Branched Chain Amino Acids

You probably have heard about Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs, in relation to pre-workout supplements.  People say that they can help you build muscle and have energy during your gym time.  But, BCAAs are not just for pumping iron.  They are a complex and yet essential part of your daily nutrition and they have quite a few uses and benefits. 

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids?

When people talk about BCAAs, they’re referring to three amino acids with aliphatic side-chains with a branch containing a central atom of carbon bound to three or more carbon atoms.  Essentially, they’re three amino acids that have generally similar structures.  They go by the names leucine, isoleucine, and valine.  These are essential nutrients that should be in your everyday diet.  Luckily, BCAAs are not exactly hard to come by; you can actually find them in most protein sources, including meat, eggs, dairy, and legumes.  And, while they do have plenty of benefits, there is no need to take additional BCAAs if you already get them in your diet.

What Do BCAAs Do?

It’s true that BCAAs may help athletes perform better physically.  This may be true especially for inexperienced athletes who aren’t very skilled at maintaining energy and stamina.  In these cases, BCAAs are usually taken to prevent fatigue.  And, like caffeine, these amino acids may also help improve concentration, which may be helpful to athletes in a competitive scenario.  Taking BCAAs for muscle growth is probably only beneficial for people who don’t get enough protein in their regular diets.  In these situations, BCAAs may promote synthesis of the muscle protein in order to support muscle growth and prevent muscle breakdown during difficult workouts.  In fact, there is some evidence that BCAAs are beneficial to several different tissues and organs in the body in addition to muscular tissue.

BCAAs for Medical Use

Branched Chain Amino Acids are powerful compounds that can help patients suffering from any number of diseases or medical conditions.  For this reason, you’re just as likely to see BCAAs in a hospital as you are in somebody’s gym bag.  Studies show that BCAAs may prevent poor message transmission between brain cells, especially for people with certain diseases that can impact the brain.  Patients suffering from spinocerebellar degeneration, cancer, and liver disease often take BCAAs to improve damaged brain function due to their diseases. 

Branched Chain Amino AcidsThese compounds may also be critical for people who are severely starving.  People with anorexia, for example, may rely on Branched Chain Amino Acids taken orally to improve their undernourished state.  And, while studies have been done to see if BCAAs could have a positive effect on patients with amytrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS, a degenerative disease that gradually damages a person’s ability to conduct voluntary and involuntary motion), it seems that the administration of BCAAs may actually cause further damage in these patients. 

BCAA Safety Precautions

While there are numerous supplements on the market touting muscle-boosting benefits, the safest way to take BCAAs is actually via IV, administered by a medical professional.  However, it is possibly safe to self-administer oral supplements containing BCAAs, as long as one stays faithful to the dosage directions.  Those who should stay away from supplements or medications containing BCAAs are those who are pregnant or nursing, children, those with ALS, those with chronic alcoholism, and those who are either about to get surgery or have just had surgery done.  If you’re not sure whether it’s safe for you to take BCAAs, be sure to consult your doctor.