BCAA's Come of Age


by Adam Torkildson

Branched-chain amino acids are back in the news again. Long a staple in the world of body building, these nutritional supplements are once again making headlines with their proven results.

Often used for just gaining mass, BCAAs are also useful for those on an extreme lean diet to maintain and build up muscle mass. They are a bodybuilding competitor’s dream.

On extreme diets there’s always the danger of muscle breakdowns. The body starts to metabolize the muscles in an effort to maintain body fat. So the muscles actually begin to dissolve to provide the body with continued energy.

Protein breakdown occurs on the molecular level in the muscles to free up amino acids to fuel the body. And the body resists synthesizing more replacement muscle protein. It’s a vicious circle! 

Your body on a strict diet is waging a war with itself. On the one hand it is not getting enough calories to maintain current weight and energy levels, and on the other hand it begins cannibalizing its own muscle protein to make up for the loss. Then it becomes stingy, refusing to replace the lost muscle protein, leaving the bodybuilder in a mess.

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Your workouts exacerbate this process. The longer you stay on your diet the harder it becomes to maintain the level of energy you need for your workouts. Your body is adapting to your altered state of food intake, trying to make up for calorie losses by ‘borrowing’ from the proteins and glycogens of your muscles. This can really skew your training sessions.

To reverse this process, BCAAs are an ideal solution.

Leucine and other BCAAs will stimulate protein production. This new protein is less susceptible to being stolen from your muscles for the body’s other demands. Thus you not only get more protein, but it is, in a sense, burglar proof!

Protein breakdown is slowed by BCAAs as well. That means that no matter how much your body cries out and demands more energy and protein from your muscles and other bodily features, it can’t take too much at a time. And that’s a good thing, because rapid conversion of muscles into protein is what makes you feel exhausted when you’re not even halfway through your workout.

Scientists are studying the effects of BCAAs on the brain, and early indications are that steady use of them helps maintain serotonin levels in the brain, which in turn keeps you from perceiving bodily weariness when you’re working out. This means you can get through your extreme workouts without hitting that wall of feeling exhausted that causes so many to lessen their workouts to below competitive levels.

Many trainers still believe that whey-based BCAA is the best type of branched-chain amino acids to use to build up and maintain body and muscle mass. But the straight nutritional supplements are proving to be more effective in delivering the muscle mass needed for an all-or-nothing competition. They’re longer lasting, and are gluten-free; making them ideal for anyone who suffers from food allergies.

It seems obvious, then, that anyone wanting to retain muscle while losing weight should include BCAAs in their dieting strategy.


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Adam Torkildson
Adam Torkildson

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