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The Unparalleled Benefits of Branched Chain Amino Acids

Over the past year, I have been on a quest to transform my health. It began simply enough, with changes to my diet to include more nutritious foods and a regular fitness routine. After just a few weeks in the gym, however, the love of exercise that I had experienced in my younger years came back full-force. The workouts that I had started with did make me feel better, and I was losing weight, but I wanted to take it up a notch. I started working with a personal trainer, who helped me to create an increasingly intense and varied workout regimen and a diet and supplement plan designed to whip me into the best shape ever. This was just a few months ago and, sure enough, I have never before been so strong, lean and cut. I feel so confident in my strength and muscle tone that I’ve decided to enter a fitness competition. With this in mind, my trainer has suggested some additions to my regimen, including one that she says is imperative: a workout supplement containing branched chain amino acids.

Benefits and Evidence:

Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, refer to the essential amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine. “Essential” means that these amino acids are not made by the body, though they serve a crucial purpose in the synthesis of protein, which builds muscle. Often referred to as the “building blocks” of protein, amino acids help to build lean muscle by creating a metabolic pathway, or “a chain of chemical reactions that takes place within a cell,” according to muscleandstrength.com. The website goes on to state that this pathway allows for the growth and repair of muscle tissue due to larger amounts of protein being produced.

BCAAs are also important in that they are anti-catabolic. Catabolism is essentially a “breaking down” of tissues in the body, which releases energy. Following resistance exercise, the body is usually in a catabolic state. This lets the body know that it’s time to start producing more muscle. This is where BCAAs come in; in addition to being anti-catabolic, they also have an anabolic effect, meaning that they will help to stop breakdown of muscle tissue and actually signal the body to produce protein. This results in more lean muscle and shorter recovery time. BCAAs also help to regulate glycogen levels and synthesis. Glycogen is the form of glucose that is stored, mainly in the muscles and liver, to provide energy. It is especially important for providing energy to muscles during intense physical exercise.   

Many studies have shown the importance of BCAAs for those who regularly participate in strenuous physical activity, such as athletes or body builders. According to research conducted by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Nagoya Institute of Technology, the Department of Biochemistry at Mie University School of Medicine in Japan and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Indiana University School of Medicine, “BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis; this suggests that BCAAs may be a useful supplement in relation to exercise and sports.” And results from another study at Nagoya Institute of Technology, which observed BCAA effects in regards to muscle fatigue and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following squat exercises, found that “BCAA supplementation prior to squat exercise decreased DOMS and muscle fatigue occurring for a few days after exercise.” The report goes on to say that “these findings suggest that BCAAs may be useful for muscle recovery following exercise.”

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