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Branched-chain amino acids for sports and fitness

The branched-chain amino acids Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine are 3 protein building blocks that are particularly valued by many athletes and health-conscious people during physical exertion and muscle building.

Have you ever heard of this amino, which is abbreviated with the letters BCAA? Could you perhaps benefit from the intake of branched-chain protein building blocks? What do scientists and nutritionists have to say about this topic?

We have compiled the most important information for you here.

What are branched-chain amino acids?

Many people equate the term “amino acid” with protein. By protein, they usually mean the macro-nutrients that we need for our diet in addition to fats and carbohydrates.

This assumption is partly correct but simplified. Aminos are the building blocks of the proteins mentioned. At any rate, this applies to 20 representatives of around 300 of these organic compounds, which scientists call proteinogenic.

They are arranged in the human genome so that they can form the building blocks for proteins.

Of these 20 chemical compounds, 8 are considered essential. If a protein building block is essential, it cannot be formed in the human body itself but should be supplied regularly with the diet.

Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine also belong to the essential protein building blocks and have some special features.

Unter BCAA sind verzweigtkettige Aminosäuren zusammengefasst

A special chemical structure

The proteinogenic substances Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine are summarised under the heading “BCAA“. This abbreviation stands for “Branched-Chain Amino Acids“.

Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine have in common that they have a branched structure in their chemical composition, which distinguishes them from other amino acids.

How do metabolic processes in the musculature function under stress?

The branched-chain protein building blocks are metabolised less intensively in the liver than other proteins. The body processes them predominantly in other tissues such as muscles.

To understand the function of the branched proteins in muscle tissue under stress, we take a closer look at the metabolism of our muscles:

In the skeletal muscles of the human body, 2 proteins are particularly common: Glutamine and Alanine.

When you put your body under intensive sporting strain, large quantities of Glutamine are converted into Alanine. The muscle cells constantly release more Alanine into the blood.

Energy is stored in the liver in the form of carbohydrates (sugar). This is the glycogen storage. The entire organism needs the energy of this glycogen store when under heavy strain. This storage in the liver empties itself the more intensive the stress is and the longer it lasts.

The amino acid Alanine, which is released into the blood, can also be converted to sugar in the liver to provide further energy. This means that your liver will request additional Alanine during exertion.

When more and more Glutamine and Alanine are broken down in the muscle by the physical exertion, the muscle enters a degrading (“catabolic“) state without a renewed supply of protein.

How can you ensure fast supply of protein and maintain muscle?

Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine have aroused the interest of athletes, among other things, because they can be quickly re-converted to Glutamine again during physical activity through their metabolism in the muscles.

If there is not enough of them circulating freely in the bloodstream for the body to use, proteins are broken down in the muscle tissue itself.

If you want to maintain muscles and, if necessary, build them up further through sport, it is best to ensure that you have sufficient Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine in the freely available form.

Verzweigtkettige Aminos für den Sport

What are the benefits of intake in relation to physical stress and in general?

Scientists and sports physicians are discussing an anti-catabolic effect for the three protein building blocks mentioned. They assume that branched-chain amino acids could protect the muscles from degradation. The scientific research in this area is not yet complete.

For Leucine, in particular, there are indications based on various scientific studies that this building block can do even more. Regulating effects in insulin metabolism are assumed. The protein building block could also play a role in the formation of the human growth hormone HGH.

In general, branched protein building blocks should not only be able to protect against muscle breakdown, but also promote muscle building processes and the healing of muscle injuries.

It remains to be seen whether Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine can possibly slow down ageing processes in the muscles. Scientists are also doing research on the effect of Leucine on the stress hormone cortisol.

You will find information about the potential effects of BCAA in these scientific studies, among other things:

How and when do you take Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine?

Good natural sources for the branched protein building blocks include peanuts, tuna, eggs and chicken breast.

However, you can also take the proteins as a dietary supplement.

Many athletes and nutritional experts recommend taking it about 90 minutes after intensive sporting activity. Up to now, this temporal intake recommendation has not been fully scientifically substantiated.

Since a general protein intake is often recommended in connection with muscle build-up some time after exertion, we can give an equivalent estimate of the intake of these special proteins.

Dosage as a dietary supplement

Nutritionists do not yet know exactly what quantities of branched protein building blocks our human organism needs. There seem to be very individual differences.

For Isoleucine, 42-48 mg requirement per kilo of body weight is assumed.

Leucine intake of up to 500 mg per kilogram of body weight is considered harmless.

Athletes and trainers derive recommendations of between 10 grams and 70 grams from this as a supplement to the diet during periods of stress.

Aminosäuren ergänzend zur Ernährung

Medical applications of the protein building blocks

In the medical field, Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine are used for certain liver and muscle breakdown diseases (e.g. liver cirrhosis). Here too, scientific research into the potential medical effects has not yet been completed.

Other effects on endogenous substances

The branched protein building blocks are in direct competition with other proteins such as Tryptophan when they are taken up by the brain. There is also a connection to insulin metabolism.

The extent to which these other potential health effects of Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine are still being investigated and positive effects are suspected.

Findings to date in the summary

Many athletes, but also health-conscious people make good experiences in their fitness with the additional supply of branched-chain amino acids as a food supplement. There are different preparations: We at amino4u have decided to produce a product with all eight essential amino acids.

There is increasing evidence that older people, in particular, can benefit from Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine for their health. The main focus is on the maintenance of physical performance and musculature.

Older people break down muscles faster because muscle breakdown is one of the typical ageing processes. This is where these special proteins could come in.

Liver health, in general, could also benefit from the protein building blocks. If you have liver disease, you should consult your doctor before using the product.

Maik Thies (Fitnessfachwirt IHK)

Unser Ernährungsexperte Maik Thies arbeitet seit 2011 erfolgreich als Personalcoach und Manager für Fitness- & Freizeitanlagen im Gesundheitsmarkt.

Als Fitnessfachwirt und Weltmeister im Bodybuilding gibt er sein Wissen an Menschen weiter, die körperliche und mentale Grenzen neu definieren möchten und Wert auf gesunde und ausgewogene Ernährung legen. Zu seinen Kunden zählen u.a. Skeleton Atlethen Janine Becker und Alexander Gassner, Bobpilotin Stephanie Schneider, Rallye Motorsportler Sepp Wiegand etc.

Er unterstützt amino4u dabei, die Prozesse des Körpers für Sie einfach und verständlich zu erklären und Ihnen dadurch die Möglichkeit zu geben, wieder mehr Gesundheit und Lebensfreude zu erlangen.

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