For a supplement that has been around for such a long time, BCAAs are still the source of a remarkable amount of confusion among even experienced, well-trained athletes. Some people are divided on when they should best be taken: before or after exercise. Others believe they are unnecessary, that the aminos in a BCAA supplement are already furnished in sufficient amounts in protein formulas or through whole food sources. Many beginners, new to training and supplementation, confuse BCAA formulas with standard pre-workout formulas.
We're not going to keep you in suspense with regard to any of these questions. Before we get to the specifics of what BCAAs are, how they function in the body, and what recent science has to say about the benefits of supplemented BCAAs, here are your answers to the questions above.
For an ordinary person looking to maintain a healthy diet and attain a common level of acceptable fitness, the BCAAs you consume from meat, eggs and dairy products are probably sufficient. But people who train regularly, are looking to add muscle mass, and people who are on restricted calorie regimens in order to lose fat, need more BCAAs. A lot more.
The answer to whether BCAAs are better taken before or after a workout is ... both. For real physique enhancement plus well-supported intra-workout performance and endurance, we recommend a targeted high-quality BCAA supplement 30 to 45 minutes before your workout and a BCAA-augmented protein formula immediately after exercise.
The confusion between BCAA supplements and pre-workout supplements is frustrating to say the least. Most pre-workout formulas on the market can be defined as performance enhancers. They contain stimulant content -- sometimes a lot of it in one form or another of caffeine. They may also contain aminos like beta alanine for endurance support, arginine for muscle pump, or tyrosine for focus. More advanced pre-workout supplements might contain creatine monohydrate for muscle cell volumization or a form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for cellular energy production.
As we will see, BCAAs can also enhance performance by providing a ready source of fuel your muscles can tap into once existing stores are depleted. But they are by no means common in pre-workout formulas, and if they are present they're not usually furnished in necessary amounts. Got it? Okay, now let's take a closer look at our muscle-supporting friend, the branched-chain amino acid.
BCAAs: What Are They And What Do They Do?
BCAAs -- the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine -- are considered essential because, unlike non-essential amino acids, your body cannot make them. You need to get them from your diet. They are also unique in that they are metabolized directly by muscle tissue, an end result that becomes more likely the longer a particular activity continues, such as during a long, intense workout.
Of the three BCAAs, leucine is the most important for muscle support after exercise. Isoleucine and valine are more effective at producing energy and regulating your blood sugar levels, especially by stimulating 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.
Leucine, on the other hand, is a potent nutritive activator of muscle protein synthesis due to its ability to directly stimulate mTOR complex 1, thus increasing mRNA translation in muscle cells. Increased mRNA translation simply means an increase in the cell's efficiency to read the genetic material that manufactures amino acids and proteins, thus ramping up protein synthesis. Finally, BCAAs may facilitate the release of hormones such as growth hormone and IGF-1, creating a favorable environment for efficient muscle repair and growth (Carli 1).
When you begin to exercise, your muscles tap into muscle glycogen (a stored form of carbohydrates) for fuel, but this stored energy doesn't last very long. When these are diminished, your muscles will turn to blood glucose to keep going. (This is where isoleucine and valine, which help support blood sugar levels, both play an important role.) Blood glucose is derived from carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates and fats fuel the majority of your energy needs at the outset of exercise, but as your exercise interval lengthens, your body will scavenge proteins from existing muscle tissue. BCAAs make up a great proportion of the total amino acid content in skeletal muscle and are readily catabolized during exercise. Indeed, BCAAs may provide as much as 20% of your body's energy needs in the course of your workout.
When your high-intensity workout is completed, you've inflicted considerable damage to muscle tissue in the form of countless little rips and tears. This damage must be repaired and the body, sensing that your environment has become increasingly stressful, will endeavor to add more muscle mass to survive future bouts of exercise-induced stress. The availability of leucine is absolutely crucial during this post-exercise juncture, as it is the trigger for the protein synthesis that is the engine for muscle recovery and growth.
Clearly then, leucine supplementation (and BCAA supplementation in general) would appear to offer valuable benefits for highly active people. But what does the science say? In a study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine in 2017, researchers sought to evaluate the effect of a 12-week leucine-rich amino acid supplementation in combination with moderate training. In the study, 48 healthy subjects exercised for 30 minutes three times per week and received either a leucine-rich amino acid supplementation or a placebo. Before and after supplementation, subjects performed an exhaustive eccentric exercise protocol. Maximal concentric strength and safety assessments were performed before exercise and after 3, 24, 48 and 72 hours.
