It is thought that protein makes up 20% of the human body and is essential for numerous biological processes, specifically relating to repair and growth. Amino Acids are often referred to as the building blocks of protein and can be found in cells and tissues throughout the body. Their function extends further than just having a structural element as amino acids are also essential for transport of nutrients, healing and energy production.
There are 9 essential amino acids; they are known as “essential” as the body cannot synthesise these acids itself and they must therefore be consumed through one’s diet. Meat, dairy and plant products tend to be full of essential amino acids. 3 of the 9 of essential amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine which are collectively known as Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAA’s. “Branch Chain” refers to the structure of these acids as they are constructed of connecting branches of different chemicals.
Amino Acid Supplements
You can now purchase a whole host of amino acid based supplements. But what are amino acids good for? A few individual examples of amino acid supplement benefits include arginine for circulation, glutamine for improved immune function and carnitine for energy. Other potential amino acid benefits include: enhanced mental focus, improved performance and reduced muscle soreness.
One of the best selling amino acid supplements is the BCAA supplement. They have become stalwarts of the supplements industry, but what impact do these 3 specific acids have on the body? Can you use BCAA’s for weight loss and muscle growth?
As mentioned, BCAA’s are simply 3 amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine. It has been theorised that leucine may slow the rate of muscle atrophy (loss) and potentially even increase muscle growth through the promotion of protein synthesis. Isoleucine promotes glucose (energy) uptake into the cells of the body whilst Valine compliments the benefits of both Leucine and Isoleucine. Leucine is highly regarded as the ultimate BCAA and as a result, many of the best selling BCAA supplements follow a ratio of 2:1:1 (2 Leucine: 1 Isoleucine: 1 Valine).
There does appear to be conflicting evidence between the relationship of BCAA supplementation and muscle growth. Some research suggests that BCAA’s may indeed improve the rate of protein synthesis and consequently cause muscle growth. However, other studies have not found a significant link between supplementation and muscle growth and suggest that more research should be completed to clarify further.
Protein can be used as a source of energy when carbohydrates and stored energy becomes depleted. However, protein is not a very efficient energy source in comparison to carbohydrates and therefore increasing your protein or amino acid intake will not impact your energy levels significantly. With that being said, many BCAA supplements have many stimulants present in the blend which will explain perceived amino acid energy benefits.
Branched chain amino acids for weight loss
If you are taking amino acids for weight loss related goals, be aware that it will not have a direct impact on your fat stores as the only mechanism that can cause fat reduction is a calorie deficit (where the body burns more calories per day than it requires). However, using BCAA’s as a training aid can be beneficial. It may help to speed up recovery time between training bouts which will allow you to train more regularly and at a higher intensity thus increasing the amount of calories that you burn.
Whilst there is no direct impact on fat stores, there is one reason why I would absolutely recommend BCAA’s to a fat loss gym goer. One of the most challenging parts of losing weight is the fact that you are likely to lose muscle size and strength as a result of being in a calorie deficit. As mentioned, BCAA’s (specifically Leucine) have been found to slow the process of muscle atrophy (loss), so by supplementing BCAA’s whilst in a calorie deficit we can maintain our muscle size more efficiently and reduce muscle wastage.
There are potential benefits through BCAA supplementation, specifically in relation to slowing muscle wastage, however, it’s important to remember that there is no need to supplement BCAA’s if you are already getting an adequate quantity of essential amino acids through your diet.