In part one I took a look at the numerous benefits of branched chain amino acid supplementation. In part two there is even more to look at in regards to these three amino acids.
Researchers from Sacred Heart University compared the difference between taking a BCAA supplement or consuming a carbohydrate beverage prior to a 90 minute endurance cycling trial at 55 percent of maximal oxygen uptake. The BCAA supplement significantly lowered participants’ rating of perceived exertion during the exercise trial in comparison to a placebo group and the carb-supplement group. Additionally, BCAA supplementation raised blood amino acid levels during exercise. This factor likely has the effect of reducing muscle damage. This evidence suggests that BCAA’s can be added to a carb supplement to help lower the rate of perceived exertion and allow for more intense training at the same relative level of exertion.
A new study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition produced even more impressive results by adding caffeine to the BCAA drink. Endurance-trained men who received the BCAA’s had a two percent increase in performance during a two-hour treadmill run, as opposed to the placebo group. Fatigue was also lower, which indicates lower rate of perceived exertion during the endurance test.
A University of Birmingham study found that taking BCAA’s at strategic points throughout the day will significantly reduce delayed onset muscle soreness from high-intensity eccentric training. Researchers found a 64 percent decrease in muscle soreness at 72 hours following exercise from BCAAs compared to a placebo. The exercise consisted of 12 sets of 10 eccentric repetitions at 120 percent of one rep maximum. A load that extreme, focused entirely on negative reps is a sure way to cause muscle soreness.
A well-known Japanese study confirmed that BCAA’s decrease delayed onset muscle soreness where the exercise consisted of squats for seven sets of 20 reps with 3 minute rest intervals. The subjects were either given a placebo or 100 milligrams per kilogram of BCAA’s. The BCAA group reported significantly less soreness at 48 and 72 hours after training.
Reaction time, which is virtually untrainable, has been shown to improve if you have higher BCAA blood levels. A new study found that a high-protein diet improves mental function and reaction time. Participants who ate a high-protein diet, totalling three grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, performed significantly better on verbal fluency tests and had faster reaction time than participants who only ate half as much protein. At the end of the study period, the high-protein group had elevated levels of BCAA’s. This evidence suggests that the source of the improvements are because BCAA’s have been shown to reduce fatigue and heighten brain function after heavy training. This further illustrates their value in post-workout nutrition.
Taking BCAA’s for the brain is especially important as you age. Researchers note that for older individuals who sometimes have difficultly eating enough high-quality protein, BCAA supplementation is not only essential, but convenient. Supplementing with BCAA’s will improve production of the neurotransmitters, boosting cognitive function. BCAA’s have been shown to play a role in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, which will help you generate energy when you need it, and feelings of calmness you when you don’t.
Taking 10 grams of essential amino acids, which include BCAA’s, has been shown to improve depressive symptoms and overall physical performance in an elderly population. BCAA’s likely increased brain serotonin synthesis, which serves to improve mood and decrease depression. BCAA’s were thought to have improved participants’ nutritional status by inducing protein building and increasing insulin sensitivity. Researchers point to the importance of leucine, because it is the most important BCAA for protein building.
Perhaps the most interesting emerging evidence shows that BCAAs will help the liver regenerate after removal of part of the liver. They can also protect the liver from cancer in patients with cirrhosis. Plus, BCAAs improve insulin sensitivity and when improved insulin health is combined with the protective effects in the liver, BCAAs can help prevent fat gain in the liver and avoid non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
A primary way BCAA’s prevent aging and support a lean body composition is by how they improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. High insulin levels cause accelerated aging along with nerve and cell damage, making it imperative that we learnt to control this hormone. Luckily, it’s the one hormone you can manage through diet and exercise, and BCAA’s will help.
Researchers are using BCAA’s as a treatment for diabetes and there’s sufficient data that they can contribute to weight loss.A new study in the journal Diabetologia found that the individuals who were in a weight loss study who lost the most weight, also had the highest BCAA level. There was an even stronger correlation between improvements in insulin sensitivity and BCAA levels than weight loss, indicating that the participants overall health and metabolism had improved.
Another study found that rats that were given BCAA’s in conjunction with a high-glucose solution, had improved glucose tolerance compared to a placebo group. Glucose tolerance means that once the rats ingested a large amount of glucose and their blood sugar was elevated and insulin was secreted, their bodies managed to process the glucose for energy more effectively, than the less tolerant placebo rats.
Recent evidence shows that BCAA’s have an anti-aging effect and increase the formation of new mitochondria, which can increase energy production. Giving a BCAA supplement to mice resulted in extended life spans and supported cardiac health.
Indirectly, there are other ways that BCAA supplementation can prolong life. I already mentioned that BCAA’s promote liver health, and there’s evidence that individuals with chronic liver disease may have better insulin sensitivity with BCAA supplementation. Plus, taking leucine with fish oil and a high protein diet can reduce muscle loss associated with cancer.
The importance of a sound nutritional protocol is illustrated with evidence that protein synthesis is enhanced by BCAA supplementation for up to 24 hours after weight lifting to the point of muscle failure. Training to failure with both 30 percent and 90 percent of the one rep maximum load will sensitize the muscle to protein feeding for 24 hours after the workout. The key is maximal fiber recruitment versus submaximal. Achieving failure primes the body for protein feeding, which should be consumed with BCAA’s throughout the day.
I’m going to be looking into the issue of branched chain amino acids even further in the follow-up to this article. Sources of BCAA’s will be the next installment.
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