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Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) - are they really necessary for building muscle?

Branched Chain Amino AcidsWhile supplements aren't magic pills that will give you immense results, they definitely play a part in helping you recuperate after a tough work out. In this series, we're going to look at various supplements that are common among gym-goers and bodybuilders. The first one on our list is Branched Chain Amino Acids.

BCAAs are three of the essential amino acids present in our body that make up the skeletal muscle. They are called leucine, isoleucine and valine and together comprise 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and 40% of the amino acids required by mammals. [1] BCAAs play a vital role in protein synthesis.

Why do you need them?

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Kris Gethin, ace bodybuilder and transformation specialist, writes in his book The Bodybuilding.com Guide to Your Best Body: 'Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which your body uses to create muscle and other tissues. Because your body cannot produce these essential amino acids on its own meaning it gets them from your diet supplementing what you get from solid foods can help improve recovery, prevent muscle wastage, and promote protein synthesis. If you don't supply your body with enough BCAAs, it will break down muscle and tissues to use for energy something you definitely want to avoid.' It's been proved beyond doubt that BCAAs promote muscle-protein synthesis and therefore they've proved to be a potent dietary supplement for people who exercise.

When and how much should you take?

BCAA supplementation comes either in pills or powder form. The ideal time to take them are 45 minutes before your workout and immediately afterwards. You should take 6 grams 30-45 minutes before your workout and the same afterwards. There's no point taking more than that because the body won't process more than that.

What are the side effects of BCAAs?
Till now no major side-effects have been found for BCAA consumption but excess protein is definitely bad for the body. Also, one intermediate formed during catabolism called branched-chain -keto acids which can be toxic in high concentrations which is why the disposal of BCAA is important for maintaining normal body conditions. [2]

Do you need BCAAs if you're taking whey protein?

Given that BCAAs are more expensive, won't it make sense to just take whey protein? While whey proteins are rich in BCAAs, they don't have enough. Also they are mixed with other proteins which make it harder for the body to digest directly; in fact it will take several hours for the amino acids to be used. On the other hand taking BCAA supplement will allow your body to directly use the amino acids. [3]

Health.india.com verdict: BCAAs definitely are a useful supplement but it should be taken by people who are exercising hard. It's definitely not required for beginners or people who are into mild exercise. However, if you're following a tough regime then BCAAs will definitely help you achieve your goals. (Read: Whey protein - facts you should know)

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