They may be necessary for our health, but amino acids remain one of those topics rarely discussed in everyday life. Even those with an interest in cooking and nutrition seldom talk about these important compounds, which may be part of why most laypeople don’t have a clear understanding of the roles that amino acids play in the body or how to ensure that they’re getting enough amino acids – or even what constitutes “enough” amino acids, for that matter. One particular classification of these compounds, the “branched-chain” amino acids (BCAAs), has gained some attention in health and fitness circles, thanks to an ability to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass, but even BCAAs still face some questions. One thing many people ask is how they can get BCAAs naturally; to find out the answer to this and other questions, keep reading as the people at aminoVITAL® explain.
What are BCAAs?
The 20 different amino acids our bodies use are divided into two main groups: the “essential” amino acids and the “nonessential” amino acids. A closer examination will reveal that there are additional subsets, including a group of three compounds – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – among the essential amino acids that are known as the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs. Though they get their name from their unique shape, these compounds are also notable for their effects on muscle performance and recovery, among other fitness-related benefits.
Each of the three BCAAs plays one or more unique roles in the body; learn more about each of these functions below.
The most well-regarded of the BCAAs, leucine has attracted a lot of attention from scientists and researchers. This amino acid is responsible for triggering the process of muscle protein synthesis in the body, which is what creates new muscle mass and imparts greater strength after exercise. Even the metabolites of leucine (the compounds created when the body processes this amino acid) are helpful in this regard; one metabolite, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) has been shown to reduce muscle breakdown during a workout and may even help regulate energy levels as well1.
The second of the BCAAs, isoleucine, is more about endurance than strength. This amino acid works to facilitate the flow of glucose (the body’s main form of fuel) to the muscles during exercise, helping you stay energized during even the toughest workouts. Isoleucine may also hasten the body’s post-workout recovery process, so you’ll be ready for your next trip to the gym in no time.
The third and final BCAA, valine, plays many roles in the body, but the one of greatest concern to fitness buffs is its role in protecting muscles. Normally, muscle tissue is damaged during exercise, either due to the strain of the physical motions or because the body breaks them down as a source of protein, but valine helps prevent that degradation, preserving muscle mass and reducing recovery needs in the process.
How to Get Natural BCAAs
Despite how the terms may sound, both essential and nonessential amino acids are actually necessary for the body; these labels simply refer to the dietary role of these compounds. In other words, nonessential amino acids can be manufactured in the body, so they don’t typically need to be consumed, while essential amino acids can’t be made internally and so must come from an outside source, such as foods or supplements.
Most people who have relatively inactive lifestyles probably get all the essential amino acids – including BCAAs – that they need through their regular diet. Most foods that contain proteins also contain these compounds, especially those with “complete” proteins, meaning those that offer all nine essential amino acids. Foods that supply BCAAs include the following:
- Meat and fish
- Beans and lentils
- Milk and cheese
- Nuts and pumpkin seeds
- Tofu and tempeh
Any of these foods could provide BCAAs naturally and in amounts adequate for those not engaging in regular exercise or suffering from a major illness. However, if you work out often, you might not get enough BCAAs through your diet to fully support your muscles.
Benefits of BCAA Supplements
When it comes to fitness, BCAA supplements offer some distinct advantages over their food-based brethren. For one thing, your body has a limited time window in which it produces new muscles after a workout; this is when BCAAs are most effective. While eating a protein-rich meal can provide your body with those amino acids, this process takes a significant amount of time, so it’s not ideal for helping with post-workout recovery.
Not only can BCAA supplements be consumed and absorbed much more quickly than the BCAAs in food, but they come with far fewer calories as well. Eating an entire meal, or even just a protein-based snack, to get the BCAAs you want means adding calories to your diet; by comparison, BCAA supplements are much leaner because they come with very few calories. For example, the Action intra-workout mix from aminoVITAL® has only 15 calories, far fewer than what you’d get in a serving of meat or dairy products.
Fast, Effective BCAA Supplements Available from aminoVITAL®
When the modest amount of amino acids in your diet prove insufficient, consider a BCAA supplement from aminoVITAL®. All our products are made with top-tier amino acids created by Ajinomoto, a global leader in amino acid research and production, through a patented vegetable fermentation process. Learn more about what quality BCAAs can do for your exercise routine by visiting aminoVITAL® online or calling (888) 264-6673 today.