I’ve got a lot of questions recently on social media from people wanting to know about BCAA supplements. So I thought I’d take to my laptop and write an article that addresses the key things you should know about BCAA supplementation. What they are, how to use them and finally (for me personally) how BCAA’s can help prevent overtraining.
So what are BCAA’s? Firstly they are three amino acids in the form of leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Leucine is important for building and increasing lean muscle mass. It increases insulin secretion for better uptake of protein and carbohydrates, essential ingredients in the building of muscle and providing energy for the body. It is the most effective BCAA for preventing muscle loss because it can be broken down and converted to glucose more quickly than isoleucine and valine. This increase in glucose supply helps prevent the body’s cannibalization of muscle for energy. Leucine also aids in the production of growth hormone, which can help to heal bones and skin and also speed up recovery after exercise. For these reasons, leucine is often recommended for patients who are recovering from injury or surgery. Deficiency in leucine can lead to headaches, fatigue and even depression.
Isoleucine is essential in stabilising and regulating energy and blood sugar levels and is needed for haemoglobin formation. Its primary function is to boost energy and help the body recover from strenuous activity. It has been shown in studies that isoleucine can help to prevent muscle and tissue breakdown overnight and during extreme levels of exercise such as marathons and other extreme distance events. Deficiencies in isoleucine can result in dizziness, confusion and irritability.
Valine helps the body to maintain a good nitrogen balance in the body, allowing muscle growth. Because of its ability to remove potentially toxic nitrogen from the liver, it is thought that valine can be used to help treat the liver as well as other organs that have been damaged by alcohol abuse. It also aids in muscle metabolism and tissue repair, and is therefore great for recovery from strenuous exercise. Valine helps prevent the breakdown of muscle by supplying the muscles with extra glucose for energy production during intense physical activity. Another benefit of valine is that it helps to stimulate the central nervous system, helping the functioning of the brain.
Why do I use them to prevent overtraining? Well it’s one supplement that comes recommended by sports nutritionists when talking about overtraining and immune system suppression is branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Scientists from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo in Brazil set out to determine how intense long duration exercise could lead to immune suppression through a decrease in the circulating level of plasma glutamine and how the decrease in plasma glutamine concentration as a consequence of intense long duration exercise was reversed, in some cases, by supplementing the diet of the athletes with branched-chain amino acids.
Although this particular study was conducted on endurance athletes, the scientific theory is still applicable to strength athletes involved in high volume conditioning.
To investigate immune response and BCAA supplementation, they evaluated blood parameters (lymphocyte production, the level of plasma cytokines, plasma glutamine concentration, and in vitro production of cytokines by peripheral blood lymphocytes) before and after the São Paulo International Triathlon as well as the incidence of symptoms of infections between the groups. The data obtained showed that after intense exercise, a decrease in plasma glutamine concentration was paralleled by an increased incidence of symptoms of infections. They then found that BCAA supplementation can reverse the reduction in serum glutamine concentration observed after prolonged intense exercise such as an Olympic triathlon. The prevention of the lowering of plasma glutamine concentration allows an increased response of lymphocytes as well as an increased production of IL-1 and 2, TNF-alpha, and IFN-gamma, which is possibly linked to the lower incidence of symptoms of infection (33.84 percent) reported by the supplemented athletes.