Branched-chain amino acids are often used to treat Lou Gehrig's disease, brain conditions due to liver disease, elderly and cancer patients and people who are confined to bed rest. Some perfectly healthy people use BCAAs to prevent fatigue and improve concentration. But the most relevant to you as well as athletes, is the common practice of taking branched-chain amino acids to improve exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown. While the first use has a fair amount of skeptics, the second is widely accepted in the medical world.
Typically the result in mentioning amino acids brings about great confusion. BCAAs may play a role in supporting healthy mitochondria, nervous system and liver function, fighting obesity, metabolic syndrome, and muscle soreness. Specifically, L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine - enhance protein synthesis in muscle cells. BCAAs are rejuvenating in that they may also increase energy and reduce occasional fatigue. They are metabolized primarily in skeletal muscles, while other amino acids are metabolized in the liver, which is why most think they must take BCAA supplements if they're engaging in strenuous exercise. With that in mind, BCAAs are often touted to help repair damaged muscles, decrease muscle soreness and increase muscle function.
They are ‘essential’, meaning you must get them in our diet because our bodies do not produce them. The term 'branched-chain' just refers to the molecular structure. Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein (think: legumes) and have various functions related to energy production during and after exercise so they are needed in adequate amounts, but not excessive. Dieting as well as training in general is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown, for several reasons. The leaner a body gets, the more likely it is to lose muscle mass as the body tries harder and harder to hold onto body fat stores. In doing so, the body will turn to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. However, an over expenditure without proper nutrition may result in losing muscle.
On the molecular level, muscle loss occurs because the body increases protein breakdown (catabolism) in order to liberate muscle amino acids for fuel. If this isn't bad enough, muscle loss is compounded by the fact that levels of protein synthesis will also decrease due to reduced energy intake. The basic equation for muscle mass is: Muscle mass = rate of protein synthesis - rate of protein breakdown. When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don't gain or lose muscle. If the rate of synthesis exceeds the rate of breakdown, you gain muscle. When the rate of breakdown exceeds the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle. If you're dieting and overtraining, you may be burning the candle at both ends: elevating muscle breakdown and reducing protein synthesis.
Working out also compounds the metabolic effects of dieting. So the leaner you become, the more lethargic you can become. I’ve experienced some hard lessons, as decreased energy intake and depleted glycogen storage make for some rough training sessions. So if you're too tired or weak to lift as heavy as your body was getting used to, your muscles will eventually adapt, and they won't use as much energy to get the work done. That means your body won't necessarily increase lean muscle mass; it might also mean that your body will use lean muscle for energy because you aren't using it to lift a heavy load.
Harvard Medical School published research to show the specific neurological benefits of glutamine alone. After four weeks of daily glutamine intake, stress, depression and anxiety was found to fall by around 50% versus a control group. It plays a vital role in maintaining the digestive system and protecting against the potentially harmful chemicals that are ingested from processed food. Studies have also shown Glutamine is metabolized within the white bloods cells, providing fuel for the immune system. So in times of illness, when the immune system becomes overworked, Glutamine levels have be found to reduce by half that of when in good health. Therefore, glutamine not only boosts the immune system, but also helps reduce the recovery time from illness.
BCAAs are not vitamins; they are amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Each individual amino acid has its own specific function, and the branched-chain amino acids are no different. Branched chain amino acids are most commonly used for their role in building muscle, improving exercise performance and decreasing post-exercise soreness and recovery time. Exercise causes an increase in serotonin levels, which are believed to cause fatigue. But BCAAs are believed to reduce serotonin levels, and thus cancel out the fatigue and actually enhance exercise performance. So overall, they not only reduce muscle breakdown but thus, are totally rejuvenating in the process.
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