BCAA? Is that a sports league or something? Nope! BCAA actually stands for Branched-Chain Amino Acids and they are composed of a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine (cite). Before we dive into the individual BCAAs, let’s look at how helpful amino acids are and why we need them.
Amino acids help form protein in your body (cite). This is the process: we digest protein from the food we eat, amino acids remain from that digestion, and then those amino acids form new proteins to help our bodies out. Amino acids can aid in our digestion of food, help repair body tissue, and can be used as a source of energy (cite).
There are also two main types of amino acids: essential and non-essential. Non-essential amino acids are produced by our bodies, so we don’t need to get them from food. Essential amino acids, on the other hand, aren’t produced by our bodies, so we need to get them from food (cite). Out of the twenty amino acids that our bodies need to function, nine are considered essential, and three of those are BCAAs (cite). Because BCAAs fall under the essential amino acid category, they can’t be produced in our bodies and need to be introduced through our diets.
Now that we have some background on amino acids, let’s discuss leucine, isoleucine, and valine, the building blocks of BCAAs.
- Leucine has the ability to regulate “several cellular processes such as protein synthesis, tissue regeneration, and metabolism” (cite). Leucine is primarily responsible for the creation and development of protein in our muscles and because of that it is key to muscle recovery after working out (cite). Branched Chain Amino Acids breakdown in our muscles when we workout, so eating foods high in leucine can help prevent muscle soreness after hitting the gym. Other than leucine supplements, most sources of leucine come from meat and dairy products, but chocho is a special plant-based alternative that has over 1300 mg of leucine per 38 grams. Chocho has comparable amounts of isoleucine and valine, the BCAAs we will discuss next.
- Isoleucine has been shown to reduce glucose levels, which helps regulate insulin (cite). This basically means that isoleucine helps to maintain blood sugar levels. It may also have energy boosting properties due to its help in the creation of hemoglobin, the oxygen transport in red blood cells that is rich in iron (cite).
- Valine has been shown to help maintain “mental vigor, muscle coordination, and emotional calm” (cite). It may also aid in tissue repair and muscle growth. During an intense workout, valine supplies muscles with extra glucose, which helps prevent muscle breakdown while boosting your mental concentration (cite).
Using a supplement that has just one amino acid may lead to a negative nitrogen balance and a slower metabolism (cite). This is why it is important to consume foods with all nine essential amino acids. On top of it all, complete proteins give you the boost of benefits from the BCAAs.
Now that we’ve discussed each of those three amino acids separately, let’s put them together to discuss BCAAs as a whole. BCAAs are unique amino acids because unlike most amino acids which are broken down in the liver, BCAAs are broken down in the muscle (cite). Because of this connection to our muscles, they can help preserve energy while we exercise. BCAAs essentially help build muscle protein, they give us more energy, thus reducing fatigue, and they help to maintain insulin levels (cite).
Not only can they help us build muscle, but they have the potential to reduce muscle soreness. A study in 2010 tested if BCAA supplements would reduce muscle soreness on women who performed a squat exercise several days in a row. The women who took BCAA supplements compared to the placebo supplements found that BCAA supplements helped to reduce muscle soreness by about 80% (cite).
The amazing thing about BCAAs is they are found in complete proteins and so many other foods! And, you don’t necessarily have to remember that BCAA stands for Branched-Chain Amino Acids; just remember mental concentration, stable energy, and a strong body. Amino acids are so important to our health, and lucky for us, they are prevalent in many foods. However, for plant based eaters or eco-conscious consumers, finding plant based complete protein sources and good sources of BCAAs may prove difficult, which is why we are so excited about chocho!