Your Guide to If And When
You Should Be Taking BCAAs


They say that everything old will be new again, and lately this is certainly the case with BCAAs. If you came of age training in the 80s and early 90s, you remember when BCAAs were a cutting-edge muscle-building supplement. Those chunky brown TwinLab bottles of aminos! Of course, then came creatine and whey isolate and pump complexes and countless pre-workout variations. The humble BCAA found itself on the bottom shelf with fish oils and vitamins.

What happened? The prevailing wisdom held that although the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine were certainly important (they are after all, crucial factors in protein synthesis that can only be acquired through food sources), most people got more than enough of them from meat consumption and protein supplementation. This view became more prevalent in the 2000s as protein supplements became increasingly sophisticated and were augmented with extra BCAA content.

So, BCAAs. Essential? Sure. Sexy? No.

Flash forward a few years and suddenly everyone around you in the gym seems to be carrying an intra-workout BCAA supplement from work station to work station. They’re doing as much sipping as they are lifting. The formulations themselves have undergone a startling transformation, amino acids appearing in mineral-chelated and oligopeptide formats meant to support swifter uptake and more efficient utilization. The reasons for taking BCAAs have evolved as well, as trainers and nutrition experts are embracing notions like intermittent fasting and recalibrated amino ratios.

And the prices! Some of these next-generation BCAA formulations are lighting up cash registers at $40 or more. Clearly, these aren’t your dad’s aminos.

But are they worth the expense? And are BCAAs themselves, peptide-bonded or not, supplied in a 6:1:1 leucine-dominant ratio or not, really an essential support factor for your training and physique improvement efforts? Come with us as we take a closer look.

BCAAs and Whole Food Sources

Let’s get this out of the way first. You need to ingest branched-chain amino acids, particularly leucine, throughout the day in order for protein synthesis and muscle repair to occur. Your body cannot synthesize these aminos independently; it must acquire them through dietary intake.

BCAA FormulaLeucine specifically is a key factor in protein synthesis as it functions as a muscle building metabolic switch, mediating repair and growth through the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) pathway. Without sufficient BCAA intake, your body will rapidly slip into a catabolic state post-exercise, with stressed and ravaged muscle tissue unraveling at the molecular level, leading to muscle mass decrease.

Whole food sources should always be your primary vector for BCAA consumption, as is true with any other individual nutrient factor. Supplements are called supplements for a reason. They are ancillary to a well-rounded daily meal plan. Because athletes and fitness-minded people have higher than normal nutritional needs, however, whole foods are unlikely to be your only source for BCAAs.

Let’s look at the math. When single doses of leucine have been studied, it has been determined that as little as 2.5 grams of leucine are capable of stimulating protein synthesis and that leucine intakes equivalent to 8 or more grams per day in divided doses are indicated for adequate rates of muscle repair and recovery. Again, this rate of intake is probably not sufficient for a person participating in daily high-intensity exercise. In fact, most experts suggest athletes consume between 3.2 and 4.4 grams of leucine every 4 to 6 hours in order for maximum protein synthesis to be supported.

How much chicken breast is that? Well, you would have to consume more than 40 grams of chicken protein just to get to the athlete’s minimum dose of 3.2 grams of leucine for protein synthesis. How about milk protein? Thirty-four grams. You see where we’re going. You have to eat, and eat a lot, to maintain existing muscle mass, never mind support muscle mass increase. For some people, that’s not a problem. Other people rely on supplementation in the form of whey protein formulas augmented with extra BCAAs.

Whey Saves The Day

In the 1990s and 2000s, advanced whey protein isolates really changed the physique game. With the advent of whey formulas, it suddenly became possible to swiftly mix and drink a tasty shake with a protein biological value (BV) of 95 or higher on a scale of 100. Protein BV is a scale of measurement used to determine what percent of protein in a specific food source is available to be utilized by the body. Compare whey’s BV (94 or higher) to chicken (79), fish (70), beef (69), cow’s milk (60) or soy (47), and you can see that whey offers unique nutritional advantages. And then realize too that your whey protein shake comes with relatively few calories, little fat, and no sugar.

