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When You Should Take BCAA & Does It Give You Energy?

Whether you are just getting into the world of health and fitness or have been in the scene for a while, you have most likely heard of BCAAs. Many workout plans, body-building forms, and other outlets will tell you that BCAAs are great supplements to up your game, support muscle building, and shorten recovery times. All of this sounds nice but many people have little knowledge of what BCAAs are and why they can help.

The mystique surrounding BCAA has also stirred up a lot of controversies revolving around what it can do and the best ways to take them. BCAAs can be helpful but it is also important to understand their limitations and best use case.

Below is a closer look at what BCAAs are, the benefits of BCAAs, the best way to take BCAAs, as well as a look at other supplements to consider.

What are BCAAs?

BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. The full name can be a mouthful so the most common way you will see the supplement labeled is just BCAA. While the name may trick you into thinking BCAAs are complex supplements, the reality is that the supplement is essentially a mix of three different amino acids.

Amino acids are the building block of muscle and also play many important roles within the body. There are 20 amino acids utilized in the human body and they allow for the creation of enzymes, muscle, and many other important things within the body. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are considered essential, meaning that they cannot be created within the body and need to be consumed.

BCAAs contain three of the nine essential amino acids. These include isoleucine, leucine, and valine. These three amino acids are unique because they are able to be broken down by the mitochondria in your muscles and be utilized as a source of energy.

Below is a closer look at each amino acid and why it may be helpful.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine is an uncharged amino acid that plays many important roles within the body. Isoleucine is believed to help support immunity, support growth, help the metabolism of protein, help the metabolism of fatty acids, and glucose transport. In terms of performance, all of these qualities make it a great amino acid to supplement.

In addition to its specific benefits, taking isoleucine can be an important factor when your body is creating new proteins. Proteins are made up of many different amino acids and your body needs to have a good supply of the amino acids at the ready to conduct protein synthesis.

Leucine

Leucine is another uncharged amino acid and has the same chemical makeup as isoleucine but differs slightly in its structure. This slight difference in structure provides a slightly different function. Leucine is thought to help promote energy balance, glucose balance, and more.

Leucine is also a precursor to many different molecules of importance within the human body. Acetyl-CoA is an important molecule in cellular respiration and acetoacetate is a molecule shown to help accelerate muscle regeneration, both of which are derived from leucine.

Valine

Valine looks very different from leucine and isoleucine. From a chemical standpoint, valine has one less methyl group which essentially means it is short one carbon and three hydrogens. Even though the chemical composition of valine is different, it poses many of the same benefits such as helping to facilitate muscle growth and tissue repair.

Limitations of BCAAs

While BCAAs are currently the hot topic in the world of health and fitness, it is important to understand the limitations of BCAAs and what they are actually capable of doing. Below is a closer look at the claims of BCAAs and how they stack up to the science.

Muscle growth

BCAAs have been long promoted to help muscle and protein synthesis. While it has been shown in studies to help recovery, it is not exactly the best when it comes to building muscle. The statement that BCAAs lead to better muscle growth is somewhat misleading.

Muscle growth is highly dependent on the availability of amino acids. Muscle can only be built as fast as protein synthesis can take place, and this means that your body needs to have a steady supply of amino acids. If there is a low level of needed amino acid it can stall the process.

The best way to facilitate and support muscle growth is to ensure your body is getting all 20 amino acids. Specifically, you should ensure that you're getting all nine of the essential amino acids before, during or after a workout.

BCAAs are supplements containing three essential amino acids. While having three of these essential amino acids can help your muscles during protein synthesis, your body may have lower availability of the other six which could reduce the ability of the ribosomes in your body to build protein as efficiently as it can.

The best methodology to support optimal muscle growth is to have meals or shakes that provide you with all of the necessary amino acids in the right proportions to help with muscle growth and recovery. BCAAs accomplish this, but only partially.

BCAA timing

When people first get into the world of fitness it is easy to get lost in comment threads on forms where they heavily debate minuscule details pertaining to a particular aspect of taking supplements or diet.

One debate that is seemingly as old as time is the debate on BCAA timing. Some people swear that BCAAs before working out is the only way to do it, while others support BCAAs after your workout. Both sides bolster their ideas with research but oftentimes they suffer from low quality or small sample size.

While it is certainly true that timing can be a crucial component to taking medications, the case for BCAAs is a little less cut and dry. Simply consuming BCAAs surrounding your physical activity whether that be before, during, or after can allow it to provide potential benefit.

Other supplements to consider

BCAAs are a great supplement, but they can only do so much. In terms of energy, BCAAs are only effective when glucose has been exhausted as an energy source. Going to the gym after taking BCAAs will not get you energized and you will only begin to reap the benefits of BCAAs when you have exhausted glucose which means you would need to be doing quite intense amounts of physical exertion.

If you are looking for energy, there are a number of other supplements you can utilize to help get a pep in your step.

MitoQ

MitoQ is a supplement that can help to support healthier levels of energy by supporting the cellular basis of energy known as the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the cellular structures that convert glucose into ATP which is the usable form of energy within the cell.

MitoQ helps to protect the mitochondria from oxidative damage which can decrease mitochondrial efficiency and reduce the rate of ATP output. MitoQ effectively supports the mitochondria, which allows them to work at their fullest potential to provide you with the very best in cellular energy.

On top of being great for energy levels, MitoQ has body-wide benefits because it allows your cells to function to the best of their abilities since they have all of the ATP they need to work at their best. MitoQ has the possibility to support mental clarity and support your overall wellbeing.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a great supplement to utilize to get a quick boost in energy. Caffeine works by binding competitively to adenosine receptors in the brain which tricks your brain into becoming more alert and awake.

Additionally, the molecule interacts with your central nervous system and activates the sympathetic nervous system leading to an increase in heart rate, respiration and alertness. This two-fold effect on the body is the main reason why many pre-workouts contain caffeine.

While effective, utilizing caffeine regularly can diminish its effects - requiring you to consume more to get the same effect. Additionally, this same mechanism can lead to caffeine dependency where it can make it difficult to stop taking it. Oftentimes, focusing on increasing energy without the use of caffeine can help to avoid the risk of dependency.

BCAA boost

In summary, BCAAs can be a great supplement to take as a means of getting a little extra out of your workouts. If your workouts are long or intense BCAAs can act as a source of energy for your muscles.

Other benefits include helping with muscle recovery and potentially even supporting the immune system. Having a clear understanding of what BCAAs can do can allow you to have more reasonable expectations and ensure you are getting the right supplement for your needs.

 

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