I’m asked about supplementation nearly every day. Most aren’t worth the bottle their in. However, if you’re going to take anything at all, no matter what your goal is (fat loss, muscle gain, body transformation, performance, etc, it should be Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). I’ve written about BCAA’s more over the last 10 years than anything else, so I’m simply going to take a little bit from my other writings, add some other information and combine it together here. I’m writing this quickly and these are all my own thoughts, so once I read over it a time or two, I may make some simple adjustments (spelling/grammar errors, etc). Enjoy!
This isn’t information just for people to gain muscle – for fat loss, it is essential to maintain lean body mass to keep an increased metabolic rate. This is one of the more technical writings I will write here on the blog, because I like to keep it simple for the fitness beginner and people just looking to make a change, but this information is too important not to thoroughly understand.
Quick rundown: Essential amino acids are the ones your body cannot make on it’s own and must be obtained from diet. These are the important ones and these are the absolute key to body transformation. Three of the most important are leucine, iso-leucine and valine (the branched chained amino acids, or BCAAs). Why are they so important? Simple – the key to body transformation (even before fat loss) is preserving the muscle we already have. Muscle = Higher Metabolic Rate. Higher metabolic rate = leaner you, because you’re burning more calories in everything you do. Ok, so how do the BCAAs have to do with this? When you exercise, your body will try to use these three aminos for energy, thus, breaking down muscle to obtain these. More importantly, the body CANNOT SYNTHESIZE PROTEIN WITHOUT EVERY AMINO ACID PRESENT!!! This is why it is important to consume whole proteins (and why protein from sources such as peanuts and bread aren’t very good sources because they are deficient in many essential aminos).
Many quality protein powders are enriched with extra BCAAs, but I prefer to take it a step further: muscle (for women and men, and this is for everyone that is serious about looking lean, toned, trim, or whatever you may call it) is extremely precious. So, I choose to supplement with additional amino acids. To add, the BCAAs are binded to other aminos in powders. In formulas like Xtend, they are free formed and are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Amount depends on your size (of course), but timing is crucial. Consumption should be at times when muscle is vulnerable to metabolization: I drink them before and during cardio and also during and after weight training.
For optimum muscle growth, cellular growth, metabolism, and recovery to occur, the proper proportions of amino acids need to be eaten. However, eating amino acid sources, such as meat and eggs, does not ensure that the amino acids they supply will be available for muscle growth and formation of other proteins. For example, suppose you have a gross intake of 100 grams of protein with all the essential amino acids present in equal amounts. Now consider how these amino acids are used in the body. To start, a considerable amount of leucine will be used for energy in exercising muscle. This means that there may be only a small amount of leucine available for growth and repair. When leucine finally runs out, this will affect protein formation because leucine is an essential amino acid. That means your body cannot make it. In actuality, perhaps only 15 grams of the original 100 grams of protein will be available for growth and repair. This is one reason why athletes need more protein, not just to compensate for growth and recovery demands from exercise, but to compensate for the loss of essential amino acids like leucine when they are used for energy.
There’s so much more than just protein grams – you MUST be getting the right aminos!
Branched Chained Amino Acids - the first used for energy, and typically the most limited supply in the body (these are the ones that your body WILL breakdown muscle to get if it runs out of glucose for energy):
Essential Amino Acids – these are the ones that your body cannot create on it’s own (the BCAAs are included)
Nonessential Amino Acids – the aminos that your body can synthesize and don’t necessarily need to be obtained in the diet.
Conditionally Essential Amino Acids – in some cases, the body cannot produce enough of some amino acids, to they are considered essential (meaning they must be obtained from the diet).
If every amino acid is present, the body is in a state in which it can synthesize protein, also called a “positive nitrogen balance”. If every amino is not present, then the body is in “negative nitrogen balance”.
Nitrogen balance is binary – there’s no “almost” or “partly” synthesizing. Before new muscle tissue can be built, the body must be in positive nitrogen balance!
Exercise basically “eats up” the BCAAs, so it is obvious that there is a need for increased BCAA intake for the physically active to not only gain muscle, but to also preserve it. Specifically replacing (or overcompensating loss of BCAAs) is best accomplished by supplementing with a product such as Scivation’s Xtend (the blue raspberry and lemonade are AMAZING).
One can also conclude that it makes sense to focus not only on total protein intake, but also obtaining a complete amino acid profile, specifically focusing on the essential and conditionally essential amino acids. This is most easily done by supplementation with a quality protein blend (note that I did not say WHEY protein – search for a blend) and eating a variety of different protein sources (chicken breast, fish, lean cuts of red meat, turkey, etc).