Branched-chain amino acid supplements have been shown to help decrease muscle soreness and damage and increase protein synthesis in your body after exercise. These amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of protein, include leucine, isoleucine and valine. All three are essential amino acids that must be obtained from food.
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In research published in the Journal of Nutrition, athletes who took BCAA supplements after their workout experience less muscle soreness and have a higher rate of protein synthesis than those who did not. BCAA can also increase fatty acid breakdown after exercise, enabling your 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 your body uses from your muscles to convert them into glucose for energy.
Leucine is one of the BCAAs that help secrete insulin from your pancreas, lower blood sugar levels, and it works with the other two BCAAs -- isoleucine and valine -- to spare your muscles from being used as fuel for energy. Isoleucine also maintains normal blood sugar levels, and your body needs this amino acid to produce hemoglobin, which is an iron-containing compound in your red blood cells. According to Health News, valine is used to treat gallbladder and liver disease. It is also used to treat patients with severe protein malnutrition.
In addition to helping build muscles and aiding exercise recovery, physicians recommend BCAAs to help speed up the healing process in burn victims and those who are suffering from cancer, AIDS or end-stage kidney failure. According to Health News, BCAAs are used to treat tardive dyskinesia, which is a neurological disorder consisting of abnormal, involuntary body movements. This is common among those suffering from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Dietitian Ellen Coleman suggests that you take about 2 milligrams each of leucine and valine for every milligram of isoleucine. Any excessive intake of BCAAs will not make your muscles bigger or speed up recovery. Your kidneys excrete excess BCAAs in your urine.
Because supplements are not drugs, they do not need to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, supplement companies do not have to put the right amount of ingredients in their products to match their claims. This includes all multivitamins, BCAAs, protein powders and other similar products. When looking for quality supplementation, the FDA recommends that you consult with your physician or dietitian to choose the best supplements for your condition.
- The Journal of Nutrition: Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle During Exercise
- Ultimate Sports Nutrition; Ellen Coleman