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BCAAs, Muscle Growth, and the Kitchen Sink

The wide world of supplements--it's a vast and scary place if you're unfamiliar with the territory. Do not fear. I'll talk to you quickly about one of my favorite, albeit underrated, supplements. BCAAs. While these won't add two inches to your arms, drop your body fat by 10%, or pump your adrenaline, but they do have some promising benefits. Let's dive in.

What are BCAA's?

BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acid, also known as the building blocks of protein. There are 22 total amino acids, nine of which are considered essential. These essential amino acids are the following:

  • Histidine

  • Isoleucine

  • Leucine

  • Valine

  • Lysine

  • Methionine

  • Phenylalanine

  • Threonine

  • Tryptophan

Amino acids are crucial to protein synthesis, biosynthesis, and neurotransmitting. Big words. VERY important stuff. Of these nine essential amino acids, three of them comprise about 30-40% of all muscle tissue--Isoleucine, Leucine, and Valine. Isoleucine can increase glucose uptake into cells (important for reducing fatigue, bloodflow, and overall recovery), Valine has been shown to stimulate the nervous system (important in muscle contraction) while Leucine is sometimes referred to as the 'main' amino acid. It activates the protein known as mTOR, which induces muscle synthesis.

Why Supplement with BCAA's?

The idea behind supplementation is to replace broken down muscle as it's being broken down. Think of it like a kitchen sink. During exercise, the drain at the bottom of the sink is sucking all of the amino acids down at a quick rate causing the muscle to break down and synthesize. By adding in more BCAAs (for metaphor's sake, adding more water to the sink) you're replenishing what your workout is stripping. These BCAAs you're adding have been shown to have positive effects on increased lactate thresholds (when combined with a small amount of carbohydrates), perceived exertion, muscle soreness, and hormonal response!

People with lower overall protein intake benefit more from BCAA supplementation, being that they are already a little on the lower end of the amino acid pool. This is why I believe that they are underrated, as majority of people do not eat enough protein in their daily diets!

How to supplement with BCAAs?

  • Dosages should range from 10-30g based on your daily protein intake, intensity, and duration of workouts. Start with just 10g for one week and slowly add in 5g weekly until 20-30g are reached. If you eat a higher protein diet, then 10-20g is generally a good start point, a lower protein or very restricted diet (cutting) then 20-30g is more appropriate, although dosages this high can get expensive.

  • Supplement can come in pill or powder form, so be sure to look at the label to determine # of pills or scoops to take per serving.

  • Of those dosages, shoot for a 2:1 or 1:1 ration of Leucine to Isoleucine (Again, check the label)

  • If increased stamina and overall hypertrophy is the goal, then combine with a small amount of carbohydrates, a 2:1 ratio is probably a good start.

  • Can be effective if used while fasting. This can prolong the effects of muscle breakdown and increase the effectiveness of the fast while dieting.

My Personal Protocol-

Workout Days: 20g of BCAA mixed with 1/8-1/4 cup of Pure Dextrose sugar (you can buy this on any wholesale supplement supplier). I sip on this during my workout with 20-30oz of water.

Interval Cardio or Off days: On days where I have a huge gap between meals I take 10-15g of BCAA mixed with 20-30oz of water. On light days or off days, workouts and overall stress (muscle breakdown) on the body is less so total BCAA and sugar is not needed. I also usually do one "round" of intervals (consisting of 6-15 intervals) and take a "half-time" and drink the BCAAs, then I'll repeat the intervals for round 2!

In Conclusion...

BCAAs are beneficial for recovery post-training, either from muscle damage or fatigue. They can be expensive (like all supplements) so the best way to use them is in a recovery drink mixed with a low dose of carbohydrate. This can be taken during the training session itself (this is my recommendation--think "kitchen sink") or post-training. Remember this is a SUPPLEMENT and does not replace a high protein, balanced carbohydrate, and fat diet!

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