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BCAA Benefits & Side Effects

by Travis Hlavka

The Branch Chain Amino Acid’s (BCAAs) include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and they are part of the support system for many things, from muscle building to high intensity endurance training, to improving mental function and mood. They are part of the 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot make on it’s own.  We must get them via food or supplements. BCAAs are found in high-protein foods such as meat, dairy products, legumes and whey protein.

One great thing about BCAAs is even if you need to take time off from your training program, they will help minimize muscle loss and fat gain.

BCAA Dosing

Generally, the estimated average requirement (EAR) of branched-chain amino acids is 68 mg/kg/day (leucine 34 mg, isoleucine 15 mg, valine 19 mg) for adults. However, some researchers think earlier testing methods may have underestimated this requirement and that the requirement is really about 144 mg/kg/day.

For intense exercise and training, 4-8 grams before a workout and 4-8 grams after is optimal. Smaller dosages are still effective, but the higher doses are linked to increased performance and recovery. Also, for cardio, BCAA’s immediately before or during the workout will increase performance.

Taking them as a  post workout drink or with a meal will speed the replacement of BCAA’s in the muscles when they need them.  This can also help prevent overtraining. It’s best to take your BCAA’s separate from the other amino acids because they will dominate the race for entry into the bodies’ systems.

I take approximately 4.5g with my preworkout drink and 4.5g with my post workout drink.  Normally I only take BCAA’s on workout days, but I will be taking at least 5g on my off days now.

BCAA Benefits

  • Research shows that individuals with a higher BCAA intake in their diets have lower rates of obesity, lower body weight, and better body composition
  • BCAAs will minimize the cortisol response that comes from the stress of exercise.
  • Two studies highlight the role of BCAAs in decreasing muscle protein degradation. A 2010 study found that taking BCAAs in conjunction with resistance training produces significantly higher testosterone levels than a placebo. Participants who took BCAAs also had a lower cortisol response.
  • A University of Birmingham study found that taking BCAAs at strategic points throughout the day will significantly reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from high-intensity eccentric training.
  • Increases mood and mental function, and decreases depression
  • Helps protect the liver and improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.  A study in the journal Diabetologia found that the individuals who were in a weight loss study who lost the most weight had the highest BCAA levels

BCAA Side Effects

Branched-chain amino acids appear to be safe for most people when used for up to 6 months. Some side effects are known to occur, such as fatigue and loss of coordination. Branched-chain amino acids should be used cautiously before or during activities where performance depends on motor coordination, such as driving.

Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of branched-chain amino acids during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease): The use of branched-chain amino acids has been linked with lung failure and higher death rates when used in patients with ALS. If you have ALS, don’t use branched-chain amino acids until more is known.

Branched-chain ketoaciduria: Seizures and severe mental and physical retardation can result if intake of branched-chain amino acids is increased. Don’t use branched-chain amino acids if you have this condition.

Chronic alcoholism: Dietary use of branched-chain amino acids in alcoholics has been associated with liver disease leading to brain damage (hepatic encephalopathy).

Low blood sugar in infants: Intake of one of the branched-chain amino acids, leucine, has been reported to lower blood sugar in infants with a condition called idiopathic hypoglycemia. This term means they have low blood sugar, but the cause is unknown. Some research suggests leucine causes the pancreas to release insulin, and this lowers blood sugar.

Surgery: Branched-chain amino acids might affect blood sugar levels, and this might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using branched-chain amino acids at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

 

 

References:
BodyBuilding.com – BCAAs
Charles Poliquin – Benefits of BCAAs
WebMD – BCAAs

Travis Hlavka (9 Posts)

I may act like a 12yr old a lot of the time, but that's because I have a genetic defect that will not allow me grow up. HOWEVER, I do take strength training and fitness very seriously and I love using what I know to help others reach their fitness goals and avoid the bazillion mistakes I've made in my 25+ yrs of training. Since I don't know everything, I never stop learning. Note: I am no longer a "certified" trainer, but I truly understand more about fitness and health now than I ever did with that official piece of paper.

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