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Published on May 4, 2018

5 Benefits of BCAAs for Strength and Recovery

5 Benefits of BCAAs for Strength and Recovery

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are now one of the most popular supplements around, earning a place in millions of homes and gyms, worldwide. Numerous studies show a direct link between BCAA intake and improved strength and recovery, fuelling sales growth which shows no sign of slowing.

Whether you are a keen runner, professional tennis player, amateur weightlifter or an Olympic gold medallist, you could certainly benefit from adding more BCAAs to your diet.

Evidence supports the use of BCAA supplementation for strength and recovery during exercise but also recognizes their role in some diseases, such as cancer. Other studies have also linked bloodstream levels of BCAAs to insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.

In this article, we’ll go over the main benefits of BCAAs for strength and recovery and why you should consider adding them to your diet.

What are BCAAs?

When we talk about protein, we are referring to amino acid residue – which is what protein is made from. BCAAs are essential amino acids because the body is unable to synthesize them on its own, therefore, they must be consumed in our diet. Of the nine essential amino acids, three of them fall into the BCAA category. They are:

  • Leucine – boosts protein synthesis, helping build and repair muscle. It also assists with insulin to regulate blood sugars and is one of only two amino acids which cannot be converted into sugar.
  • Isoleucine – enables energy to be stored in muscle cells rather than fat cells by regulating glucose uptake.
  • Valine – improves mental functioning, reduces fatigue and prevents muscle breakdown.

Other essential amino acids are oxidized (broken down to release energy) in the liver, however, BCAAs are unique in that they can be metabolized in muscle. Why is this important? Well, the body needs BCAAs in the bloodstream to maintain normal bodily functions. If none are available, the body will break down muscle cells to release them. [1] [1]

Food Sources

The supplement industry does a great job convincing us to invest in BCAA supplements to get optimal results. However, for the most part, you will get all you need from everyday foods.

The recommended intake of BCAAs is around 15-20 grams per day, so getting enough from your diet is not all that difficult. You should aim for around five grams per meal (assuming three square meals per day).

Here are some common foods with examples of their BCAA content, per 3oz serving, cooked.

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  • Cheddar Cheese – 4.7g
  • Ground turkey – 4.2g
  • Ground Beef (95% lean) – 4.0g
  • Peanuts – 3.1g
  • Cashew Nuts – 2.8g
  • Whole eggs – 2.2g
  • Chicken breast – 2.1g
  • Lentils – 1.3g
  • Black Beans – 1.3g

Lentils, black beans and kidney beans contain all three branched-chain amino acids; however, some plant-based foods are not “complete” proteins. For a food to be a complete protein source, it must contain all nine essential amino acids. While kidney beans and black beans are complete, lentils lack enough methionine.

You can overcome this problem by combining lentils with other foods high in methionine (such as rice) to form complete proteins. Peanuts suffer a similar problem because they lack the essential amino acid, lysine. To make it complete, simply spread it on bread or toast.

If you’re unsure what foods contain complete proteins, head over to nutritiondata.self.com. This fantastic site lists the protein and nutritional profiles of thousands of foods. If a protein is not complete, simply click the “find foods with complementary profile” link to find sources containing the missing essential amino acids.

The 2:1:1 Ratio

When you look at BCAA supplement packaging, you will nearly always find reference to the BCAA ratio. The most common is 2:1:1, made up of two-parts leucine, one-part isoleucine, and one-part valine. While 2:1:1 is the most common, you will sometimes see products with ratios of 4:1:1, 8:1:1 and even 10:1:1.

These higher ratio BCAA supplements all contain more leucine. If you take time to read the packaging or the manufacturer’s marketing materials, they usually reference the muscle-building power of leucine. In reality, they are just cheaper to produce, so you will rarely find them citing existing research to back up their claims.

Scientists have used the 2:1:1 ratio in studies based on the levels found in natural food sources. Historically, there has been little need to investigate other ratios. Nevertheless, the role of leucine in protein synthesis has caught some interest. While current evidence is limited, a ratio of 4:1:1 has shown promise in one study, where results found it to increase protein synthesis by over 30%.

