The Opal Fitness Guide to BCAAs
Branched Chain Amino Acids are one of my (not so) secret weapons for maximising my results, whether cutting body fat or training hard to improve performance in a certain area.
In this post I am going to delve deeper into BCAAs and discuss what they are, how they work and what benefits might come from BCAA supplementation. I hope that it equips you to make better use of BCAAs in your own training programme.
What exactly are amino acids? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. All protein molecules consist of long chains of amino acids bonded together in a chain, similar to how complex carbohydrates consist of a long chain of sugars. And protein, of course, is what our bodies use for growth and repair, particularly for building muscle.
BCAAs are a specific set of amino acids consisting of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. These three compounds also belong to a group known as ‘essential’ amino acids, which means they cannot be synthesised by the body and must be consumed through nutrition. ‘Branched chain’ refers to the molecular structure of these three compounds.
BCAAs are of interest to athletes because they are metabolised in the muscle rather than in the liver. This means that they can be used for building new proteins and also as an actual energy source during exercise without any requirement for digestion. A study published February 2006 found that BCAA supplementation, along with arginine and glutamine, improved training efficiency in athletes.
Supplementation with BCAA after exercise has been shown to help speed up muscle recovery and, perhaps even more interesting, slow down muscle breakdown in intense training. More on this can be read in a study by Kraemer, 2006. BCAAs may also help lower fasting blood glucose levels.
One study concluded that amino acids improved other physiological markers such as red blood cell count, haemoglobin and decreased creatine phophokinase, suggesting alleviation of muscle inflammation.
A study by Gualano, et al, even suggested that BCAA supplementation when fasted can improve fat oxidation. All the more reason to take it before your morning cardio.
I swear by BCAA and have personally used it to cut down to sub 7% bodyfat. I find it gives me the edge I need to get through intense training periods such as The Hundred Challenge (100 workouts in 50 days).
If I am working out twice per day, I do my low intensity work in the morning and my more intense performance training in the evening. My cutting cycle usually lasts around seven weeks and by working out this way and with solid supplementation I usually finish this phase at around 6-7% bodyfat with no loss of strength. I’ve even achieved personal bests during this phase including on the squat.
I take Opal Fitness BCAA+ fasted and before my morning workout. They keep early morning hunger at bay and help get me through a long walk or low intensity cardio. I often stack BCAA with Thermo X and Creatine Monohydrate.