- What Is BCAAs?
- What Are The Benefits Of Taking BCAA?
- Can Women Take BCAAs?
- What Is The Best Ratio Of BCAA?
- Do You Take BCAAs Before Or After A Workout?
- What Foods Are High In BCAA?
- Are BCAAs Better Than Whey?
- Can BCAA Cause Hair Loss?
- How Much BCAA Do I Need To Take?
- What Are The Side Effects Of BCAA
What Is BCAAs?
BCAAs or branched chain amino acids refer to the three essential amino acids i.e. valine, isoleucine and leucine. They cannot be synthesized by our body so our regular diet should be able to supply them. Out of the total amino acid pool in our body, 35 to 40 percent are branched chain amino acids. They constitute 14 to 18 percent of the total amino acids present in our muscles. They serve as building blocks for proteins and unlike most amino acids their metabolism takes place in our muscles. For improving exercise performance and enhancing growth of muscles, branched chain amino acid supplements are popularly used. They may prove good for fatigue reduction, regulation of blood sugar, promotion of weight loss and reduction of complications related to liver diseases. Out of these, leucine primarily enhances the muscle protein building capacity of our body whereas valine and isoleucine are involved in energy boosting and controlling our blood sugar. A diet rich in proteins as well as any whole protein supplement supply you with required amount of branched chain amino acids. (1)
What Are The Benefits Of Taking BCAA?
- What Are The Benefits Of Taking BCAA?
- Helps Decrease Muscular Pain
- May Ease Fatigue Experienced During Exercise
- May Prove Beneficial In Weight Management
- May Manage Blood Sugar Levels
- May Ease Complications Related To Liver Disease
- May Enhance Muscular Mass
- Effective In Treating Tardive Dyskinesia
- Beneficial For Patients With Spinocerebellar Degeneration
- Improves Appetite In Elderly Patients Suffering From Renal Failure
- Decreases Symptoms Related To Mania
- Beneficial For Trauma And Sepsis Patients
- Promotes Mitochondrial Biogenesis
- May Prevent Cancer
1. Helps Decrease Muscular Pain:
If you take BCAA supplements before and after your workout, you may be able to ease the pain experienced by your muscles. It works against muscle soreness by reducing blood levels of the enzymes, lactate dehydrogenase and creatine kinase, in our blood. These enzymes are involved in muscular damage. In a study done on people doing strength training exercises, it was seen that the participants who took BCAA supplements experienced 33% less of muscular pain as compared to those who were given placebo. After taking the supplement even their performance improved by 20 percent. The effect however is said to differ from person to person. (1)
2. May Ease Fatigue Experienced During Exercise:
Branched chain amino acid supplements may help control mental and physical fatigue. A study reported 15 percent reduction in fatigue experienced by those taking BCAA supplements during exercise as compared to those on placebo. In another study the BCAA group took more time to get exhausted as compared to the placebo group. Their exercise time duration was 17 percent longer. In one study participants were exposed to heat stress while cycling. Some took a placebo and others a drink having BCAA. Those who took BCAA could cycle for much longer duration i.e. 12% more than those who took placebo. (1)
3. May Prove Beneficial In Weight Management:
Studies have reported that people have 30 percent lesser chances of becoming obese if their dietary intake of BCAA is 15 grams a day as compared to those having 12 grams a day. In a study done on wrestlers taking low calorie and high protein diet for 19 days, it was seen that BCAA supplement helped lose 1.6 kg more than those taking soy protein. The loss of body fat was also 0.6 percent more in the BCAA group. In another study spanning over a period of eight weeks, a group of weightlifters took 14 grams of BCAA daily and another 28 grams of whey protein. The loss of body fat was 1% more in the BCAA group and their muscular gain was also 2 kilograms more than the other group. So, branched chain amino acids may help with weight loss. (1)
4. May Manage Blood Sugar Levels:
Insulin (hormone) secretion is increased by the amino acids, isoleucine and leucine. This further promotes sugar uptake in the muscles thereby reducing sugar levels in the blood. In a study on liver disease patients, when BCAA was given in the dose of 12.5 grams thrice a day, 10 participants reported lower blood sugar levels. (1)
5. May Ease Complications Related To Liver Disease:
Hepatic encephalopathy is a complication related to liver disease which is a precursor to confusion, unconsciousness and coma. A study found BCAA supplements more effective in managing the severity of these symptoms as compared to other supplements. Also, studies suggest that solutions containing BCAA when given to liver surgery patients may enhance functioning of their liver, control complications and fasten recovery. BCAA supplements may also improve their quality of life by managing weakness and fatigue, reducing muscular pain and promoting sleep. For liver cancer patients, the supplements may bring about decrease in retention of water and premature death. (1)
6. May Enhance Muscular Mass:
Branched chain amino acid supplements having higher levels of leucine are said to be good for increasing muscular mass. In a study BCAAs were found to activate muscle building enzymes. (1) Leucine in particular was responsible for enhanced protein synthesis and reduced protein degradation in muscles in resting state. BCAAs also brought about anabolism in muscles post endurance exercise. (2)