Benefits of BCAAs

1. You’ll Build Major Muscle Mass

When looking to improve strength, or to build muscle (hypertrophy), you need to activate protein synthesis. For this to happen, leucine is the single most important dietary requirement. Chemical signals tell your body to build and repair muscle, and leucine effectively amplifies that signal – especially following resistance exercise. [2]

As leucine is the main amino associated with muscle growth, you might be wondering why this is not recommended as a standalone supplement for muscle growth. As it happens, studies have been conducted to investigate. One such study compared three groups: one took a placebo, the other a leucine supplement, while the third group consumed a regular BCAA drink with a ratio of 2:1:1. While leucine performed better than the placebo, it did not do as well as BCAA group.

The reason for this is simple: all amino acids are required for muscle growth. So, while leucine stimulates the process, other forms of protein are needed to build muscle. Without the other amino acids, leucine is like a motivational building site manager with no workers to do the job. [3]

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2. You’ll Be Far Less Exhausted

Getting tired during a workout can be a real drag. You will be glad to hear that branched-chain amino acids – particularly valine – can help with this.

When you exercise, the level of tryptophan (another essential amino acid) rises. When tryptophan reaches the brain, it is used to make serotonin – a hormone been linked to our feeling of fatigue. All amino acids are transported to the brain on the same bus, yet not all are allowed entry to the brain. With limited accommodation available, valine competes with tryptophan and overpowers it. Less tryptophan in the brain means less serotonin, and less serotonin means lower fatigue. [4]

3. You’ll Recover Way Quicker

The body can take a real beating during intensive exercise. Recovering after such a session can take a few days or more.

One study, looking into the effects of BCAA supplementation in experienced resistance-trained athletes, showed positive results. The rate of recovery improved for strength, countermovement jump height and muscle soreness.[5] BCAAs can also speed up recovery time following endurance sports and intensive cardio sessions.4. No More Muscle Catabolism

Our priority, when exercising – whether it’s to lose weight, tone up, or get healthier in general – is usually to improve our body composition; after all, better body composition makes you look more toned, and the health benefits are well documented.

While exercising, we need more BCAAs to function properly. [11] [6]

When bloodstream levels are too low, the body looks for somewhere to get them. At this stage, it begins breaking down (catabolizing) muscle tissue to access the branched-chain amino acids it needs.

Consuming BCAAs ensures an adequate level is available in the bloodstream, reducing the chances of muscle breakdown. During and following intensive exercise sessions, it is important to consume slightly higher levels. This is the reason why some athletes will sip on a BCAA supplement drink during a workout.

Intermittent fasting has risen in popularity in recent years, with millions of people finding success with this form of dieting. As you can imagine, while in the fasted state, the bloodstream is low on BCAAs. Knocking back a very low-calorie BCAA drink during the fasted helps combat this.

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Following a workout, a meal or meal replacement high in protein is typically consumed to further replenish BCAA levels. If the aim of the workout was to build muscle, this is the best time to give protein synthesis a boost with some muscle-building leucine. Fast acting carbs are also a good idea at this time, as the energy can be stored in the muscles as glycogen.

5. Massive Muscle Energy Storage

When you eat, the energy you consume is either used or stored. You could be forgiven for thinking that excess energy is stored in fat cells, but it’s not.

Once digested, carbohydrates are converted to glucose, which supplies your cells with energy. The hormone, insulin, helps regulate blood sugar. One of the ways it does this is by helping glucose move through cell walls to be stored.

Unused glucose is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissue. Any excess glucose which cannot be deposited as glycogen is finally stored in fat cells.

The fantastic thing about glycogen stored in muscle cells is this: once stored in the muscle, it cannot return to the bloodstream to be used anywhere else. It can be used only by the muscle. For this reason, encouraging glucose to be stored in muscle cells is preferable to it being stored as fat.

