Benefits of Branched-Chain Amino Acids: What Does BCAAs Do?

bccas benefits

Did you know that some of the amino acids you take are branched-chain amino acids?

According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, 35% of the 9 essential amino acids are called branched-chain AAs.

So, what are their functions and unique benefits compared to most other amino acids such as the amino acid tryptophan?

In this article, you will learn about the benefits of using branch-chain amino acids and what foods you can consume to get these benefits.

What are the Branched-Chain Amino Acids?

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are included in the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs).

Generally, there are three BCAAs are also building blocks of the body for protein synthesis, and these three are:

  • Valine
  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine

What makes them different from the other 6 essential AAs is that these 3 are branched as their aliphatic side-chain also contains a branch.

Comparing BCAAs with EAAs, both provide support to the bones and muscles.

However, the BCAAs come with pure protein quantity and they can support protein synthesis after physical exercise, unlike the other 6 EAAs.

What Are BCAAs Good For and When Should You Take Them?

Moving on to the most awaited part, we will now tackle the 5 proven benefits of BCAAs.

All of the information below is based on published studies by different healthcare professionals all over the world.

1) Muscle Growth and Recovery

It is known that protein-rich foods can help in muscle building and can help gain muscle.

But, what supports this healthy muscle-building theory? Take a look at the information below:

a) Initiating muscle protein synthesis

According to the Journal of the International Sports Nutrition, branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine help stimulate the synthesis of muscle protein. 

In this study, it was reported that the muscle protein synthesis in the body can be increased by up to 30% when a patient regularly consumes (at a healthy level) these branched-chain AAs. 

In another study by medical doctors from the UK, it was reported that consuming around 5.6 grams of branched-chain AAs can increase 22% of muscle synthesis. 

However, take note that this would only work when a patient is also consuming all the amino acids.

b) Prevents muscle mass loss or muscle wasting

Moving on, for muscle builders or athletes, BCAA supplements help prevent muscle tissue breakdown or muscle loss during exercises.

When there is muscle breakdown, this could cause reduced lean body mass or muscle wasting.

According to a study, the three branched-chain AAs are used to energize the skeletal muscle.

In the same report, it was stated that aside from exercising, muscle mass loss or wasting could also be associated with aging.

Fortunately, BCAA supplements can combat this muscle breakdown or protein breakdown due to aging. 

c) Improves athletic performance

Weightlifters are known to use amino acids for them to not feel muscle soreness after a vigorous workout.

In one randomized clinical trial by some medical doctors in Japan, it was reported that those who consumed branched-chain AAs were able to experience a delayed onset muscle soreness effect and blood lactate dehydrogenase after doing a squat exercise.

Generally, muscle soreness levels can appear within 12 hours and can last up to 5 days.

However, when participants used a BCAA supplement, this muscle soreness appeared after 2-3 days.

Moreover, participants who used BCAAs experienced less muscle soreness (it was significantly low)! That means, using BCAAs can still make you productive even after exercising heavily.

In another study published in the Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance, aside from keeping athletes from mental fatigue, muscle soreness, and enzymes creatine kinase efflux, BCAAs support lean muscle tissue gain.

In this report, it was said that branched-chain AAs help in preventing exercise-induced muscle damage, preventing sports anemia, and regenerating new muscle tissue.

d) Promotes fat loss

A BCAA supplement is also associated with fat loss and weight loss.

Although BCAA can induce appetite, fitness enthusiasts still take these supplements to get a healthy weight.

According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, taking the right amount of BCAA enhances fat loss and weight loss in healthy people.

In this study, together with a calorie-restricted diet, weight loss can be experienced while preventing lean mass muscle loss. 

To know how much calorie intake and (protein intake as well) you have consumed each day, you may want to check out some calorie tracker apps and use them as your guide.

2) Appetite Enhancer

So, say that you are an athlete and you want to manage your weight, how come you still undergo branched-chain amino acid supplementation even if it enhances your appetite?

According to a study by medical doctors from Australia, long-term use of branched-chain AAs may cause obesity and insulin resistance (increase blood sugar levels) as these BCAAs are considered appetite enhancers.