7. Effective In Treating Tardive Dyskinesia:
Tardive dyskinesia occurs as a result of side effect of antipsychotic drugs used for treatment of various mental health disorders including schizophrenia. It is characterized by involuntary or uncontrollable movements like fast blinking of eyes, puckering of lips, frowning, grunting, sticking out of tongue, waving your arms, feet tapping, sideways swaying etc. (3) A study established the efficacy of BCAA in treatment of tardive dyskinesia. Men with long history of using psychiatric drugs and suffering from prolonged tardive dyskinesia were divided into two groups one receiving placebo and another BCAA for three weeks thrice a day. BCAA were given in the dose of 222 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Significant improvement in the symptoms tardive dyskinesia was seen in the group receiving BCAA. (4)
8. Beneficial For Patients With Spinocerebellar Degeneration:
It is a genetic disorder which progresses slowly and results in improper coordination of speech, movements of eyes and hands. Cerebral atrophy and uncoordinated muscle movements is seen which often turns fatal. (5) A study explored the effects of BCAA on eleven people suffering from spinocerebellar degeneration. Randomly for a week they were given 2 mg of thyrotropin releasing hormone, a placebo or 200 ml of a solution rich in BCAA. Improvement in symptoms of the patients following treatment with BCAA was seen. (6) In another study done on 16 patients of spinocerebellar degeneration, BCAA was found to be effective in decreasing severity of ataxia. They were daily given oral BCAA in the dose of 1.5, 3.0 or 6.0 g for a month. It was concluded that those suffering from cerebellar form of the disease may benefit from BCAA. (7)
9. Improves Appetite In Elderly Patients Suffering From Renal Failure:
In a study done on malnourished hemodialysis patients above the age of 70 it was seen that oral BCAA supplements had the potential of managing anorexia. This was beneficial in bringing improvement in the nutritional level of these patients. Oral BCAA supplementation brought about improvement in the blood plasma levels of the amino acids which helped improve appetite. (8)
10. Decreases Symptoms Related To Mania:
BCAA drink was found to be beneficial in reducing symptoms of mania. In a study, 25 patients either received BCAA in the dose of 60 grams or a placebo every day for a week. Within six hours, substantial improvement in the symptoms of the BCAA group was seen as compared to that of the placebo group. (9)
11. Beneficial For Trauma And Sepsis Patients:
Amount of nitrogen excreted in the urine is an indicator of stress in trauma patients. An index more than 5 is considered severe, 0 to 5 is moderate and below 0 is considered almost no stress. In a study, surgically stressed patients were given BCAA and their nitrogen retention was studied. Patients excreting 6 to 23 grams of nitrogen in their urine daily were divided into 4 groups. Total parenteral nutrition having BCAA in different proportions i.e. 15%, 20%, 47% and 50% was given to them. On the third day, improved nitrogen balance was seen in patients who were given higher percentages of BCAA. On the seventh day, patients getting 47 percent BCAA had the best nitrogen balance. Other studies have also depicted positive impact of BCAA on nitrogen balance in surgical trauma patients. Brain functioning of traumatic brain injury patients also improved when BCAA supplements were given to them. BCAA has also been found to be beneficial for septic patients. A study was done on 69 such patients. They were divided into three groups and were given 23%, 45% and 45% of BCAAs as a part of their TPN. They were divided into three groups and were given 23%, 45% and 45% of BCAAs based on the TPN. Mortality rate of the two groups receiving 45% BCAA was much lesser than the other group. 45% of BCAA was also found to be more effective than 22.5% when given to person suffering from peritonitis. They showed better nitrogen balance, increased levels of plasma prealbumin, better retinol binding protein level and lower stress index. (10)
12. Promotes Mitochondrial Biogenesis:
Mitochondrial biogenesis and increased survival rate of eukaryotic cells has strong relationship. In a study done on middle aged mice, BCAA oral supplements promoted biogenesis of mitochondria which in turn enhanced their average span of life. It worked by activation of mTOR in HL-1 cells of cardiac muscle. Synthesis of protein was regulated by mTOR in response to BCAA supplementation which in turn promoted gene expression of mitochondria. This was brought about by the combined action of PGC-1 alpha protein and enhanced activation of the nitric oxide generating system. Moreover, BCAA supplementation brought about upregulation of the ROS defense system which in turn reduced synthesis of the reactive oxygen species (ROS). All this make branched chain amino acid supplements apt for enhancing health status of aged ailing patients. (10)
13. May Prevent Cancer:
BCAA may help in suppression of tumor by preventing multiplication of potential cancer cells. This is because leucine promotes synthesis of protein through activation of mTOR signaling pathway. A study revealed that when human cancer cells U2OS and HepG2 were cultured in a medium having BCAA, mTORC1 activities increased, there was more synthesis of albumin and resultant premature senescence activities. (10)
Can Women Take BCAAs?