Glycogen stored in muscles is a readily available energy source. So, when blood sugars are too low, contracting muscles will use the fuel stored within them to get the job done. This is where the branched-chain amino acid, isoleucine, shines by promoting glucose uptake by muscles. Greater uptake means less energy is stored as fat resulting in quicker energy access for the muscle. [7]

Dangers, Side Effects & Toxicity

Is There a Risk of Toxicity

It is safe to say that consuming high levels of BCAAs is not toxic. Studies looked at toxicity in mice and rats, concluding there to be no observed-adverse-effect level. [8]

However, if you’re looking to maximize your training efforts, research shows that excessive levels of BCAAs can actually hinder performance.[14] [9]

Inclusive Ties to Type-2 Diabetes

Maybe the largest concern for some people is that there is a direct link between high levels of BCAAs in the blood and type-2 diabetes. [15] On initial inspection, this looks to be bad news for branched-chain amino acids. However, further research suggests it is poor insulin sensitivity which drives higher circulating BCAA levels.[10] [11]

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Negative Effects on Insulin Sensitivity in Vegans

During a 2017 study, when supplementing with BCAAs, vegans became more resistant to insulin. [12]

During this study, they consumed an extra 20 grams of branched-chain amino acids per day for three months. Considering the lack of research on the subject, it is difficult to ascertain why this happened. Evidence shows that switching to a plant-based diet lowers the BCAA plasma levels associated with insulin resistance. [13]

The vegan subjects also had much better insulin sensitivity at the start of the study.

Increased Spread of Cancer & Disease

Inside our cells, a series of chemical reactions are constantly taking place. This series of events, known as a biological pathway, is what we refer to as our metabolism. These interactions produce new molecules such as fat or protein and can trigger changes in our cells.

The mTOR pathway forms part of this process. In simple terms, the mTOR pathway regulates cell growth. The branched-chain amino acid, leucine, stimulates the mTOR pathway, which is great for muscle growth, but not so great for some forms of cancer. Many cancers rely on mTOR activity for the growth and spread of cancerous cells. For this reason, much research is taking place regarding BCAAs and their link with diseases. [14]

Take Home Advice: Take BCAAs

It’s easy to see, given the evidence, why BCAAs are such a popular supplement for people engaging in exercise. Faster recovery, increased muscle growth, and reduced fatigue benefit all kinds of athletes, from beginners through to seasoned Olympians.

For those lifting weights, BCAAs will help you get bigger and stronger; marathon runners might delay hitting the wall, and if you’re playing competitive football week in week out, you can recover faster. In contrast, if you are not exercising regularly, there really is no need: just ensure you’re eating enough complete, plant-based proteins such as lentils, black beans, nuts and grains, some fish and meat a few times per week and you’ll be fine.

However, if you are vegan, your family has a history of diabetes, or have been recently diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, you should certainly consult with your doctor before adding BCAA supplements to your diet.

Featured photo credit: Brad Neathery via unsplash.com

Reference

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Robin Young

Fitness writer, and CEO at Fitness Savvy

5 Benefits of BCAAs for Strength and Recovery

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Published on July 20, 2018

15 of the Best Fruits for Weight Loss and How to Enjoy Them Daily

15 of the Best Fruits for Weight Loss and How to Enjoy Them Daily

When it comes to losing weight, there isn’t just one go-to trick to get the body you’re hoping for. A major component in anyone’s weight loss is eating the right foods.

Consuming fruit is one of the healthiest ways for quick weight loss, but which are best fruits for weight loss? Let’s find out.

1. Pineapple

Here we are at number one on our list of best fruits for weight loss: pineapple.

Pineapple is one of the most common and loved of the tropical fruits. It provides thiamin, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, copper, iron, and folate jampacked into one, large, brown and yellow fruit.

Pineapple, besides weight loss, may assist with a variety of conditions including asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

The fruit has also been shown to increase morality, improve hair and skin, boost energy levels, regulate blood pressure, and reduce risks of certain cancers.

