What are BCAAs and what are the benefits?

Amino acids are often known as the ‘building blocks of protein’ which, as I’m sure you already know, is a very important asset to our health and fitness.

Some of the amino acids we need are considered to be ‘essential’, which means that we have to get them from our diet, and can’t make them ourselves. Branched Chain Amino Acids (or BCAAs) make up three of the nine essential amino acids. They are so called because they are the only amino acids with a branched molecular structure, and they assist the body with some very particular functions. 

The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, and they are especially effective for muscle growth, repair and managing weight loss. They also perform several functions such as improving our capacity to heal wounds and reducing our post-workout fatigue by reducing the amount of serotonin produced in the brain. 

BCAAs

Branched Chain Amino Acids represent 14 - 18% of the amino acid presence found in our muscles, and up to 40% of the overall total of essential amino acids found in the body. Unlike most amino acids, which are broken down by our livers, BCAAs are broken down directly into the muscle, which is what makes them so effective in muscle protein synthesis and the prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). 

The breakdown of BCAAs directly into the muscle is also thought to give an energy boost if used during a workout. That’s why Vivo Life’s intra-workout complex SUSTAIN contains 4g of BCAAs per serving. 

Liver Function 

Research has suggested that BCAA supplements are beneficial in combating some of the severe side effects of liver failure, including hepatic encephalopathy, which can cause and even lead to coma. 

Those who suffer with liver disease also report positive effects of heightened BCAA levels, including increased levels of energy, a better quality of sleep and reduced risk of overall complications. In the case of cancer of the liver, BCAA supplements may help to reduce the amount of water retained by the body. 

As with any serious or chronic condition, you should always seek professional medical advice if you are intending to start taking BCAA supplements.

Fatigue 

BCAAs are associated with reduced levels of fatigue, both mentally and physically, in conjunction with exercise. Having higher levels of BCAAs before and during a workout can keep you moving for longer, and speed up recovery time.

Muscle Growth

Many people who use protein powders for muscle gains look for products which specifically contain BCAAs, as they are linked to increased muscle growth. Vivo Life’s PERFORM protein powder contains 6g of BCAAs per serving for increased muscle protein synthesis and enhanced performance. 

Supplements containing leucine are thought to be the best at stimulating the enzymes responsible for muscle growth. Aside from supplements, there are a number of whole foods such as hemp, pumpkin and sesame seeds, which contain higher levels of leucine for a boost. 

Muscle Soreness

Branched Chain Amino Acids can be used to prevent muscle soreness. Studies have shown that they can lower your blood levels of enzymes called creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase. Creatine kinase is found in skeletal and heart muscle, and can cause heart attacks in high amounts. Lactate dehydrogenase is found in almost every area of the body and helps with the process of converting sugars into energy. Higher levels of this enzyme in the blood might be indicative of further tissue and muscle damage, so having BCAAs help lower these levels and prevent muscle damage is very beneficial. 

Weight Management

There is evidence to suggest that BCAAs can help to enhance fat loss and assist in weight management in tandem with a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise. Further study is ongoing in this area to determine the efficacy of BCAAs in weight management as there is a correlation between consuming fewer BCAAs and consuming less protein, which might affect the ways in which weight is gained. 

Side effects of BCAA supplements

We have previously written an article detailing the safety of BCAA supplementation, and how there is likely no cause for concern in taking BCAAs if you are generally healthy. There are no reported concerns or side effects for most people in taking BCAAs. 

However, there are certain metabolic disorders which can affect the body’s ability to break down amino acids. People with these conditions should limit their intake of BCAAs, as they can build up in the body, causing severe and often life threatening conditions, including neurological damage. 

So, let’s sum up! BCAAs are good for your liver, brain, heart, blood sugar, muscles, weight and energy levels. Protein powders containing BCAAs can help to improve performance and reduce muscle damage during and after a workout. Coupled with a good diet and a workout, BCAAs can improve your fitness and recovery time - so what’s not to love!

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