BCAAs: muscle building and muscle protection
The abbreviation BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids (branched chain amino acids) valine, isoleucine and leucine. BCAAs are among the essential amino acids. This means that the body must absorb them with food and cannot produce them itself. In contrast to the other amino acids, which are mainly metabolised in the liver, our body breaks down BCAAs directly in the muscle. They are involved in the building of muscles and serve the muscle cells as an energy supplier. This makes them particularly interesting for people who want to build and maintain muscle tissue.
- The role of BCAAs in muscle building
- Why do BCAAs "protect" the muscle?
- BCAAs or protein powder?
- Conclusion: When do you benefit from BCAAs?
The role of BCAAs in muscle building
Studies show that BCAAs - especially leucine - have an anabolic (anabolic) effect on protein metabolism in humans. They not only increase the rate of protein synthesis but also reduce protein breakdown in resting muscle. Supplementation with BCAAs both before and after a workout can reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and promote muscle protein synthesis. According to Shimomura et al, BCAAs are therefore a useful addition to the workout.
Although leucine has the strongest effect on muscle growth, supplementation of the amino acid alone is not recommended. Study results have shown that the intake of BCAAs after training leads to a stronger activation of the mTOR (= mechanistic Target of Rapamycin) signalling pathway than the intake of leucine alone. mTOR is a protein that initiates performance-enhancing and growth-promoting processes through activation. The optimal ratio of amino acids to each other is currently 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine). Another study found that the combined intake of the three amino acids led to a 22% greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (compared to placebo).
Branched-chain amino acids can also improve post-workout recovery and even reduce muscle soreness.
Why do BCAAs "protect" the muscle?
Our muscle cells obtain their energy from ATP. However, the supply of this energy-rich phosphate compound is exhausted after just a few seconds. The muscles have to break down glucose (carbohydrate) and fat in order to produce more ATP. These are broken down into ATP in the so-called power stations of the cell, the mitochondria. Problem: With a low-carb diet, long training sessions (e.g. endurance sports) or after long periods of fasting (e.g. intermittent fasting), carbohydrate stores can be depleted and the level of glucose and fat stores in the blood can be low. The body then uses amino acids from the muscle to generate energy.
While carbohydrates can be stored in the form of fat if there is an excess, our body cannot produce carbohydrates from fatty acids. Only proteins can be converted into carbohydrates. If there is a lack of carbohydrates, proteins are therefore needed alongside fats to produce energy. And this is where BCAAs come into play: they serve the body as an emergency reserve, so to speak, when there is too little glucose in the blood and the carbohydrate (glycogen) reserves are depleted.
BCAAs or protein powder?
Those who want to increase their BCAA intake in the form of supplements have several options. The amino acids are available as a powder and in tablet form, with or without flavour. Good to know: The taste of pure BCAA powder takes some getting used to and BCAAs are also poorly soluble in water. For anyone trying BCAAs for the first time, we therefore recommend our peach iced tea flavoured powder or our BCAA tablets.
Of course, the BCAAs - like all other essential amino acids - are also contained in our protein powder . For example, our 3K protein powder contains 4 g of BCAAs per serving (30 g). So if you drink a protein shake after your workout, you don't necessarily need to take BCAAs. Is it then even worth buying additional supplements?
The advantage of isolated BCAA supplements is that they contain fewer calories than protein shakes. So if you want to support your training but also want to save calories, BCAAs are the right choice. Taking them in tablet form is also very practical, as they are easy to transport and take.
Conclusion: When do you benefit from BCAAs?
We recommend BCAA supplementation if ...
... you want to provide your body with extra amino acids without eating extra calories.
... your calorie intake is restricted (e.g. because you want to lose weight).
... your training sessions are very time- and/or stress-intensive.
... you exercise on an empty stomach or intermittent fasting (intermittent fasting).
... you're on a low-carb diet.
- Blomstrand et al. Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise. J Nutr 2006; 136:269-73.
- Shimomura et al. Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise. J Nutr 2004; 134: 1583-87.
- Moberg et al. Activation of mTORC1 by leucine is potentiated by branched-chain amino acids and even more so by essential amino acids following resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol 2016. 310: C874-84.
- R. Jackmann et al. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Front Physiol 2017.