BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids. Branched chain amino acids are basically amino acids composed in a certain molecular structure. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and the importance of protein to the human body cannot be overstated. As a result, many athletes and professionals take an extra serving of BCAAs to help them in their training and muscle development. BCAA supplements are legal in the United States. The most common BCAAs are valine, leucine and isoleucine. Since our body does not produce BCAAs on its own, we must get them from our diet. Amino acids have multiple functions related to energy production during and after physical exercise, so they are needed in fairly high quantities.
Branched chain amino acids are often used to treat a wide variety of diseases. Some examples are brain conditions due to liver disease and elderly and cancer patients who are confined to bed to reduce muscular atrophy. Many people, especially those who try to lead a healthy lifestyle, use BCAAs to prevent fatigue and improve concentration. Others take branched-chain amino acid supplements to improve athletic performance and reduce muscle breakdown.
Exercise increases serotonin levels, which most medical doctors believe causes fatigue. BCAAs, however, are believed to cause a reduction in serotonin, and thus null the fatigue and actually enhance exercise performance. A few studies showcase this ability: Back in 1998, subjects took either a BCAA supplement or a placebo before taking an endurance cycle ride in hot weather. The BCAA group cycled 153.1 minutes on average, while the placebo group averaged only 137 minutes. This means the BCAA group cycled 16.1 minutes more than their placebo counterparts. Moreover, a recent study in Japan looked at the effects of a BCAA supplement on athletes during a training event that lasted one month and found multiple indicators of increased blood oxygen-carrying capacity. Other studies, however, suggest BCAAs offer no improvement and the amino acids are said to be inadequate when utilized in this fashion.
Skeletal muscles are the muscles primarily responsible for metabolizing BCAAs as other branched chain amino acids are metabolized in your liver. With that in mind, some people claim BCAAs help fix damaged muscles, decrease muscle fatigue and improve muscle function. Data shows that taking BCAAs before and after exercise is beneficial for lowering exercise-induced muscle damage and facilitating muscle-protein synthesis. A study conducted in Japan in 2006 concluded that the intake of BCAA may allow an increase in anabolic hormone synthesis (causing muscle repair after workouts) while also decreasing the likelihood of training-induced muscle damage. Another study, also conducted in Japan, examined a group of men and women as they did squats for multiple days. One group was given a placebo and the other group was given BCAA supplements. Both sexes reported less soreness when they were given the supplements. Studies like this one and many others lead experts to believe it’s possible to consider BCAA as a useful supplement for muscle recovery.
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