006.