Are you taking branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) with your training? If not, you’re neglecting the most anabolic amino acids available. Not only are they the building blocks for muscle, but they have an entire myriad of benefi ts for the MMA fi ghter that surpass any other supplement available.
WHAT ARE THEY?
The three BCAAs consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They make up almost 1/3 of muscle protein. Like the other essential amino acids, your body can’t synthesize them. They must come from your diet. Of all of the amino acids that make up muscle, these three are the most anabolic.
HOW CAN THEY IMPROVE YOUR TRAINING?
After training, a positive protein balance, which typically represents muscle synthesis, is thought to occur by one of three mechanisms. 1) a high concentration of amino acids at the muscle stimulates protein synthesis 2) insulin, an anabolic hormone, stimulates protein synthesis in the presence of amino acids, 3) leucine directly stimulates protein synthesis. With ingestion of BCAAs, all three possible mechanisms are activated. Thus, muscular growth should be maximally stimulated.
Muscular recovery and endurance
Unlike the other essential amino acids, BCAAs can be directly used as fuel by the muscle during intense training thereby adding another source of energy. This is especially important during training sessions that last greater than 90 minutes because at around this point the muscle begins to breakdown itself for fuel. Thus, the ingestion of BCAAs prevents that breakdown and therefore improves muscle recovery.
In addition, BCAAs have also been shown to replenish glycogen stores quicker within the muscle along with increasing liver gluconeogenesis (production of glucose). These added benefi ts results in the availability of extra energy, especially during times of caloric reduction (cutting weight) or intense training.
Insulin-like properties and mTOR
In addition to being a building block for muscles, leucine has the ability to increase insulin secretion. Insulin is an anabolic hormone that helps shuttle glucose along with other nutrients into the muscle cell. It’s been shown to not only increase protein synthesis but also decrease muscle breakdown.
Leucine has also been shown to activate mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which helps to remove the inhibition of muscle protein synthesis commonly seen after resistance training. Removing this inhibition clears a path for maximum muscular growth.
Prevention of central fatigue
Some experts also argue that BCAAs have the ability to prevent central fatigue caused by overtraining. One of the leading theories behind central fatigue is the increased ratio of tryptophan:BCAAs, leading to an increased production of serotonin in the brain. BCAAs are thought to decrease that ratio, leading to a reduced production of serotonin. In turn, this results in an athlete being able to work out more intense for longer periods of time.
HOW MUCH AND WHEN?
Because BCAAs are absorbed straight from the GI tract, they enter the bloodstream extremely quickly, within 15-30 minutes after ingestion. Most studies have recommended taking 10-15 grams before workout, another 10-15 grams during, and then a fi nal 10-15 grams as soon as you fi nish working out. This ensures that your muscles are saturated with BCAAs so they can be quickly absorbed and start the anabolic process. A plain BCAA powder works great. Although the taste is somewhat strong, it’s defi nitely the most economical. Add some carbohydrates to the mix, and that becomes a potent anabolic/anti-catabolic cocktail.
The two greatest benefi ts BCAAs offer to MMA fi ghters are 1) the ability to enhance recovery not only physically but also mentally thereby allowing a fi ghter to workout harder for longer periods of time without risking additional injury. 2) The ability to maintain muscle mass during extreme caloric reductions such as cutting. Thus a fi ghter doesn’t have to sacrifi ce muscle mass and strength for weight loss.