Branched Chain Amino Acids – What they are and what do they do?

What are Branched chain amino acids (BCAA's)?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are present in varying quantities and combinations in all sources of protein including chicken, whey, pulses, nuts and even vegetables.

Certain sources are ‘complete’ proteins and that means that they contain all of the amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own so they need to be taken in through the diet. These essential amino acids are fundamental to life and healthy functioning. Sources such as meat and dairy (including whey) are all complete sources of protein so are ideal for muscle building and maintenance. Incomplete sources include nuts, seeds, legumes and vegetables so if you are vegetarian or vegan you need to ensure you eat a wide variety of foods to get the full spectrum of amino acids.

What is included in BCAA's?

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) include leucine, isoleucine and valine and are 3 of the essential amino acids which simply have branched chains in their chemical structure, hence the name.

Leucine in particular is absolutely fundamental for muscle growth and maintenance and you’ll often hear it talked about specifically in bodybuilding and nutrition circles. Leucine is the amino acid responsible for triggering the process of muscle protein synthesis whenever you have a protein meal and it’s this process which is the main driver in muscle growth.

The other two are also important and isoleucine plays a central role in glucose uptake into the cells, which is clearly vital during exercise.

During training, blood levels of the branched chain amino acids decline and this sets off a chain of reactions, leading to fatigue so it is important to have an adequate supply of these BCAAs available to keep the blood levels topped up. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean drinking BCAAs actually while training this is certainly one of the options.

Which BCAA supplement do you recommend?

I personally use Reflex Nutrition BCAA Intra Fusion as my BCAA supplement when I need that protein spike and I‘ve not had another protein source (i.e. a proper meal) for a few hours. This works especially well around training as BCAA Intra Fusion mixes really well and won’t sit heavily in your stomach during even the most intense sessions. Follow this up with an Instant Whey Pro shake immediately after your workout and you’ll get all the protein you need to maximise the effects of your training.

I also like to use BCAAs when I need a protein hit and I’m not hungry – so essentially during periods of fasting. This means you can keep muscle protein synthesis going even when intake is low and get the best of both worlds. For me, this is often first thing in the morning when I wake up. I can sip on the BCAAs which will keep me ticking over until breakfast or even lunch, and this can vary day to day.

How else can you use BCAA's?

Another, less often considered use for BCAAs is when a meal might not contain enough leucine to trigger the all-important muscle protein synthesis and as I’ve alluded to, this can happen in vegetarian, vegan and other more specialist diets. Although it’s certainly possible, doing it regularly and consistently requires a lot of planning and effort and sometimes using a branched chain amino acid supplement can be an invaluable tool.

Ultimately, branched chain amino acids are absolutely essential to muscle growth and repair and BCAA Intra Fusion is an easy way to get more of them in your diet especially if protein is low particularly around training. Both flavours of BCAA Intra Fusion are absolutely spot on but for me, the Watermelon version, mixed into a 2.2l Reflex Jug is the perfect recipe for intra-workout nutrition.

As always Team CSN are here to help, call or email us today and we can give you professional, unbiased advice on all your nutrition and supplement needs.

Reflex Nutrition Athlete, Dr Emil 'Goliath' Hodzovic will be meeting and greeting as part of CSN's and Reflex Nutrition's sampling day on Saturday 18th February 2017.

Emil ‘goliath’ will be visiting CSN