Ever see those guys at the gym with large water jugs filled a quarter of the way up with a colored substance? Some might assume it is just flavored water. When asked they will tell you that it is BCAA’s otherwise known as Branched-chain Amino Acids. Drinking BCAA’s is essential for those looking to replenish the protein within their muscles after a hard day of lifting. But what is it that makes them so essential? I will give you a breakdown of Amino Acids and how you can benefit from them in your training.
There are 20 amino acids present in the form of protein. They separated by the 10 amino acids that the body produces and the 10 amino acids that must be consumed commonly referred to as the essential amino acids (the BCAA’s are amongst this group). The following is a breakdown of the 10 essential amino acids and how they are helpful:
- Arginine – stimulates the release of growth hormone. An increased level of GH can assist the body in fat reduction, increase muscle mass and improve recovery and healing. Plays a role in creatine synthesis (creatine is valuable in its energy role during anaerobic activities, such as weight lifting and sprinting)
- Histidine – essential for infants and athletes but nor for most adults. Its major function is in the growth and repair of tissue. It has a role in digestion and the production of gastric juices, the formation of red blood cells and white blood cells
- Isoleucine – (BCAA) – integral part of muscles tissue. It is metabolized within the muscle tissue during exercise as a source of energy. It is essential in the formation of hemoglobin and is involved in the process of regulating blood sugar levels.
- Leucine – (BCAA) – primary amino acid utilized for energy. Found in higher concentrations in muscles during periods of rest. It is important to endurance athletes because 90 percent of it is metabolized for energy during exercise.
- Lysine – found in high concentrations within the muscle tissue and is required for proper growth and development. Needed for the repair of connective tissue. Where the amount in the muscle tissue is inadequate, protein synthesis, growth and repair become restricted. Plays a role in the proper development of bone tissue and is needed for the formation of collagen and certain enzymes.
- Methionine – a sulfur-containing essential amino acid used for proper growth and development. It is involved in the process of transmethylation, whereby enzymatic compounds (required in muscle activation and contraction) are formed. Important in the removal of waste products from the liver. It assists in the breakdown of fats, and prevents build-up of fat in the liver and arteries. It functions in the digestive system and aids the body during muscle weakness. Essential for the synthesis of choline (the brain food) and lecithin.
- Phenylalanine – it is involved in appetite control where it inhibits the body’s desire for food by increasing the brain’s production of norepinephrine and cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK triggers the brain when adequate food has been ingested. Without it the body cannot produce the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine which are vital for memory. Also important for tissue growth and repair making it important for athletes. It is a precursor to tyrosine.
- Threonine – plays an important role in the prevention of fatty acid build-up. Its primary function is in the formation of collagen and elastin.
- Tryptophan – supports the role of vitamin B. Can be beneficial in increasing GH levels. Increases cardiovascular capacity and endurance
- Valine – (BCAA) – an integral part of muscle tissue and is metabolized as an energy source during exercise. It is needed for tissue repair after exercise and is important for nitrogen balance and muscle metabolism.
- These must be ingested because the body does not possess the required enzymes for their biosynthesis. They must be present to avoid degradation of the body’s proteins. If one amino acid is absent, the body must compensate by cannibalizing its own muscle to produce that particular amino acid. Amino acids are not stored and must be consumed daily.
- Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAA) contribute to roughly 35 percent of the amino acids found in muscle tissue
- These can be metabolized in the muscle tissue during exercise for fuel
- They are important for Nitrogen Balance for when the body undergoes any degree of stress. They help maintain sufficient proportions of nitrogen within the muscle cells.
- When the amount of nitrogen ingested is equal to the amount of nitrogen excreted, nitrogen balance is obtained. Muscles can grow when a sufficient amount of nitrogen is present (positive/negative environment)
- A balanced system indicates a sufficient supply of protein available for growth and repair.
- During low-intensity, high-duration exercise, the body utilizes 90 percent of its total leucine content as a source of energy.