Beast Mode: Switch on Muscle Mass
Everyone remembers that famous scene in Rocky, when he wakes up and chugs a few raw eggs before going to train. Pretty disgusting!! Luckily thanks to the cutting edge technology of supplementation companies, the creation of flavored BCAA powders, we no longer have to go thru the disgusting act of consuming raw eggs to get adequate branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). The branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) account for 14%–18% of the total amino acids in skeletal muscle protein. Unlike the other essential amino acids, BCAAs are oxidized in muscle tissue and not the liver.
Since the 1980’s there has been high interest in branched-chain amino acids by sports nutrition scientists. The metabolism of BCAA is involved in some specific biochemical muscle processes and many studies have been carried out to understand whether sports performance can be enhanced by a BCAA supplementation. Data show that BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis. Muscle damage develops delayed onset muscle soreness: a syndrome that occurs 24-48 h after intensive physical activity that can inhibit athletic performance. According to these findings, it is possible to consider the BCAA as a useful supplement for muscle recovery and immune regulation for sports events.
BCAAs, particularly leucine, have anabolic effects on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation in resting human muscle. These effects are likely to be mediated through changes in signaling pathways controlling protein synthesis. The great thing about BCAA powders, is that they taste almost like Kool-Aid without all the added sugars. Some people just can’t stomach protein shakes due to digestion issues, luckily BCAA drinks are a alternative without the GI issues. One of the most interesting studies to date reported that ingesting an intake of a BCAA mixture or a whey protein hydrolysate after a bout of resistance exercise stimulates the rate of protein synthesis. The key to making continuous gains in muscle mass is to stay in a positive anabolic state. Training muscle tissue breakdown is a necessary part of the growth phase, but lifters walk a fine balance between causing muscle tissue breakdown and not recovering before your next workout.
Stopping Protein Breakdown with BCAA’s
One of the most interesting studies examining the effects of BCAA on performance and muscle tissue breakdown was conducted in swimmers. Male university students were divided into two groups:
- Placebo (sugar capsules) and
- BCAAs (12 grams of BCAAs/day in capsules: leucine 54%, isoleucine 19%, valine 27%) groups.
For a period of two weeks, the subjects took 4 g BCAAs three times a day, a daily total of 12 grams. The participants maintained a regular dietary intake (except the prescribed breakfast on day 15) and exercise activity at moderate/low intensity during the 15-day study. Urinary and blood samples were collected before, during, and after the prescribed exercise for the measurements of the urinary urea nitrogen, as well as the glucose, lactate, glutamine, alanine, and BCAA concentrations in plasma.
BCAA Prevents Muscle Tissue Breakdown!
On day 15, after 25 min of breast stroke exercise and a 600 meter crawl stroke competition, plasma glucose concentration decreased significantly whereas plasma lactate concentration increased significantly in both groups. Twenty hours after the competition, however, a significant increase in the concentrations of the muscle protein breakdown was found in the placebo group but not in the BCAA group. The results obtained in this study suggest that swimming induced muscle proteolysis or muscle tissue breakdown was prevented by BCAA supplementation. Another study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that BCAA supplementation reduced markers of muscle tissue breakdown such as serum levels of creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) in test subjects. Lower levels of these two enzymes suggest that BCAAs reduce the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage in the human body.
BCAAs Increase Testosterone
If your still not convinced that you should be using BCAAs, then this study may persuade you to add them to your supplement stack. Researchers investigate whether short-term BCAA supplementation could maintain a short-term net anabolic hormonal profile and decrease muscle cell damage during a period of high-intensity resistance training (overreaching), thereby enhancing recovery and decreasing the risk of injury and illness.
Eight previously resistance trained males were randomly assigned to either a high branched chain amino acids (BCAA) or placebo group. Subjects consumed the supplement for 3 weeks before commencing a fourth week of supplementation with concomitant high-intensity total-body resistance training (overreaching) (3 × 6-8 repetitions maximum, 8 exercises). Blood was drawn prior to and after supplementation, then again after 2 and 4 days of training. Serum was analyzed for testosterone, cortisol, and creatine kinase.
At the end of the study, serum testosterone levels were significantly higher, and cortisol and markers of muscle damage (i.e. creatine kinase levels) were significantly lower in the BCAA group during and following resistance training. These findings suggest that short-term amino acid supplementation, which is high in BCAA, may produce a net anabolic hormonal profile while attenuating training-induced increases in muscle tissue damage. Athletes’ nutrient intake, which periodically increases amino acid intake to reflect the increased need for recovery during periods of overreaching, may increase subsequent competitive performance while decreasing the risk of injury or illness.
The newest study reported in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that 12 grams of BCAA per day can improve performance. Researchers examined trained cyclists with 12grams /day (6g/d L-Leucine, 2g/d L-Isoleucine and 4g/d L-Valine) of either branched chain amino acids or a carbohydrate based maltodextrin placebo over a 10-week training season affected select body composition, performance, and/or immune variables. The BCAA’s did not increase lean muscle mass but peak power (19% increase in the BCAA group pre- to post-study), and relative mean power (4% increase in the BCAA group pre- to post-study). 4km time-trial time to completion approached a significant interaction (p = 0.08), as the BCAA group improved in this measure by 11% pre- to post-study, though this was not significant. Chronic BCAA supplementation improves sprint performance variables in endurance cyclists. Additionally, given that BCAA supplementation blunted the neutrophil response to intense cycling training, BCAAs may benefit immune function during a prolonged cycling season.
One can see that over an extended period of time if you’re constantly breaking down muscle after exercise, you’re not going to be growing and leaning more into overtraining. Incorporating BCAA’s into your supplement routine may be wise for those who are training hard.
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