If you've been focusing on really boosting your fitness recently, then you have no doubt come across BCAAs -- which stands for "Branched Chain Amino Acids" -- and their stated importance in terms of ramping up your ability to perform aerobically and/or anaerobically.
For the uninitiated, BCAAs are essential amino acids, which means they aren't made in the body. Yet BCAAs -- there are three of them: leucine, isoleucine and valine -- still make up more than one-third (!) of the protein found in muscular tissue. This means that you can get BCAAs through your diet -- by eating eggs, poultry, fish and other (preferably lean) meats -- but supplements also work extremely well. (For the record, Modus Protein has an unusually high 7g of BCAAs per serving! Just had to get that in there, of course.)
So why do you need BCAAs, exactly? What benefits do you reap from them? And are they only for muscleheads and ultra-marathoners, or can your average active adult benefit from them too? Well, here's a closer look at how everyone can benefit from BCAAs!
- Major Gains: Leucine is the most important of the three BCAAs for triggering muscle protein synthesis, which is absolutely necessary for building muscle mass. This is why weight lifters are so fond of BCAAs. As new muscle mass is only built with protein synthesis, the faster this process takes place, the more rapidly one sees results. So more BCAAs means more gains. Means more bulging biceps, means more tight t-shirts, means more confidence during group photos at the bar ... and so on, and so on.
- Endure, Endure, Endure: BCAAs are metabolized differently from other amino acids. BCAAs are metabolized via skeletal muscle rather than the liver in order to contribute to energy production, or oxidative metabolism. In short, this means that BCAAs sort of jet-stream into the bloodstream -- especially when compared to the time-consuming traffic-jam of a process going down in your liver -- and are quickly taken up by active tissues, namely muscle. This means that since BCAAs make up one-third of the muscular amino acid pool, they can quickly be depleted during really long runs, bike rides, swims, etc. So if you want to boost your endurance, you're going to want to make a lot of deposits to your BCAA account. (Checking or savings, it really doesn't matter.)
- Immunity, Now! Whenever you work out really hard, you're essentially placing stress on your body. And what’s the key factor in fighting off this self-induced-but-in-a-good-way stress? Yep, essential amino acids. So if you don't have enough essential amino acids, then your body isn't going to have everything it needs to maintain a tip-top immune system. Which means your likelihood of illness could go up. In fact, one study showed that long-term BCAA supplementation improved the immune system's response to weeks of intense endurance training in cyclists. Meaning if you're going hard, and want to keep going hard, you're wise to up your BCAA intake.
- Fight DOMs With Nom-Nom-Noms: BCAAs don’t just work to combat muscle atrophy during recovery, they have also been shown to support muscle repair, as well as the ability to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, or "DOMS" for short. DOMS is viewed as the pain that lingers for a few days after you undertake either super-intense workouts or new types of stressful movement. A shock to the system via hard-core exercise, basically. So, in short, get your noms (in the form of yummy chocolate-flavored Modus Protein, naturally) to fight off DOMs.