BCAA 2Today, a super-premium-quality whey protein formula like ProSource’s NytroWhey Ultra Elite offers a full-spectrum of essential and conditionally essential aminos to support muscle mass. This amino content comes in the form of a whey protein isolate derived from state-of-the-art crossflow microfiltration processing designed to yield the purest, most potent and growth-factor-rich amino acid profile for maximum bioavailability. NytroWhey Ultra Elite also contains a cutting-edge hydrolyzed whey technology micro-processed to yield extremely low-molecular-weight di- and tripeptides ideal for immediate absorption and utilization by muscle tissue.

Would you like some more BCAAs with your whey? NytroWhey Ultra Elite has you covered there as well, with a unique leucine peptide carrier technology with the capacity to keep leucine more soluble and bioavailable during digestion and transport to muscle tissue, resulting in an amino profile that offers up to four times the bioactive leucine content found in most typical protein formulas.

Clearly, a high-quality protein formula is equipped to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to supplying muscle tissue with crucial BCAA content. It should also be noted that there is some evidence to suggest that while BCAAs are essential to launching muscle protein synthesis, a complete protein (a protein that contains all nine essential amino acids) may be somewhat more efficient at sustaining that process. In other words, leucine is great at flipping the switch to turn on muscle protein synthesis, but if muscle building starts to fade shortly afterward, those conditionally essential aminos (like glutamine) can keep the growth and repair churning. This is not to suggest that BCAA supplements are unnecessary, but rather, that a wide-spectrum protein and a targeted BCAA supplement, working in tandem, probably offer optimum benefits, especially in particularly catabolic scenarios.

Scenarios In Which BCAA Supplementation is Well Advised

So let’s cut to the chase. When is BCAA supplementation not particularly valuable? During a heavy bulking-up phase. When you’re adding serious poundage, you’re consuming extra calories at every meal, all day long. You’re consuming a lot of protein and with it, a lot of BCAAs. So do you really need to spend extra money on a BCAA supplement? Not really. Save that money for the thermogenics and definition formulas you’ll need during your cutting phase.

Speaking of cutting phases, BCAAs are infinitely more valuable during times of caloric restriction, when you’re trying to lose the fat, but keep the muscle. When your nutritional fuel tank is nearing E, that’s when you’re inviting catabolism to set up camp in your muscle tissue and steal your hard-won muscle gains. Here are four scenarios where BCAA supplementation will save the day.

1Fasted Morning Cardio

Morning cardio on an empty stomach has never been more popular among trainers and athletes. Used as a means to rev up metabolism throughout the day, it can also have devastating effects on glycogen stores in muscle tissue. When you exhaust glycogen quickly, you won’t be able to work as hard and your body will catabolize muscle to meet energy demands.

Fortunately, research shows that BCAAs play a role in glucose metabolism. Consuming branched chains before or during training helps your body use stored carbohydrates more efficiently and provides an energy source when glycogen stores are depleted, allowing you to work harder for longer while sparing your muscle protein.

2Pre-, Intra- and Post-Exercise

Branched chains ingested with carbohydrates pre-workout have a dramatic effect on muscle protein synthesis because muscle protein degradation is dampened when BCAAs (especially leucine) are in the blood stream.  A good recipe for success is to consume ten grams of BCAAs with thirty grams of carbohydrates thirty to sixty minutes before training to create a supremely anabolic environment.

Miss the opportunity to take BCAAs pre-workout? Ingesting them while training still limits protein degradation and promotes anabolism. BCAAs mediate signals that promote muscle protein synthesis before, during and after training. To fight catabolism, and make the most of heavy strength training, use the pre-workout strategy listed above combined with five grams of BCAAs during training. Follow up training with a post-workout mass builder like BioQuest’s MyoZene that contains fast-acting hydrolyzed whey, plenty of highly bioactive leucine, and a carbohydrate complex for insulin potentiation.