Although these may look like a disadvantage, understand that BCAAs do not produce toxicity.

Abuse in the use of these proteins is the consequence of the said negative effects above.

Furthermore, these benefits and adverse effects still depend on the quality of the BCAA supplements.

a) For cancer patients

Looking at the brighter side, this might also be an advantage for cancer patients!

Cancer patients often experience weight loss and this wasting related to cancer called cachexia, 

According to a study by a medical doctor from the USA, BCAA supplementation can help in reducing muscle mass loss by enhancing the appetite of cancer patients.

In the same study, it was reported that cancer patients who have received BCAA supplementation were able to experience fewer health complications compared to those who only used standard nutritional supplementation.

b) For anorexic and hemodialysis patients

In another study published in Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation, anorexia is associated with low branched-chain AA levels in the human body. 

Therefore, this could lead to malnutrition especially in elderly patients who are undergoing hemodialysis treatment.

In the same study, it was reported that BCAA supplementation can improve the nutritional status of these groups of people. 

3) Treatment for Tardive Dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is a condition where you experience repetitive involuntary jerking movements all over your face.

It is believed that this condition is caused by medications for mental health.

a) Tardive dyskinesia and schizophrenia

According to a study published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, antipsychotic medications for schizophrenia are the main causes of tardive dyskinesia.

Thus, schizophrenic patients may experience worsening or body movements.

Fortunately, in the same study, it was found out that branched-chain AAs supplementation can help manage these symptoms.

Moreover, the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia usually occur in the face, neck, and tongue, and these are troublesome and discomforting.

According to a clinical trial, branched-chain AAs work by decreasing the amine neurotransmitter synthesis. 

When there is an increased amine neurotransmitter (like the neurotransmitter serotonin) synthesis, the tendency is that aside from the fact that these BCAAs can repair muscle damage, cellular damage may occur.

4) Brain Cognition and Recovery

Certain brain disorders can also be treated by branched-chain AAs.

BCAAs can improve the cognitive function of the patient by modifying the amino acid transport in the blood-brain barrier.

a) For brain injury

According to the US Institute of Medicine Committee on Nutrition, branched-chain AAs can improve the recovery of people with brain injury.

In this study, it was reported that BCAAs, especially leucine, can promote positive nitrogen balance in the brain.

b) For cognitive recovery

The Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported that patients with traumatic brain injury were able to experience enhanced cognitive recovery after undergoing branched-chain AAs supplementation.

Drinking enough water every day together with BCAA supplementation can speed up cognitive recovery.

c) For cognitive impairment

Patients with hepatic encephalopathy are also prone to acquire brain dysfunctions.

According to a study, branched-chain AAs supplementation could help in this issue caused by liver problems.

5) Liver and Kidney Protection

Branched-chain AAs can help in protecting both the liver and kidneys.

Aside from managing hepatic encephalopathy, these proteins can enhance the health condition of patients with current liver and kidney diseases.

Take a look at the information below:

a) For end-stage liver disease

In one study conducted in Japan, it was reported that patients with end-stage liver disease were able to achieve improved optimal nutritional status after undergoing branched-chain amino acid supplementation.

In the same study, it was also stated that, no matter what the age of the patient is or no matter what stage is his or her liver disease, BCAA will always work. 

b) For chronic liver disease

In another study published in the New York Nutrition Research, branched-chain amino acid supplementation can delay the progression of chronic liver disease.

Based on the study in Korea, there is a hope to recover from liver problems by taking BCAA supplements.

In this study, it was reported that patients with liver diseases who undergo BCAA supplementation were able to get liver regeneration.

This means that BCAAs do not just help delay liver disease progression. Instead, it can promote liver healing as well.

c) For liver cirrhosis

In another study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, branched-chain AAs can improve the quality of life of patients with liver cirrhosis.

Take note that liver cirrhosis is a late-stage liver condition and is usually not curable.

Thus, this condition surely affects the daily life of a patient as energy deficiency would always be there.

