Titanic Trio

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The three BCAAs are a must for serious bodybuilders.

Supplements come and go, but there are certain nutrients that are so crucial for body systems that they’ll never fade into the sunset. These include “essential” amino acids, which means that they can’t be manufactured by the body; they need to be obtained by external sources, via whole foods or supplements. Of the most important in this category to bodybuilders and other athletes are the three amino acids that make up the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Major Factors In Muscle Growth

BCAAs consist of the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, with leucine being the most important. In fact, studies indicate that without leucine, the body can’t correctly decipher cellular instructions that stimulate protein synthesis. Leucine also assists in growth-hormone production and inhibits catabolism of muscle tissue, especially postworkout.

BCAAs are not broken down in the liver; instead, they enter the bloodstream and are directly metabolized and absorbed by muscle tissue. This enhances their ability to act almost immediately in building and repairing damaged muscle tissue after training. This is an important fact about BCAAs that isn’t emphasized enough, as total muscle mass accounts for about 40% of body weight, and BCAAs comprise about one-fifth of all muscle proteins.

BCAAs Preserve Muscle Tissue

BCAAs’ anticatabolic capabilities are an exceptional way to inhibit muscle protein breakdown. This makes BCAAs a foundation product that should be utilized daily, especially before and following a workout. The anticatabolic abilities of BCAAs were validated by the following studies:

• Delaying muscle soreness. Researchers at the Department of Cellular and Molecular, Physiological and Pharmacological Sciences at the University of Pavia in Italy discovered that BCAAs delayed the onset of muscle soreness, which usually occurs 24–48 hours following an intensive physical activity or workout.

• Reduced muscle damage after endurance events. Scientists at the Department of Physical Therapy & Human Movement Science at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut reported that BCAA supplementation reduced muscle damage during bouts of prolonged endurance events, even in untrained college-aged men.

• Reduced inflammation after hard workouts. Investigators at Nagoya University in Japan recently conducted a double-blind, crossover study of participants who were administered either BCAAs or dextrin. After Days 2 and 3, DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) was significantly lower in the BCAA trial than in the placebo. Additionally, researchers reported that the BCAA group had experienced almost no decrease in muscle force on Day 3 as compared to a 20% decrease in the placebo group.

Protein Translation: Initiating Growth

To add fuel to BCAAs’ varying anabolic capabilities, researchers at the School of Physical Education and Sport at the University of São Paulo in Brazil recently reported that BCAAs play a key role in initiating protein translation and muscle proteolysis in situations of severe muscle wasting. This is relevant to bodybuilders because these conditions far exceed that of normal exercised-induced muscle catabolism.

When muscle tissue is highly inflamed, muscle wasting soon follows. Despite this impending negative catabolic abnormality, researchers found that when BCAAs were administered to subjects experiencing muscle-wasting syndromes, the BCAAs quickly transaminate into glutamate. This reestablishes normal anabolic processes, as glutamate converts into glutamine.

The amino acid glutamine also plays a major role in accelerating protein synthesis. In fact, as cited by Ray Sahelian, MD, a well-known hormonal-and-nutritional-supplement researcher, both glutamate and glutamine are needed to form muscle and provide energy to the cells.

Similarly, BCAAs also increase fatty-acid breakdown after exercise, which allows the body to use more energy from fat to repair damaged muscles and replenish nutrients to your cells. This speeds up the healing process and minimizes the amount of protein the body uses by breaking down muscle tissue to be converted into glucose for energy.

BCAAs And The Energy Continuum

When glycogen stores are depleted, the body breaks down muscle proteins into amino acids to re-establish blood glucose levels. This process is known as gluconeogenesis. This is different than the process of creating energy by breaking down carbohydrates.

Of all the aminos that stimulate gluconeogenesis, glutamine is considered to be the most important. According to investigators at the Department of Biochemistry of the Mie University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, BCAAs play a key role in kick-starting gluconeogenesis by serving as energy sources.

This unique process, which refuels muscle tissue, could be compared to refueling your car. However, BCAAs turn on this process even in a weakened state, when fuel sources get low and catabolic markers in the blood begin to rise. This extraordinary attribute is another reason why BCAAs are an exceptional foundational supplement to any bodybuilding program.

BCAAs Increase ATP

In a new study appearing in Cell Metabolism, BCAAs were found to help increase life span by inducing mitochondria biogenesis (the spontaneous generation of new mitochondria cells). Mitochondria cells are the main intracellular place where the chemical manufacture of energy takes place. This is housed in the energy compound called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is referred to as the body’s life force.

Essentially, this built-in cellular-energy source drives the cellular protocols that genetically perpetuate growth. ATP also enhances physical energy, fat burning and assists with the removal of waste by-products and muscle repair. For this reason, your cells live and breathe to make and remake ATP. This is why many sports-medicine scientists refer to the mitochondria/ATP axiom as the silent but ultimate muscle builder.

BCAAs For Antiaging?

Once an ATP molecule is used, it must be quickly recycled and primed again for use. Scientists estimate that every molecule of ATP in the human body is re-energized and recycled for use about 2,000 times a day. However, during intense physical workouts, the body has difficulty replenishing ATP fast enough. Also, the membranes that surround mitochondria cells and its contents can be easily damaged by free radicals generated during workouts. All of these chemical transactions can cause these powerhouse cells to sputter, lose power and age, as the body itself ages.

Because of past research at the University of Florida demonstrating BCAAs’ ability to prolong life in a yeast species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, researchers have been studying how BCAAs may impact a wide range of physiological processes that deter aging and extend life. In a new study that appeared in Alternative Medicine Review, researchers reported that BCAAs upregulated the expression of a gene scientists have labeled sirtuin-1. This is the same gene that the powerful antioxidant resveratrol affects.

Forget the scientific jargon here, but as a bodybuilder, consider the fact that mitochondrial biogenesis involves more than 1,000 genes and is responsible for producing 20% of the body’s total cellular proteins. Just know that BCAAs have a positive impact on this complicated chemical process, essentially creating healthy new cells.

BCAAs: Extraordinary Effects

Due to this newfound attribute of BCAAs to promote mitochondrial biogenesis, you can expect them to help reduce the production of muscle-wasting chemicals created from extreme stress, such a hard workouts. Ultimately, BCAAs can renew cellular energy, which accelerates growth and repair, supplies more oxygen to new, vibrant cells, as well as ignites systemwide increases in metabolic and anabolic activity. This distinction definitively puts BCAAs into a league of their own.

For decades, bodybuilding and fitness enthusiasts have relied on BCAAs to help increase muscle strength and improve performance. With BCAAs’ ability to promote mitochondrial biogenesis, they will likely gain additional prominence, not only within the sports-medicine community, but also that of the antiaging community.

• Suggested Dose: 5 g before workouts and 5 g postworkout.