Do BCAA's Work and How are They Different than Protein?

by Erik Tremblay

Do BCAA’s Work and How are They Different than Protein?

Many people come to us with questions regarding BCAA’s, their effectiveness, and how they compare to ingesting protein. There are some differences between the two which we will cover in this week’s blog post, and depending on what you feel is best for you is what you should supplement into your routine. Both are important for growth and overall health and when possible both should be supplemented, however depending on your circumstance you might have to choose between supplementing with one or the other. Before you choose what you should be supplementing with, it is important to understand each one.

What are BCAA’s?

BCAAs stand for Branched Chained Amino Acids and consist of three different Amino Acids critical for anabolism (the building of muscle). All three amino acids that make up BCAAs are the only known aminos to be burned by muscles as part of their fuel which is shown by the decline of their plasma and muscle levels during and after strenuous exercise. Check out the importance and role of each of the following BCAAs:

L-Leucine is one of 9 essential amino acids, meaning that it is not produced by the body and therefore must be provided by your diet which is why it is a favorite to supply in our nutritional products. It is one of the three Branched-Chain-Amino - Acids (BCAAs), and is the most important as it has been consistently to shown to have the most powerful effect on stimulating protein synthesis when compared to other amino acids and has the highest concentration in blood plasma and muscular tissue. The most researched pathway is the mTOR pathway, which has been shown to be directly influenced by leucine concentrations. When levels decline, the mTOR pathway is signaled that there is an insufficient amount of fuel available to undergo high levels of protein synthesis, therefore not undergoing anabolic reactions. However, when concentrations of leucine are high, the mTOR pathway is signaled to increase levels of protein synthesis. L-Leucine is the most critical component of BCAAs, which is why we refuse to use ratios that do not heavily favor L-Leucine by atleast 2:1:1(L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, L-Valine).

L-Isoleucine is one of the 3 BCAAs so it is also an essential amino acid, so it must come from your diet as it cannot be synthesized by the body. Isoleucine also contributes to muscle repair, however it works slightly differently than L-Leucine, as it’s anabolic benefits come its trait of being a precursor to glutamine and alanine which are critical for muscle recovery while also aiding protein synthesis in ways similar to L-Leucine. It is however just as effective in smaller doses and has shown to provide muscle enhancing effects in doses as small as 1 gram!

L-Valine is the third of the BCAAs which acts very similarly to L-Isoleucine as being a precursor to glutamine and alanine. It is also contributed to regulating the central nervous system and improving cognitive function while also providing a basis for cellular repair as an amino acid. The increased benefits of improving the body’s overall function while also contributing to muscle repair is why L-Valine is included in all our BCAA/Pre/Post products.

Since all three amino acids have been shown to decrease in levels over times of strenuous exercise, it is important to dose all three in your regiment. However, Leucine's unique ability to act on the mTOR pathway to either stimulate protein synthesis or inhibit it due to low concentrations is why the doses of Leucine are highly favored in all our formulas. The great part of BCAAs is that your body does not have to break them down before absorption as compared to protein.

Complete Proteins

Proteins such as Whey or Casein, are complete proteins meaning they contain the full profile of both essential and non-essential amino acids available. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are needed to not only maintain a normally functioning body, but repair tissues as well (yes, most notably skeletal muscle tissue).When you ingest proteins your body breaks down the proteins into the individual amino acids that make up that complete protein. So when you purchase protein powder you’ll typically see on the bottle listed; “Typical Amino Acid Profile”. This will tell you the amounts of individual amino acids typically found in the amount of protein contained in one serving of the protein powder. Why it is not completely accurate, it allows you to see around how much of each amino acid you’ll receive by ingesting the protein. These amino acids are broken down into two categories; Essential and Non-essential Amino Acids. Look at the chart Below:

Essential Amino Acids consist of ones that our bodies cannot synthesize on it’s own, so we require them in our diets (notice all 3 BCAAs are essential). Non-essential Amino Acids are one’s our bodies have the ability to synthesize on their own from scratch (your body is able to take nitrogen retained from being excreted and synthesize these amino acids through different processes), however these aminos are still important to intake through diet especially when trying to grow an repair lean muscle. Each Amino Acid is used differently as your body breaks down complete proteins into the individual amino acids and rearranges them to form new proteins. These new proteins can be used anywhere from repairing muscle and skin tissue to forming substrates and enzymes. Proteins main benefit is that they provide a full amino acid profile.

Comparing BCAA’s and Complete Proteins

So complete proteins provide a full profile of amino acids while BCAA’s only supply 3; Leucine, Isoluecine, and Valine. Since the BCAA’s are already in amino acid form, they do not need to be broken down further and this allows your body to absorb them instantly.This is why many supplement with them intra and post-workout in order to fit them in their anabolic window (within 20 minutes post-workout). Complete proteins must first be broken down into their individual amino acids and then absorbed which takes more time , can be anywhere from 20 more minutes with fast digesting proteins on an empty stomach to hours after for slow-digesting proteins. BCAA’s are most beneficial in supplying high doses of the amino acids most commonly found in muscle tissue and capable of stimulating protein synthesis pathways while complete proteins provide smaller doses of a much larger range of amino acids, all 20 non-essential and essential amino acids.

This is also why many claims you see saying BCAA’s don’t work don’t really make any sense nor are backed by conclusive research. How can BCAA’s not work at repairing muscle tissue and protein does when the protein is broken down into amino acids for use anyway? And the amino acids found in the highest abundance in muscle tissue are the 3 BCAA’s, so why would your muscle tissue contain greatly more amounts of BCAA’s than any other amino acids but not use them for repair? Many claims made in the industry are unfortunately wrong and don’t add up when you understand the roots of the claim. This is why we try to educate you all on the truth and you know you can trust us!

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