Lastly, since liver cirrhosis also affects the protein metabolism of a patient, branched-chain amino acid supplementation can still help in providing normal or optimal protein metabolism and synthesis.

d) For hepatocellular carcinoma

Also known as HCC, this condition is a primary type of liver cancer. 

According to a medical study, branched-chain amino acid supplementation can help in managing this cancer type.

In this study, it was reported that these BCAAs, most especially leucine, can improve skeletal muscle protein synthesis, balance nitrogen levels, and promote glucose uptake.

Therefore, even if patients have this type of cancer, there would still be a chance for life quality to be improved.

e) After liver surgery

There is this surgery called hepatectomy. This procedure involves the removal of a part of a liver (or whole liver).

When patients undergo this procedure, there would be nutritional disturbances such as protein metabolism alteration.

Branched-chain amino acid supplementation can help in improving liver recovery after surgery.

Since this surgery can lead to liver cirrhosis, BCAA supplementation can inhibit this condition, enhance liver function, and improve whole-body kinetics.

f) For kidney problems

Also known as renal failure, kidney disease is caused by many factors. 

Taking BCAA supplements as one of the medical intervention drugs can help in avoiding malnutrition and can delay kidney disease progression.

However, take note that this technique would only work well if BCAAs are co-administered with other essential amino acids and keto analogs. 

In the same study, it was reported that undergoing branched-chain amino acid supplementation can reduce the risk of renal death by up to 40%.

Foods Rich in BCAAs

Knowing the benefits of BCAAs, it is about time to know where you can get these proteins.

Some of the protein foods that are rich in BCAAs for you to build muscle protein include the following:

  • Round beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Whey protein powder
  • Soy protein powder
  • Canned tuna
  • Salmon
  • Turkey breast
  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 1% milk
  • Greek yogurt

Proper Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation

As said, too much branched-chain amino acids supplementation may cause some risks to the health.

However, this is kind of hard as there is no specific dose for BCAA supplements.

For this reason, for patients with current health diseases, the best way to know how much BCAA is safe for your health is by reaching out to a medical doctor.

For healthy individuals, you can take a look at the product label and follow the substance administration strictly.

Final Thoughts

Indeed, branched-chain amino acid supplementation offers lots of benefits, not just to help you build muscle,  but to overall health as well.

One great thing about it is that it can improve the quality of life of patients with current health diseases such as cancer.

However, these branched-chain amino acids might not work optimally if not combined with other nutritional support such as water, keto analogs, and other essential amino acids.

For patients who want to take these proteins, consuming foods that are rich in BCAAs is a great option.

Furthermore, for patients who want to take these branched-chain amino acids conveniently, amino acid supplements are perfect choices. In these products, the AAs are formulated in a supplement form.

Lastly, as BCAAs doses are crucial, knowing the best dose for you can be given by a medical professional.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between branched-chain AAs and essential amino acids?

Branched-chain AAs are also essential amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids and 3 of them are considered branched-chain AAs. These BCAAs differ based on their chemical structure as their side-chain contains a branch.

What are the three branched-chain AAs?

From the 9 essential amino acids namely histidine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, and valine, three of these are the branched-chain AAs. These three essential amino acids that are branched-chained are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Does BCAAs help reduce stored body fat?

Branched-chain AAs help burn body fat. This means that they can also help in weight loss or weight reduction. Together with a calorie-restricted diet, high-protein diet, and endurance exercise, unwanted body weight will be reduced.

Which of the three BCAAs is the best for muscle growth?

All of the three branched-chain AAs are perfect for muscle growth. However, being the most commonly studied amino acid, leucine is said to be the best BCAA for muscle growth and muscle recovery.

What do BCAAs do with muscle protein breakdown?

As BCAAs build muscle, they can also prevent muscle protein breakdown (muscle catabolism) while stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This means that it can help in providing more energy especially for athletes, before, during, and after exercise.

What is the difference between essential non-essential amino acids?

Generally, non-essential amino acids are produced by the body while the essential AAs are not. Since these essential AAs are not produced by the body, they can come from food sources.