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What Are BCAA Supplements?

Branched chain amino acids are the building blocks for protein and the basis for many bodily functions. Find out more about BCAAs here.

BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids, are a kind of amino acid which is included among the nine essential amino acids for humans. BCAAs have three proteinogenic amino acids which are called leucine, valine and isoleucine. BCAAs have been used to help in the recovery of burn victims and in treating some cases of hepatic encephalopathy. A few recent studies suggested that the reduction in the levels of BCAAs in the blood can be associated with the improvement of blood sugar regulation but the mechanisms remain unknown.

The Purpose and Functions of BCAAs

Amino acids serve as the building blocks of protein. When you eat protein-rich food, it's digested through the lining of the intestines and stomach, breaking down protein into short chains and individual amino acids before being absorbed into bloodstream. Amino acids are also important in muscle repair, hair and nail growth and essential brain functions.

BCAAs act as nitrogen carriers and stimulate the production of insulin which allows blood sugar to be taken up by the muscle cells and to be used as an energy source. BCAAs signal the body to stop protein syntheses especially during stressful times.

The Difference between Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Basically, essential amino acids are never produced by the human body. You must acquire them from complete protein food sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and legumes like quinoa; or combination of incomplete vegetable sources. On the other hand, non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body from vitamins and other amino acids.

Can You Obtain BCAAs from Food?

Experts say that you can get BCAAs in protein-rich foods such as fish, beef, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs and legumes such as soy beans and quinoa. In fact, the higher the quality of protein source, the higher amount of the branched-chain amino acids you can get. Among all the sources of protein, whey protein has the best BCAA content.

Is It Safe to Use BCAA Supplements?

Several studies have shown that taking BCAAs as supplement in the range of five to 20 grams every day in tablet form and one to seven grams per liter in liquid form has no negative or adverse side effects. However, higher doses must be avoided because of the possibility of competitive inhibition on the absorption of other amino acids from a person’s diet. Gastrointestinal distress may also arise from over-supplementation.

What Are the Important Co-factors In Taking BCAAs as Supplements?

Before taking BCAAs tablets as dietary supplements, there are some things that you must remember to ensure that your body will be properly nourished. The following are some nutrients that must be factored in when using BCAAs supplement.

  1. Zinc and Vitamin B6 -- Zinc is used to regulate insulin and its natural co-factor is vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is necessary in amino acid metabolism. The transport of amino acids in the cells depends on the sufficient supply of this specific vitamin.
  2. Chromium -- This increases the effectiveness of insulin. It enhances the rate of protein synthesis in the body and also promotes intracellular uptake of the amino acids from the blood to the cells.
  3. Biotin -- An important member of the vitamin B family that plays a major role in the manufacture of glycogen and protein synthesis.
  4. Vitamin B12 -- A vital water-soluble nutrient that is needed in protein metabolism and amino acids synthesis.

What Is the Proper Dose and When Is the Right Time to Take BCAAs Supplement?

Before your workout, you need to take four to eight grams of BCAAs and the same amount after the activity. Lesser amount of the amino acids is nevertheless effective but if you want increased performance and recovery, you need to take a higher dosage. If you take BCAAs with a post-workout meal or a recovery drink, they will help speed up muscle recovery and prevent over training. It's also good to take BCAAs separately from the other amino acid groupings because they can dominate the entry into the systems of the body. As with the general rule in nutrition, you need to take BCAAs supplement with a healthy and well-balanced diet along with regular exercise to maintain fitness and health.

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