You’ve probably seen this acronym at the gym, or the athletic section of your fav health food market’s supplement section. Maybe you’ve whizzed right by the BCAA’s, or thought it was up there with Creatine and other products intended to bulk up. Not that there’s anything wrong with bulking up, but typically that’s not what we have in mind when we are trying to reach our summer body goals. But BCAA’s, or Branch Chain Amino Acids, can actually help us achieve the lean look we long for.
They are a group of 3 essential amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. The reason they appear together to make up this acronym is that they are the only amino acids that on a molecular level, have a chain that branches off to one side. Get it? Branch chain? Really getting granular here, but trying to take out some of the mystery. Another thing to note, is that our bodies cannot make them, so we have to get them via food and/or supplements. Turns out, BCAAs make up almost half of our bodies’ amino acid total, 14-18% of that is in our muscles.
Whether during your workout or throughout a demanding day, studies show BCAAs can reduce fatigue, helping you sustain your energy for longer. This happens by reducing your blood-brain intake of tryptophan, meaning not only is our physical fatigue delayed, but our mental fatigue is reduced as well. In a study, athletes’ performance on different cognitive tests was improved after they ran a race, due to BCAA intake. This takes you from pre-workout, to during workout and beyond without missing a beat.
Because BCAA’s are broken down in the muscle and not the liver, like most other nutrients we get from our diets, they might play a key role in fueling high-energy (and thus, high caloric output) workouts. This is why BCAAs are found in a lot of pre-workout products. They give us that hulk-type enthusiasm while breaking a sweat that keeps us going. They also activate key enzymes in protein synthesis, aka how we absorb protein, after the workout, to maximize muscle gains.
BCAAs might also help blood sugar levels stay steady by keeping liver and muscle sugar stores in tact, and encouraging cells to take in sugar from the bloodstream. When our blood sugar is stable throughout the day (and this is especially true in women), we prevent our bodies from reacting by spiking or dropping off in other hormones, which can wreak longer-term havoc on our bodies simply by missing a meal. Think, breakouts, rashes, oily scalp, bloat. Stable blood sugar has a direct effect on our glow factor. Plus, nobody likes to be hangry.
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