Taking BCAA ( Branched Chained Amino Acids) Pre Workout is vital for maximum muscle gain

A basic principle of training, taken for granted by all athletes and bodybuilders is that the harder you work out, the more muscle you gain. Many of the fitness supplements taken by athletes are designed to increase endurance, increasing the intensity of the workout and leading to better lean muscle mass gain. On the other hand, amino acid supplements are taken to provide the body with the building blocks for protein synthesis. However a very special type of amino acids, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) have a whole set of benefits, beyond being simply essential protein units. Studies show that because of their unique metabolism, BCAAs can enhance endurance when taken before a workout.

The BCAA group consists of three essential amino acids, leucine, valine and isoleucine. They cannot be synthesized by our bodies and have to be obtained from the diet. Their name derives from their chemical structure, which includes a branching carbon chain. BCAA amino acids have important signaling functions that allow them to stimulate protein synthesis. They are also unique because they can be used directly for fuel in muscle cells, unlike other amino acids, which can only be metabolized in the liver. Several scientific studies have shown that loading up muscles with BCAA amino acids improved performance and endurance. Presumably this is because they provide muscle cells with an additional source of energy for contractions. The studies have also shown that branched chain amino acids are severely depleted after exercise, showing that they do get used up as fuel.

Normally muscle cells use fuels such glucose or lipids to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is then used to provide energy for contractions. A major limiting factor of how much work the cells can do is the fact that glucose does not get stored in significant amounts. Most of the glucose is stored in cells as glycogen, but the glycogen stores can quickly become depleted during an intense workout. Cells can also convert fatty acids to energy in the mitochondria through a process known as beta-oxidation. However, fatty acids cannot normally diffuse across the mitochondrial membrane, and depend on an active transport system, which is rate limiting. When the body is expected to undergo an intense effort, it does of course take steps to increase the blood glucose levels. However, these depend on fuel stores being broken down in cells, then being transported to the liver, where they can be converted to glucose, which then has to travel in the bloodstream to reach the muscles. This is all far from immediate and might not provide muscle cells with energy as soon as they need it. A high level of BCAA amino acids, obtained with pre-workout supplementation, provides an immediate source of energy that can be used by muscle cells when their glucose and glycogen are depleted. This results in improved performance and increased endurance, which lead to a harder workout, which result in better muscle gain.

The other method for muscles to obtain extra energy during intense training is through anaerobic respiration. This kicks in when the normal method of carbohydrate oxidation is not enough to produce the ATP needed for contractions. The problem with anaerobic respiration is that it produces acidic byproducts such as lactate. When these accumulate in cells the acidic environment eventually makes it impossible for the muscles to do any work, and they result in muscle damage and soreness. Studies show that loading up on branched chain amino acids before a workout can significantly decrease muscle soreness from exercise. For example, in one of the studies with long distance runners, not only did the volunteers taking the BCAA supplement report less soreness and fatigue than the people taking the placebo, but they also had lower blood levels of creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase and granulocyte elastase, all markers of muscle damage and inflammation.

Branched chain amino acids may also decrease the mental feeling of fatigue. BCAAs are transported across the blood-brain barrier using the same transporter mechanism as another amino acid tryptophan. Because of competition high levels of BCAA amino acids in the blood may actually decrease the amount of tryptophan in the brain. In the central nervous system Tryptophan is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin causes feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Although it is important in its roles protecting from depression in the long term, it is probably not a neurotransmitter you need to have high levels of right before a workout.

BCAAs have additional functions, which are of great benefits to bodybuilders and athletes. They signal through the mTOR system to stimulate protein synthesis and increase the levels of ribosomal proteins, and hence the number of ribosomes. Since ribosomes are the tiny organelles where protein synthesis takes place, this enhances the cell’s capacity to make more protein. BCAAs also play a role in regulating blood sugar levels, since they stimulate insulin release from the pancreas. They also modulate the hormone balance towards an anabolic state, by stimulating the release of testosterone and suppressing cortisol, the catabolic stress hormone.

Although leucine appears to the amino acid responsible for some of the beneficial effects of BCAAs, such as signaling through the mTOR pathway, studies show that all three branched chain amino acids have beneficial actions and should be supplemented in the optimal ration of 2:1:1, with the concentration of leucine at double that of isoleucine or valine. The amino acids are of course present in normal proteins, however a complete protein supplement is not a particularly effective method of loading up on BCAAs, since it does not have a high bioavailability. BCAA supplements containing free form amino acids, on the other hand, are absorbed into the bloodstream very rapidly, so taking a pre-workout supplement ensures that your muscles are charged up with the amino acids ready for your workout. The increased levels of BCAAs in muscle cells can then provide an additional form of fuel for ATP, improving endurance and decreasing muscle soreness and inflammation.

Further Reading:

BCAA amino acids are oxidized during exercise:


Branched chain amino acids protect from muscle damage and inflammation during intense training: