Branched Chain Amino Acids
and why you need them…
I remember the first time I read about branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). At first I ignored them because I didn’t really do a lot of supplementation with my diet (other than a few vitamins every morning).
However, as I started getting older and researching deeper into finding ways to train the over-40 body (for optimum health, fitness and physique), I knew supplementation was needed.
So, I researched branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) again and here I am today using them as a regular, and daily, part of my diet.
What are BCAAs
First, a little back story about BCAAs.
These particular BCAAs that I am talking about are not a subsidiary of the BCAA Insurance Agency (FYI: this joke is only gonna work with my British Columbia readers).
They will do absolutely nothing for you if your car breaks down, other than perhaps give you the energy to run to the gas station for help.
Instead, these BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) play a very important role in muscle and energy production during exercise.
Fuelling our muscles
BCAAS are amino acids that the body cannot produce. We must ingest them through food or supplements, and when put to work it’s their job to fuel the muscles whenever our muscles need to contract.
They are main drivers for energy when we exercise and they are also crucial in building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
For those of us 40 years and plus this is great news.
You see we start to lose lean muscle mass in our early 30’s. This decrease in lean muscle tissue is one the reasons we have a harder time maintaining our body weight as we get older (hello middle-aged spread).
As we get older we also have a harder time building muscle.
BCCAs help with both building and maintaining our lean muscle mass as we age.
Studies have shown that older individuals who supplement with a BCAA after their strength workout (and one with a higher ratio of the amino acid leucine), build lean muscle 145% better than those who don’t!
What else can they do?
BCAAs also enhance endurance performance and decrease fatigue. I supplement my water with 10 grams of BCAAs on the days I do cardio in a fasted state. They help keep me going.
When it comes to aging there is also some great evidence that BCAAs can have an anti-aging effect.
Researchers believe it’s because BCAAs increase the formation of new mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses within our cells. They are the compartment of the cell that convert the energy from food into a form that that cell can use.
Mitochondria are found in our brains and our muscle fibres, and when they are plentiful and working optimally we are healthier because of it.
Another benefit to BCAAs is they will reduce your post-workout muscle soreness, thereby allowing you to train at a higher intensity and more frequently.
Can you get BCAAs from food?
Absolutely. BCAAs are found in foods containing protein, with the highest concentrations found in:
- Whey protein
The most popular form of BCAA, though, is powdered.
Because it is recommended to have BCAAs before, during or after your workout most people find it easier to ingest some powder with their water.
My favourite BCAA brand is “PVL Essentials BCAA Powder”.
This particular brand also has a higher ratio of leucine, which is the more beneficial amino acid of the three. Word of caution though, I find the unflavoured BCAA powder pretty nasty unless you are mixing it with something flavoured. Try the orange instead, it isn’t bad.
You can also buy BCAAs in pill form. However, this is more expensive than buying the canister and you cannot utilize its effects while you are working out.
How much do I need
How much BCAA powder should you consume? 5-10 grams is recommended, with the most crucial times either pre, post or during your workout.
When I am training I drink 10 grams while training and then I add another 10 grams in my protein shake post-workout. In addition I also drink 10 grams as soon as I get up in the morning.
Long and short, having BCAAs in your diet can help support muscle size, strength, and performance and perhaps turn back the hands of time.