The researchers found that the supplementation with leucine resulted in reduced loss of strength at zero and 3 hours after downhill walking compared with the placebo. They concluded that the "principle findings show that leucine-rich amino acid supplementation can counteract the negative effects of eccentric exercise. The treatment resulted in a reduction of exercise-induced strength loss." (4 Reule CA, et al)
In another study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, highly trained resistance athletes were provided 20 grams of BCAAs per day for seven days before and four days after completing a damaging bout of exercise. Each daily BCAA dose (or placebo) was further broken up into two doses of ten grams per day and all participants were instructed to take each ten-gram dose in the morning and evening for the seven days leading up to the exercise bout and for the four days after they completed the exercise bout -- a total of 11 days of supplementation. The ratio of the provided BCAAs was 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine).
A number of variables were measured including changes in force production, markers of muscle damage in the blood, muscle soreness, vertical jump and thigh as well as calf circumference. The damage bout caused significant changes in nearly all variables. In particular, changes in creatine kinase (a marker of damage found in the blood) were significantly improved when BCAA was ingested when compared to placebo. In addition, the recovery of the ability to produce maximal force was also improved to a greater extent in the BCAA group. The authors of the study concluded that providing BCAAs before and after damaging exercise can reduce the recovery time. (Howatson, Hoad et al. 2012)
Finally, in a study just published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in May of 2021 , researchers sought to explore the connection between leucine availability and both insulin sensitivity and mitochondrial function associated with aging and muscular disuse. Older healthy adults were assigned a regimen of 7 days bed rest and 5 days inpatient rehabilitation, with some test subjects receiving supplemental leucine.
The researchers found that, during bed rest, leucine tended to preserve insulin sensitivity. Following rehabilitation, leucine increased ATP-linked respiration and preserved specific pathways of mitochondrial respiration, insulin sensitivity, and a marker of oxidative stress during bed rest and rehabilitation (4 Arentson-Lantz,et al).
Myo-Surge: A Trusted Source of High-Quality BCAAs
Now that we know what BCAAs are and why they're invaluable for making each and every one of your workouts as productive as possible, the answer to how to source your BCAAs is simple. ProSource has always led the way when it comes to the cutting-edge research and development that gives fitness-conscious people the ultimate physique and performance edge, and that is true for BCAAs as well.
ProSource's Myo-Surge has helped a generation of serious athletes turn intense workouts into significant muscle mass gain. Its advanced formula is sourced from the highest-quality BCAAs, provided in the preferred 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine, and it includes added glutamine as well. Glutamine is a conditionally essential amino that can be rapidly depleted during training, resulting in depressed muscle recovery in post-workout intervals. Myo-Surge truly is the original pre-workout recovery and performance powerhouse!
Amino Fusion: The New Science of BCAA Muscle Support
Ready to level up your BCAA supplementation? ProSource's newest product, Amino Fusion, unleashes the muscle-protein-synthesizing power of leucine to a new and unprecedented degree.
Amino Fusion is powered by a Two Phase Muscle + Growth Technology that delivers the essential aminos you need to build and repair muscle, swiftly and in optimized quantities, thus providing a uniquely powerful engine of lean muscle mass increase.
Its first phase is facilitated by rapid-uptake PepForm® Leucine Peptides precision-engineered to unleash a rapid intra-workout flood of leucine into the blood, triggering maximized protein synthesis. The second wave of instantized BCAAs then continues a steady flow of aminos into the blood, positively impacting endurance, while further optimizing post-workout growth and recovery.
This mechanism, combined with an electrolyte matrix for elevated muscle cell hydration and other performance-enhancing co-factors is already enabling athletes to leverage high-intensity resistance training more fully to make greater gains in muscle mass and performance.
Whichever way you go -- Myo-Surge or Amino Fusion -- you can rest easy knowing you're providing your muscles with super-premium fuel for well-supported recovery and growth.
1 Carli et al., Changes in the Exercise Induced Hormone Response to Branched-Chain Amino Acids, Eur. J. Appl. Physiol.: 64, 272, 1992.
2 Reule CA, Scholz C, Schoen C, et al. Reduced muscular fatigue after a 12-week leucine-rich amino acid supplementation combined with moderate training in elderly: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2017.
3 Howatson, G., M. Hoad, et al. (2012). "Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study." J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9(1): 20.
4 Emily J. Arentson-Lantz, Jasmine Mikovic, Nisha Bhattarai,et al. Leucine augments specific skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiratory pathways during recovery following 7 days of physical inactivity in older adults. Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 130, No. 5, 11 May 2021.
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