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June 12, 2015

What Are BCAA's and do I need them?

Kelsey Brandin
by Kelsey Brandin

Amino acids are the building blocks of our muscles—without them, proteins would not exist, and our bodies wouldn’t be capable of basic function. Most likely, you have heard of “Essential Amino Acids”—this term refers to the nine amino acids that cannot be synthesized (created) by our bodies through basic metabolic functions. Of those nine, there are three “Branched Chain” amino acids (BCAA’s): Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Before we get into their application for athletes, it is important to understand the chemistry behind aminos.

The general formula of an amino acid is an alpha carbon, a hydrogen molecule, a carboxyl group (carbon and oxygen), an amino group (hydrogen and nitrogen), and a side chain group (which will determine what amino acid is created). There are two types of amino acids that could potentially be created: an “L-Amino” and “D-Amino” (ex. L-Argenine, D-Aspartic). The human body and all proteins are comprised solely of L-amino acids, meaning we cannot actually metabolize any D-aminos. Because the alpha carbon is in the center of the amino acid, they are capable of essentially forming mirror images depending on their composition (thus, either becoming either L or D, kind of like a right and left hand!). Aminos then can link together and form peptide chains to create a protein, or remain separate. The human body requires aminos to maintain proper muscular function—if it lacks nitrogen or essential amino acids, it will begin to break proteins down to their individual parts in order to obtain those amino acids. So if you don’t want your body to eat itself, make sure you’re getting your aminos!

So, why are BCAAs special? One important quality of BCAAs is that they circulate immediately in the plasma, bringing nutrients and energy to the muscles. Thus, BCAAs are important to include in your diet consistently (pre, intra, and post workout) in order to provide your body with enough nutrients to perform at maximum potential. One particular BCAA is particularly important: leucine. Important when glycogen stores are depleted, leucine can provide much needed energy to your muscles. Thus, this particular amino is important for endurance athletes and strength athletes alike. Within fitness circles, the common “2:1:1” ratio of leucine to the other BCAAs was regarded as the ideal intake. However, some studies suggest that ratios of Leucine may trigger more muscle growth. Regardless, it is shown that Leucine needs the other two BCAA’s present to be effective.

Here’s a good formula to find your ideal intake of amino acids:

(body weight in kg) x .44 = (grams of aminos)

Amino acids are available in both tablet and powder form. Many athletes find themselves already mixing so many drinks that they prefer the tablet form. On the other hand, amino drinks typically taste very good and are ideal to mix with your water bottle or drink in your water during the day. BCAA powders are also available in an unflavored version allowing you to mix with your pre-workout and your post workout protein shake.

In conclusion, amino acids are indispensable, and BCAAs in particular are incredibly important to maximize your training results. Whether you’re a male or female, bodybuilding or training for a triathlon, it is paramount for you incorporate amino acids. Your overall performance will undoubtedly suffer without them