Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are made up of three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine specifically has been touted as the muscle building amino acid; although this is not wrong it still takes the full team of essential amino acids to build muscle.
I get asked A LOT about BCAAs in practice and if they are actually beneficial to putting on muscle and aiding in muscle recovery. Here is my normal breakdown response:
BCAAs make your water taste good, usually when your water tastes good you are apt to drink more. Getting more water into you is an excellent thing.
BCAAs can be ritualistic, whatever gets your shoes on and your butt in gear I am on board with.
BCAAs will aid in muscle growth when you are not taking in enough protein (FYI: many of us are not)
BCAAs have also been shown to increase cellular hydration better than water alone post exercise.
Here is another special little addition I give to my female athletes,
About two weeks before the menstrual cycle, certain hormones become elevated. This is when a lot of those lovely PMS symptoms come about. I would like to take a second and highlight that pre-menstrual syndrome is just that, a syndrome…as in treatable. The symptoms we struggle with during this time can very well be COMMON but certainly not the norm.
So, where do BCAAs come in? Well during that high hormone phase, the rise in estrogen and progesterone potentially can have a negative impact on muscle growth; especially if their levels are outside a healthy range. Progesterone increases can actually indirectly contribute to a break down muscle tissue. This is where BCAAs and appropriate protein consumption are essential to ensure recovery and continue your gains in the gym.
Double bonus, leucine crosses the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) quickly. Why is this helpful? Well during the high hormone phase there is significant impact on the central nervous system. I am sure you have all experienced some fatigue, mood swings, and low energy. This all happens due to the surge in hormones and their effect on the nervous system. Since leucine crosses the BBB it can actually impact some of the neurotransmitters and reduce that central nervous system fatigue.
Hormones can be extremely complicated and can have a massive impact on performance. There are so many ways to mitigate potentially negative effects of hormones and use your cycles to your advantage to optimize performance.
Dr. Kokes ND, RD, BSc AHN, CISSN (@sportsdockokes)
PROActive Health & Performance Centre