Pineapple can also improve fertility, aid digestion, and heal inflammation.

How to enjoy them even more:

2. Bananas

Next up on our list is bananas, which are a great source of potassium, vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, and protein.

With all of these vitamins and nutrients, bananas are plenty helpful for general health and specific ailments from muscle cramps to headaches.

Bananas also make for a great fat burner because they offer high levels of dietary fiber while being low in calories.

How to enjoy them even more:

3. Watermelon

When watermelon comes to mind, some think that it contains too much natural sugar to be considered a healthy fruit for quick weight loss, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Watermelon, hence the name, has a very high water content. It also contains a healthy dose of amino acids, antioxidants, lycopene, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.

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Being loaded with a large variation of nutrients, watermelon is a great and refreshing fat burner fruit.

Besides losing weight, eating watermelon can help keep you hydrated, improve your heart health, lower oxidative stress, and reduce inflammation.

How to enjoy them even more:

4. Grapefruit

Grapefruit, an underrated subtropical, semi-bitter-but-sweet citrus, is another one of the best fat burners in the fruit world according to researchers at Vanderbilt University.[1] Participants in the study had higher levels of key nutrients, an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and a decrease in appetite after grapefruit consumption.

Apart from burning fat, grapefruit offer optimal levels of vitamin C, lycopene, potassium, fiber, and choline.

How to enjoy them even more:

5. Pears

Pears are another underrated fruit, especially when it comes to quick weight loss.

Packed with protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and smaller amounts of riboflavin, iron, calcium, magnesium, folate, copper, antioxidants, and vitamin B-6; pears fight against free radicals, aid digestion, detox the body and reduce diabetes risk.

Pears are also approximately 84 percent water, assisting in keeping solid wastes soft and helping the body flush out harmful toxins in the body.

How to enjoy them even more:

6. Lemon

Probably one of the most versatile weight loss fruits out there is lemon. This sour citrus offers high levels of vitamin C along with smaller amounts of thiamin, calcium, magnesium, copper, folate, and pantothenic acid.

Besides alkalizing the body and improving digestion and detox, lemons can potentially support bone health, increase iron absorption, prevent or even dissolve kidney stones, enhance immunity and heart health, and clear up the skin.

How to enjoy them even more:

7. Pomegranate

Pomegranate is one of the best fat burners with a plethora of health benefits. It offers antioxidants, fiber, protein, folate, potassium, flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, polyphenols and phosphorus.

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Pomegranate has the potential to help combat against high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, inflammation, high cholesterol, certain cancers and oxidative stress. It also has the properties to assist with infection, hemorrhage, acidosis, and obesity according to one 2012 study.[2]

Pomegranates, because they contain dozens of juice-filled seeds within their flesh, are typically consumed by juicing them or by popping the seeds in the mouth. However, there are many of ways to prepare this delicious fruit for consumption.

How to enjoy them even more:

8. Avocado

Whether or not you think avocado is a fruit or a vegetable, scientifically, it is a fruit.

Avocados offer healthy fats known to be good for the heart. This same fat content makes it great for burning excess fat in the body.

Don’t let the misconception that fats are unhealthy to consume fool you! Healthy fats are important in proper weight loss.

Besides containing healthy fats, avocados are also composed of fiber; folate; vitamin B1, B2, and B3; vitamin C; vitamin E; vitamin K; potassium, protein, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and manganese – a lot of great stuff packed into one fruit!

How to enjoy them even more:

9. Strawberries

Low in carbohydrates and calories, strawberries are one of many quick weight loss fruits out there that are incredibly healthy and won’t spike blood sugar. They offer fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, folate, flavonoids, and manganese.

While weight loss is one potent benefit of strawberries, they also improve blood flow, assist with a variety of cardiovascular problems, provide anti-aging benefits, assist with hyperpigmentation and acne, and lower cholesterol.

