0 comments / Posted on by Mario Van Biljon

Most of us are aware that the human body not only uses carbohydrates and body-fat as a source of fuel whilst exercising but also draws upon its amino acid reserves to meet the metabolic requirements of exercise. What you might not know is that exercise burns up some amino acids faster than others. In particular intense exercise causes muscle tissue to release large quantities of the non essential amino acids - alanine & glutamine. As there is generally insufficient alanine & glutamine in muscle to supply the amounts used up during intense training, much of what is released must be replaced by converting other readily available amino acids during exercise.

As the three branched chain amino acids L-Leucine, L-Valine & L-Isoleucine make up around thirty percent of muscle protein, their abundance in muscle tissue makes them ideally suited to supply the material needed to replace depleted alanine and glutamine reserves. In fact some studies show that the use of branched chain amino acids increases by more than 200% during even moderate levels of exercise. This increased demand for branched chain amino acids during exercise can be met by three different means:

1) Drawing from free BCAA’s circulating in the bloodstream

2) Catabolism of muscle tissue

3) Slowing down protein synthesis which draws upon large quantities of BCAA’s to synthesise new muscle tissue.

As physique conscious individuals we obviously want to do everything in our power to avoid the impaired recovery and reduced muscle & strength resulting from impaired protein synthesis and muscle breakdown. The physique smart athlete therefore knows that it is a wise strategy to ensure an adequate supply of free BCAA’s in the bloodstream. Since orally ingested BCAA’s quickly raise blood levels, supplementation would seem to be an intelligent approach to protect our valuable muscle tissue. Research backs this summation with a number of scientific studies indicating that BCAA supplementation taken before training, has an anti-catabolic (muscle preserving) effect by helping to spare muscle BCAA reserves during training. Subjects supplementing with BCAA’s generally display lower levels of enzymes associated with muscle damage and also lower levels of cortisol, the body’s primary catabolic hormone. In other words supplementing our diets with BCAA’s spares muscle from being used as energy by acting as an anti-catabolic and a local source of energy.

Whilst BCAA supplementation is an intelligent approach for those of us looking to increase anabolism (muscle building) and decrease catabolism (muscle breakdown), their benefits don’t end there. Research indicates that they also help boost performance by fighting central system fatigue. By exercise depleting the body’s BCAA reserves, there is an increase in the body’s tryptophan/BCAA ratio, thereby allowing more tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier. Since tryptophan is a precursor to the “inhibitory” neurotransmitter serotonin, more tryptophan entering the brain results in increased serotonin production. Serotonin is responsible for the perception of increased fatigue, which in turn results in declining physical performance. Supplementing with branched chain amino acids decreases the ratio of tryptophan to BCAA’s, which in turn means less fatigue and better physical performance.

For providing maximum lean muscle preserving support as well as for warding off fatigue and maximising physical performance, scientific evidence therefore strongly suggests that adding BCAA’s to one’s supplement arsenal is an intelligent strategy for all physique and performance conscious athletes.

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