With new and exciting supplement breakthroughs making their debut all the time, it's sometimes easy to forget the less glamorous nutritional stand-bys of muscle growth. Yes, the new norepinephrine-stimulating super-thermogenics and the muscle-gorging hemodilators (to pick two examples), show terrific anabolic potential. But real lean mass gains start with the basics. And the most basic and essential building block of all is the
branched-chain amino acid
Amino acids facilitate the synthesis of structural proteins, enzymes, and some hormones and neurotransmitters. Amino acids are also involved in numerous metabolic pathways that affect exercise metabolism. For decades, medical researchers have known that athletes involved in intense training require additional protein in the diet and that they should supplement their diet with specific amino acids in order to achieve peak performance.
There are two kinds of amino acids: essential and nonessential. While all amino acids are necessary for metabolism, growth and other physical processes, the key distinction between the two classes lies in the fact that nonessential amino acids are manufactured by your body and essential amino acids are not.
Branched-chain amino acids
, so named because of their unique branching structure, are essential amino acids, which means that the body alone cannot produce them. To store up sufficient quantities, athletes must obtain them from dietary sources.
There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
is a potent muscle-sparring nutrient, while isoleucine is needed for hemoglobin formation and to help stabilize and regulate energy levels. Valine is necessary for muscle metabolism, tissue repair, and proper maintenance of nitrogen balance. Synergistically, their combined effect engages a multitude of processes to energize, protect and build muscle tissue.
Potent Fuel for Peak Athletic Performance
BCAAs are unique in that they are metabolized directly by muscle tissue. During prolonged workouts,
are burned as fuel to provide as much as 15% of your total energy requirement. Since your body only has a limited store of these essential amino acids, it is forced to break down lean muscle tissue when dietary sources aren't meeting your needs. Consuming sufficient BCAAs before and after training helps to prevent training-induced muscle breakdown thereby improving recovery times. BCAAs may also play a key role in delaying fatigue so you can push yourself harder, faster, and longer through the most intense training bouts and competitive events.
BCAAs are unlike most other aminos in that your muscles use them for fuel, an end result that becomes more likely the longer a particular activity continues, such as during a long, intense workout or run. Thus,
may benefit your training indirectly by keeping muscle tissue from being burned by the body when primary energy stores run low. A 2001
American Journal of Physiology--Endocrinology and Metabolism
study found that muscle protein was spared during post-exercise recovery when subjects took BCAAs. A 1996 study published in the journal
showed BCAAs can protect muscle-glycogen stores from being tapped.
BCAAs also act as nitrogen carriers which assist the muscles in synthesizing other aminos needed for anabolic muscle action. Finally, BCAAs stimulate the production of insulin, the main function of which is to allow circulating blood sugar to be taken up by the muscle cells and used as a source of energy. This insulin production promotes amino acid uptake by the muscle.
BCAAs are both anabolic and anti-catabolic
because of their ability to significantly increase protein synthesis, facilitate the release of hormones such as growth hormone, IGF-1, and insulin, and help maintain a favorable testosterone-to-cortisol ratio.
Powerful Anti-Catabolic Activity
BCAAs are among the most powerful anti-catabolics that protect muscle from the constant breakdown that occurs as a natural part of metabolism. Because they can also be broken down and used for an energy source, they are particularly susceptible to rapid depletion. In fact, even moderate exercise has been shown to substantially increase the oxidation of leucine by
240%--almost an entire da's worth of this muscle fuel.
Though some foods naturally contain these vital amino acids, even modest physical training can remarkably increase the need to replenish them for optimum performance and recovery. There is evidence that suggests
taken one or two hours before intense training spare muscle stores of BCAAs and testosterone during training and increase testosterone levels after training, thus producing the most favorable environment for muscle growth.
BCAA's are also an excellent anti-catabolic because they can help prevent protein breakdown and muscle loss, which is significantly important to those who are on pre-contest diets. During these times of low caloric intake, the use of BCAA is strongly recommended because there is a greater risk of muscle loss due to a decrease in the rate of protein synthesis and an increase of proteolysis, which is the hydrolytic breakdown of proteins into simpler, soluble substances such aspeptides and amino acids, as occurs during digestion.
Glutamine: The Essential "Non-Essential"
While we're on the subject of essential amino acids, we should address the case for glutamine.
Glutamine is not a BCAA
, and for many years, it was lumped into the category of non-essential amino acids. This is because, under normal circumstances, your body produces enough glutamine to meet its needs. But during high-intensity training, your body's vital glutamine stores are swiftly depleted at precisely the time when your body needs them most, triggering a catabolic state in which muscle breakdown is prevalent. That's why
supplementation with free-form L-glutamine
--both before and after working out--is an indispensable component of the
serious athlete's bodybuilding regimen
Recent research also reveals that glutamine's value goes beyond enhanced muscle recovery and repair. In fact, one landmark study indicated that a two-gram oral dose of glutamine elevated growth hormone levels by over 400%! Another recent study has reported that
can increase body weight, body cell mass, and intracellular water in a manner not unlike
Finally, a clinical study has identified L-Glutamine as an essential amino acid for nitric oxide synthesis and the conversion of Arginine to NO. This should be of great interest to those athletes who are supplementing with one of the promising new NO2 hemodilators (like
A Clearly Superior BCAA Supplement
While there is no shortage of BCAA formulations available on the market, many lack the needed potency to offer much benefit. One ultra-potent product specifically designed for the needs of serious bodybuilders and endurance athletes is available, however.
product contains a precise ratio of key anti-catabolic, muscle-sparing amino acids made from premium-grade ingredients for maximum assimilation. Adding new
to your diet regimen will greatly increase your chances for impressive gains in strength and size, while promoting rapid recovery.
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