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What Are Bcaas?

What Are Bcaas?

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a sub-group of amino acids that possess many unique properties that are of benefit to athletes and bodybuilders.  Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs influence processes other than just being used in protein synthesis. BCAAs can boost immune function, stimulate fat loss, enhance recovery, stimulate muscle growth and increase endurance. In this article, we will investigate exactly what BCAAs are and touch on some of their benefits for anybody training.

What are BCAAs?

Be it food or supplement, any type of protein is comprised of chains of amino acids.  The arrangement and type of amino acids in these chains determine what type of protein the food/supplement is and its digestion time.  Longer chain of amino acids take more time to be digested by the body, as it needs to break down the bonds between the amino acids before it can make them useable.  Amino acids have many effects on the body aside from just building muscle.  They can be used for increasing protein synthesis, generating energy for the muscles to use and even producing chemicals that help the brain to function optimally.

Amino acids are split into two groups: essential and non-essential.  Non-essential amino acids are produced by the body (there are 9 of them).  The body can produce these by itself from vitamins and other amino acids.  The body cannot produce essential amino acids(there are 13) and so these must be taken in through diet. BCAAs fall into the essential group and are comprised of the amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.  What separates BCAAs from the other amino acids is how they are processed by the body and how BCAAs can be exploited to help training progression.

How BCAAs Work

When protein is ingested, it is broken down in the stomach into small peptide chains and amino acids. These amino acids are shuttled to the liver before being transported to the rest of the body.  Once in the liver, amino acids can be burned to provide energy.  What makes BCAAs of interest to trainers is that they are metabolised by the muscle rather than the liver. BCAAs pass through the liver without being significantly broken down.  From here BCAAs are transported to the muscles where they can impact metabolic processes.

BCAAs and Catabolism

The working muscles have the ability to break down BCAAs for energy and will do so during times of increased energy needs such as starvation or exercise.  This makes the body less likely to break down hard earned muscle tissue when there are BCAAs available.  This becomes significantly important for athletes and bodybuilders that are on lower carbohydrate intakes, especially when performing higher intensity training.  Fat utilisation will not be possible due to training intensity, so the body will either break down the muscle tissue to gain amino acids (particularly BCAAs) to burn for fuel, or it will use any ingested BCAAs.  The benefits of BCAAs do not stop there; post-workout BCAAs are used to support protein synthesis, in turn increasing muscle growth.  Studies have shown that ingestion of BCAAs prevents this breakdown or catabolism.  When muscular development depends upon minimising catabolic events, this can be a very effective way of increasing muscle size and maximising gains from workouts.

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