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The Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids

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People that are up on the latest health news know how vital amino acids can be. They play a key role in processing protein and other compounds such as peptides, creatine, and some neurotransmitters. They are responsible for building and repairing tissue, forming and controlling enzymes, transporting molecules, and food digestion. 20 amino acids constitute the proteins in the human body. Nine are considered essential amino acids meaning they are not found in the body and must be attained through diet. Three of these essential amino acids are branch-chain amino acids.

Read on to find out what branch-chain amino acids are and why they are beneficial.

What are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?
The three branched-chain amino acids are:

Valine
Leucine
Isoleucine

They stimulate protein production in muscles and may reduce muscle breakdown. The term ‘branched-chain’ refers to their chemical structure. They have a “side chain” of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. Of all the BCAAs, leucine is the most researched and has been shown to produce the most benefits. BCAA’s are found in protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, and dairy products. They are also available in supplemental form usually as a protein powder.

What are the Benefits of BCAAs?
BCAAs provide a variety of benefits as follows:

Boosts Muscle Growth

BCAAs are most used to boost muscle growth. Leucine is particularly effective as it has been shown to activate a pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis which is vital to muscle growth.One study showed people who consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs after a resistance workout saw a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis as compared to those who consumed a placebo beverage. Another study showed people who consumed a whey protein shake, which contains all the amino acids needed to build muscle, exhibited closer to a 33% increase in muscle protein synthesis as compared to those who consumed a placebo drink. This tells us that BCAAs will be even more effective in boosting muscle growth when combined with other amino acids.

Decreases Muscle Soreness
It’s not unusual for people to feel muscle soreness after a workout. Some researchers believe muscle soreness may be caused by tiny tears in the muscle that occur during exercise. Others feel it may be related to the connective tissue and not the muscle itself. BCAAs decrease muscle soreness by reducing protein breakdown during exercise. They also lower creatine kinase levels which may contribute to muscle damage. A 2010 study showed people who were supplemented with BCAAs before a squat exercise experienced less muscle fatigue as compared to a group that used a placebo.

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Reduces Exercise Fatigue
Your muscles use BCAAs as you exercise. The decrease in BCAAs causes an increase in the levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin which is thought to contribute to feelings of fatigue during exercise. Studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs can cause a reduction in fatigue and improve athletic performance.

Prevents Muscle Wasting
Muscle wasting occurs when protein breakdown exceeds muscle protein synthesis. It may be due to malnutrition or various types of infections and conditions. It can also be a natural part of the aging process. BCAAs make up 35% of the essential amino acids found in muscle protein. They account for 40% to 45% of the total amino acids required by the body. Replacing BCAAs and other amino acids during muscle wasting can prevent the process or slow down its progressions. Several studies have shown BCAAs to be effective in reducing muscle protein breakdown. They may improve health outcomes for people living with cancer and other chronic conditions.

Good for People with Liver Disease
About 50% of people with liver disease cirrhosis develop hepatic encephalopathy which causes a loss of brain function due to the liver being unable to remove toxins from the blood. BCAAs are said to improve hepatic encephalopathy. A review of 16 studies involving 827 people with the condition found that BCAAs reduced symptoms of the disease but had no effect on mortality. People with cirrhosis are also at a high risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, a common type of liver cancer. Several studies have shown that BCAAs may reduce the risk of liver cancer in people with cirrhosis. Experts often recommend people with liver disease take BCAA supplements to prevent complications.