So you’ve heard of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), but what exactly are they? Here’s a basic breakdown of what they are and how they can help you achieve your fitness goals.
Many people don’t understand the relationship between amino acids, often called the “building blocks” of muscle, and protein. The reality is that protein is actually made up of amino acids that are bound together. With 20 amino acids used in different amounts and various ratios to form protein, it’s easy to see why they’re referred to as building blocks. The three amino acids that together are referred to as BCAAs are called leucine, isoleucine and valine. Although our bodies can produce some of them, nine amino acids – including the BCAAs – need to be sourced from our diets, or supplements. This is where BCAA supplementation comes in.
As one of the most studied supplements on the market, there are two main benefits that make BCAAs a staple stack component for most athletes:
- BCAAs boost muscle protein synthesis, which means they help to rebuild and grow your lean muscle tissue more effectively. They support rapid muscle recovery from intense training and grow back larger and stronger.
- While dieting or performing intense exercise, your body typically has less carbohydrate fuel available, so sometimes it will break muscle tissue down to use amino acids as fuel instead. This is why athletes can lose muscle mass when dieting or during periods of intense training, and why BCAA supplementation can help to prevent muscle breakdown during these scenarios.
But wait, can’t you just eat protein-rich foods to get your amino acids? Sure, you can. But the problem is that when BCAAs are bound together to form protein molecules, they have to be broken down in the body and can take hours before entering the bloodstream. As standalone amino acids, BCAAs are free-form and are absorbed into the bloodstream much quicker, and are thus more effective at providing the benefits listed above.
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