Studies have shown that BCAA are beneficial for women.
- In a study, 12 healthy women who were untrained were made to do high volume squats. Some were given BCAA in the dose of 100 mg per kg of their body weight and some did it with a placebo. The BCAA group of women reported less muscular soreness post exercise, faster recovery and better maintenance of strength during the exercise session.(11)
- A study done on female mice depicted that BCAA accompanied with exercise like running could bring about improvement in body composition. A total of 80 mice were given a diet rich in fats. They were engaged in voluntary wheel running and given BCAA supplements along with water. After a period of 2 months it was seen that BCAA complemented effects of running on lean to fat mass ratio.(12)
- Long duration of exercise raises the plasma concentration of free tryptophan. This is turn promotes tryptophan transfer to the brain as well as production of 5-hydroxytryptamine. This is said to cause increased fatigue. In a study done on male and female runners, BCAA was able to reduce mental fatigue as well as enhance performance of slower runners in marathons when given during the race. BCAA taken during the marathon was also beneficial in bringing about positive changes in the levels of aromatic amino acids in the plasma thereby controlling fatigue. (13)
- Branched chain amino acid was found to be beneficial for six women suffering from liver cirrhosis when taken for a year along with exercising at home. They were given oral BCAA supplements and were asked to do bench step exercises. They had to take care of their anaerobic threshold while exercising for 140 minutes weekly. After a year, it was seen that their anaerobic threshold (AT) had increased substantially and glycated albumin had gone down. This meant that aerobic capacity and glycemic control can be enhanced in liver cirrhosis patients by using a combination of BCAA and step exercising at home at AT without affecting their weights. (14)
What Is The Best Ratio Of BCAA?
The following is the best ratio of BCAA(15)
- A BCAA supplement having leucine, isoleucine and valine in the ratio of 2:1:1 is said to be the best.
- It has been seen that BCAA supplements having amino acids in higher ratio than 2:1:1 are not good enough for growth of muscle, energy building or fat reduction.
- Half an hour prior to your exercise, you need to take 5 grams of BCAA in which 3 grams should be leucine and 1 gram each of isoleucine and valine. Post workout another 5 grams is recommended.
- We need more of leucine as it stimulates synthesis of muscle protein which is essential for growth of muscles. Presence of other two amino acids enhances protein synthesis and this ratio is good for giving a boost to your energy levels and managing fatigue well.
- As we exercise, tryptophan uptake by our brain increases and it gets converted to serotonin. Higher levels of serotonin are associated with physical fatigue. Valine of BCAA reduces tryptophan uptake by brain. So, this 2:1:1 ratio of BCAA when taken before or during exercise enhances your endurance and keeps your brain more alert. (16)
- A 2:1:1 ratio is also said to be good for loss of body fat. Isoleucine endows BCAA with its fat reduction property. A study done on mice depicted that isoleucine was successful in preventing fat gain significantly in mice on high fat diet. Isoleucine works by triggering PPAR, special receptors that promote burning of fat and prevent its storage in the body. (17)
Do You Take BCAAs Before Or After A Workout?