Strawberries have been proven through research to have a hefty supply of other health benefits as well including obesity, neurodegeneration, cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.[3]

How to enjoy them even more:

10. Tart Cherries

Assisting with both heart health and body weight, tart cherries are a great go-to fruit with great levels of potassium, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids and antioxidant properties.

Cherries can also help reduce inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis, regulate the sleep cycle, fight against oxidative stress, and treat gout.

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In terms of weight loss in particular, tart cherries can melt belly fat, regulate the metabolism, and reduce blood cholesterol levels quite effortlessly. Best of all, there are only 77 calories in a single cup of pitted cherries!

While tart cherries are a more bitter form of cherries, you can use them within cooking if you aren’t keen on the flavor by itself.

How to enjoy them even more:

11. Orange

To assist with not just weight loss but also reduce risks of stroke, cancers, liver disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, skin-related issues, and heart health ailments, oranges are a wonderful source of vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, fiber, copper, potassium, calcium, among other vitamins and nutrients.

Besides the latter ingredients, oranges also contain over 170 phytochemicals and over 60 flavonoids. As one of the best and most healthy fruits out there, oranges, like lemons, are also very versatile in cooking, making them an easy fruit to consume daily.

Regarding weight loss, oranges help to create a slimmer and trimmer body by reducing oxidative stress, lowering blood lipid and glucose levels, and assisting with liver health (and thus, detox), according to the American Chemical Society.[4]

If you don’t normally like oranges, consider trying blood oranges which are, while stronger and slightly more bitter, have a unique raspberry flavor amongst the citrus-y flavor and acidity.

How to enjoy them even more:

12. Blueberries

Tiny but mighty blueberries also hold significant fat-burning and digestion-stimulating properties and other good-for-you components for overall health including antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, manganese and more.

Besides eliminating extra fat and helping aid digestion thanks to high fiber, blueberries can help with heart, skin, bone, and mental health while assisting with blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer prevention.

In terms of quick weight loss, blueberries are said to have the potential to improve blood sugar levels, lower triglycerides, and lower bad cholesterol levels. Double-blind 2010 research found that in individuals suffering with obesity, insulin sensitivity was reduced when blueberries were consumed daily.[5]

How to enjoy them even more:

13. Papaya

As one of the best fat burners also offering assistance with skin damage, heart health, poor digestion, and acute or chronic inflammation, papaya (also known as pawpaw) is a powerful food with versatile capabilities. It’s also believed that papaya has anti-cancer properties.

It offers antioxidants, protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin C, and potassium along with traces of lycopene; magnesium; calcium; and vitamin B1, B3, B5, E and K.

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While tropical and highly underrated, the papaya is an incredibly rich source of a variety of vitamins and minerals crucial to a healthy figure inside and out.

How to enjoy them even more:

14. Guava

Guava is another fat-busting, digestion-improving tropical fruit that unfortunately isn’t as common as other fruits on the market – yet, it has incredible health benefits that go beyond mere weight loss, including: better immunity and heart health, lower diabetes risk, reduced cancer risk, improved eyesight, lower stress, and improved skin texture.

This green-skinned, pink-fleshed fruit contains manganese, folate, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, iron, and calcium.

This tasty fruit is not only safe for pregnant women but very healthy for them as it can aid in a fetus’ healthy-developing nervous system, fight infections and germs, and help with morning sickness.

How to enjoy them even more:

15. Apples

Apples, especially the Pink Lady variety, are one of the best fruits for weight loss considering they offer high fiber (which naturally speeds up the digestion), low calories, and are composed mostly of water. They are also quite versatile in how they are eaten.

Apples are additionally rich in flavonoids and antioxidants to potentially decrease risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and hypertension.

One study found that individuals who ate three apples daily had greater weight loss results and lower blood glucose levels.[6]

How to enjoy them even more:

Conclusion

With several healthy fruits to pick from on our beautiful planet, we have a wide array of foods that can provide your body the right vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients, and in turn, quick weight loss.

They say you are what you eat, so eating things that will power your digestion and allow you to detox can provide you a slimmer figure.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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