3While Fasting

Once anathema to dedicated workout warriors, the idea of intermittent fasting is catching on in gyms across America. Athletes claim to be experiencing increased fat loss and enhanced focus with it. We’re not sure about this trend, but if you’re a believer, you need to support muscle tissue with BCAAs.

During extended meal-free periods, your body needs a fuel source. Sipping BCAAs every few hours while fasting provides the body with a readily available fuel source; sparing your precious hard earned bulk.

4With a Meal

Protein ingestion is just the beginning of the story. You’ve got to digest and utilize those protein calories, too. Leucine promotes protein absorption, making more efficient use of the protein you consume and driving greater muscle protein synthesis. Adding three grams of leucine to each meal will help you derive maximum benefit from each meal of the day.

What About Those Mega-Sophisticated
BCAA Amino-Transport Technologies?

It’s fun to buy the latest, most-hyped products, we know. But right now, there is little substantive scientific evidence that swifter uptake of BCAAs makes those BCAAs any more efficient at supporting protein synthesis. Worse, there are mineral-chelated and oligopeptide forms of BCAAs out there where the manufacturer includes the entire modified BCAA chain in the BCAA weight. The result? Where the label indicates 5 grams of BCAAs, the reality is that you’re getting 5 grams of, say, oligopeptides and the real BCAA weight is closer to 2 grams per serving. Fair warning.

Here at ProSource, we are investigating new technologies of rapid-uptake BCAA formulations all the time. And when we find one with plenty of validated science to back it up, you can bet that you’ll see a high-quality, reliable, science-backed rapid-uptake BCAA formula bearing the ProSource label.

In the meantime, it’s hard to go wrong with a modestly priced, super-high quality BCAA powder presented in a 2:1:1 leucine/isoleucine/valine format. That’s what ProSource’s Mega BCAA Powder offers. A single serving of Mega BCAA provides a precise ratio of vastly superior, premium-grade aminos in a clinically indicated dosage of 4 grams of leucine and 2 grams each of isoleucine and valine. Mix that in your pre-workout or juice and you can take to the gym floor with a trendy intra-workout BCAA formula that provides the same aminos as the fad drinks at half the price or less. Mega BCAA is also available in a convenient capsule format as well.

Conclusion

Throughout their rise and fall and recent return to prominence, BCAAs have always had strong advocates among athletes. They have earned a place in the supplementation profiles of people who want to support maximum protein synthesis, especially during cutting phases, intermittent fasting, dieting or simple morning cardio. Use BCAA supplements intelligently, in tandem with whole food sources and whey protein formulas, and you’ll be well on your way to adding lean muscle mass and deriving maximum benefit from your workout regimen.


Read more about NytroWhey Ultra Elite here.

Read more about ProSource Mega BCAA Powder here.

Drummond, M.J., et al., Nutritional and contractile regulation of human skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTORC1 signaling. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009. 106(4): p. 1374-1384.

Norton, L.E., et al., The Leucine Content of a Complete Meal Directs Peak Activation but Not Duration of Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling in Rats. The Journal of Nutrition, 2009. 139(6): p. 1103-1109.

Symons, T.B., et al., A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009. 109(9): p. 1582-6.

Wilson, G. J., Moulton, C. J., Garlick, P. J., Anthony, T. G., & Layman, D. K. (2012). Post-meal responses of elongation factor 2 (eEF2) and adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) to leucine and carbohydrate supplements for regulating protein synthesis duration and energy homeostasis in rat skeletal muscle. Nutrients, 4(11), 1723-1739.

Katsanos, C. S., Chinkes, D. L., Paddon-Jones, D., Zhang, X. J., Aarsland, A., & Wolfe, R. R. (2008). Whey protein ingestion in elderly persons results in greater muscle protein accrual than ingestion of its constituent essential amino acid content. Nutrition Research, 28(10), 651-658.

Use as directed with a sensible nutrition and exercise program. Read and follow all product label instructions and warnings thoroughly before use. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The articles featured herein are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Specific medical advice should only be obtained from a licensed health care professional. No liability is assumed by ProSource for any information herein.



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