BCAAs can be taken both before, during and after a workout session. When taken before or during the workout it prolongs your endurance, promotes use of body fat and decreases fatigue. People on low calorie diet can also benefit from BCAA supplements taken in between exercise sessions. Post workout, BCAA helps in muscular recovery. (18)
What Foods Are High In BCAA?
The following are the foods high in BCAA(19):
- Animal Sources: Animal sources like fish, chicken, meat, eggs and dairy products are the richest sources of BCAA. Consuming 3-ounce serving of chicken, meat, fish and half a cup of cottage cheese can supply you with 1 gram each of valine and isoleucine and 1.7 grams of leucine. Whey Protein can really help in increasing the intake of BCAAs.
- Plant sources: Beans like lima beans, baked beans, soybeans etc. are said to be the richest sources of BCAA amongst the plant sources. A cup full of baked beans will provide you with 1 gram each of valine, leucine and isoleucine. Other sources include brown rice, lentils, nuts like cashews and almonds, whole wheat and corn. A cup full of cooked quinoa and cooked brown rice can provide you with 0.2 grams of isoleucine, 0.3 grams of valine and 0.4 grams of leucine.
Are BCAAs Better Than Whey?
In a comparative study done on 36 male trained participants the effect of whey protein, BCAAs and another sports drink on levels of their lean muscle mass, body fat, and strength was analyzed. In an 8 week resistance training program, they trained once every week. One group was given 14 grams of BCAA, another 28 grams of whey protein and the other got 28 grams of carbohydrates from the sports drink. In the BCAA group, the weight gain was found to be much higher as compared to the other two groups. The lean mass gain was also highest in the BCAA group. However, there was substantial reduction in the body fat percentage of the BCAA group as compared to the whey and carbohydrate groups. Moreover, muscular strength of the participants was also substantially higher in the BCAA group. (20)
Can BCAA Cause Hair Loss?
Branched chain amino acids in high levels may cause hair loss. This is because they tend to raise the testosterone levels which in turn increases hair follicle damaging hormone dihydrotestosterone. This finally causes loss of hair. (21)
How Much BCAA Do I Need To Take?
- The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance of branched chain amino acids for adults is 42 milligrams of leucine per kg of body weight, 24 milligrams of valine per kg body weight and 19 milligrams of isoleucine. If your daily diet meets the total RDA for protein i.e. 0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight your daily BCAA needs are met. (22)
- For hepatic encephalopathy: BCAAs are recommended in the dose of up to 240 milligrams per kg of your body weight every day to deal with this brain condition stemming from liver disease. The total consumption should not exceed 25 grams.
- Tardive dyskinesia: 222 milligrams of liquid BCAA supplement per kg body weight is recommended to be taken by the patients thrice a day for three weeks.
- Mania patients: They need to take a drink having 60 grams of BCAA every morning for a week wherein the ratio of valine, isoleucine and leucine should be 3:3:4.
- For enhancing nutritional status: For elder adults who are on hemodialysis and are malnourished 4 grams of BCAA needs to be taken thrice a day. (23)
What Are The Side Effects Of BCAA
The following are the side effects of BCAA (23)
1. Should Be Avoided By Alcoholics:
Dietary branched chain amino acids are detrimental for chronic alcoholics. They are associated with liver disease in chronic alcoholics that can eventually lead to hepatic encephalopathy or damage of brain.
2. Detrimental For People Suffering From Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis:
BCAA can lead to failure of lungs and increase incidence of death if given to people suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
3. Harmful For People With Branched Chain Ketoaciduria:
BCAA needs to be avoided by people suffering from this disease as it may cause retardation of mental and physical abilities. Should be avoided by infants suffering from idiopathic hypoglycemia. Leucine of BCAA is especially harmful for such children as it tends to promote insulin secretion by pancreas, thereby further bringing down their sugar levels.
4. To Be Avoided Before A Surgery:
As branched-chain amino acids have an impact over our blood sugar levels, controlling it may be difficult during and after a surgery. So, you need to stop taking BCAA at least 14 days before a surgery.
5. Interacts With The Drug, Levodopa:
BCAA may reduce the body’s capacity to absorb levodopa. So, if you are taking the medicine you should avoid BCAA.
6. Interacts With Antidiabetes Drugs:
As BCAA tends to lower our blood sugar, it may lower it too much when taken along with anti-diabetic drugs. So, you need to keep a check on your blood sugar levels and adjust the dose of your drug accordingly.