Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids composed of valine, leucine and isoleucine and the fusion of these three would make up just about one-third of the skeletal muscle tissue. They play a crucial role in the synthesis of protein and muscle building. Essential amino acids are not naturally produced in the body and are acquired through the diet or supplements.
Amino acids are considered as the building blocks of protein. It is during the process of digestion where proteins are broken down to amino acids and are absorbed into the system. Once absorbed, they can be utilized to make new proteins or used as fuel in order to produce energy. If the body has adequate supply of these essential amino acids then it can be used to synthesize protein in order to optimize body performance. And among the essential amino acids, leucine is the most critical BCAA since it has anti-catabolic abilities and plays a very important role in protein synthesis. BCAAs are also important to reduce fatigue in endurance and anaerobic sports. Therefore, taking in BCAA supplementation is important to athletes.
Branched chain amino acids also act as carriers of nitrogen that would assist the muscles synthesize other amino acids that are needed in the building new tissues. This is because the BCAAs are metabolized in skeletal muscles and not in the liver, giving the muscles direct access to protein. This is also the reason why they are easily broken down during extreme activities such as exercise and the need to increase their supply during this period.
Aside from that BCAAs has the ability to delay the start of “central exhaustion” (fatigue in the central nervous system). These BCAAs have an access to the blood brain barrier and are used by many neurotransmitters in the proper functioning of the nervous system. These neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA; will affect the sensations for mood, pain, fatigue and drive. Take for example; tryptophan is a forerunner to serotonin that depresses the central nervous system and cause fatigue. If there is a decrease supply of BCAAs this will increase the levels tryptophan thus exhaustion is felt. So supplementing with BCAAs will decrease the levels of tryptophan thus delaying the feelings of fatigue.
Furthermore, these amino acids would help in the maintenance and repair of the tendons and muscles after exercise or any form of injury to the muscle. This is because these BCAAs are part of collagen production and the preservation of connective tissues. Additionally, they have been also found to increase insulin production thus providing more energy (in the form of sugar) to the muscles.
Studies show that BCAA supplementation is safe in amounts between 5 – 20 grams tablet or 1-7 grams in liquid form each day. More than this could cause decreased absorption of other amino acids and the danger of having gastrointestinal distress.