If you think bodybuilders are the only ones who are in search of BCAAs, times have changed.
The human body contains 20 different amino acids that make up thousands of different proteins. None of the 20 are considered essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be made by your body and must be obtained through your everyday diet or supplementation. Of these nine essential amino acids, three are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine and valine.
Why are BCAA’s so beneficial to your health?
Let’s talk leucine! Leucine has been shown to support muscle growth and increase lean body mass. Because it can increase lean body mass, leucine has been shown to help with weight loss. Yes, weight loss! Another benefit of leucine is that it can help reduce and control blood sugar levels. This makes it an especially important essential amino acid for people struggling with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Leucine is also essential for protein synthesis — which is essential for survival.
Isoleucine is similar to leucine in that it helps control blood sugar and accelerates the re-growth of lean muscles and other tissues in the body. This makes it important for people involved in sports such as bodybuilders and powerlifters. Isoleucine is also believed to facilitate in the formation of hemoglobin, the pigment carrying oxygen in red blood cells. For those with low blood sugar or diabetes who must maintain certain glucose levels and take medication, isoleucine is noted to be beneficial because it can increase glucose levels into skeletal muscle, therefore helping to balance blood sugar. Isoleucine does this better than leucine and valine. Even though leucine is thought to be the most powerful of the three BCAAs for muscle gain, isoleucine can support muscle growth as well.
The third branch chain amino acid is valine. Valine supports energy, increased endurance and aids in muscle tissue repair and recovery. Long distance athletes or endurance athletes benefit most because of these findings. Valine also helps with proper functioning of the smooth nervous system and cognitive functioning. Another benefit of valine is appetite suppression. Let’s get rid of those extra pounds! Valine may also improve the regulation of the immune system, which is a good thing to be aware of.
Since your body doesn’t produce BCAAs, can we find them in the foods we eat?
The answer is YES! Leucine can be found in several foods such as whey protein, casein, eggs, soy, milk, or cheese along with brown rice, beans, nuts, and whole wheat.
Isoleucine is found in meat, poultry, fish, whey protein, casein, eggs, soy, cottage cheese, milk, cashews, almonds and lentils, to name a few.
Valine can also be found in whey protein, casein, egg whites, soy, cheese, milk, cottage cheese, grain, mushrooms, soy and peanuts.
If I can get BCAAs through food, why supplement?
Approximately one third of muscle protein is made up of BCAAs. Think of BCAAs as a fuel source. When your body runs low on energy, these three amino acids can be delivered more efficiently to the muscles. BCAAs also bypass the liver and head directly to muscles located away from the core which may also aid in energy production. While you don’t need BCAAs at every meal, it is important to take them daily and this is the reason that many choose to take a BCAA product - or better yet, you may find there is an adequate amount in your daily protein or plant shake.