I began taking a BCAA supplement just under 6 months ago and I did it at the time to help with muscle recovery and endurance since I teach so many classes each week. Recently though, I decided to give intermittent fasting a try and BCAAs are suggested for fasted cardio workouts. Enter a lot of reading to find out just what some of the MOST IMPORTANT BENEFITS are and I thought I would share my findings with you.
You’re probably thinking, “Just what the heck are BCAAs?”, right? Well, BCAA is short for branched-chain amino acids. The three amino acids in this category are leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are unique partially because of their composition, but also because these amino acids are highly prominent in muscle tissue and are the building blocks of proteins. BCAAs are metabolized differently than other amino acids and can be oxidized in the muscles during exercise for energy. They’re important to muscle function in more ways than one though. Most people ingest BCAAs as a recovery aid and to reduce muscle soreness, like I started out doing. However, taking them before you exercise can slow down the rate at which your muscles fatigue and provide workout intensity.
BCAAs in supplement form (you know, the powder in a container) are free-form, require no digestion and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Additionally, since BCAAs bypass the liver and gut and go directly into your blood stream, they can be used as an immediate energy source during your workouts.
I found multiple articles from various sources and they all agree on at least the following 3 benefits, in addition to those I talk about above:
1) BCAAs lower cortisol (stress hormone)
2) BCAAs balance brain chemistry
3) BCAAs help control hunger & cravings
Cortisol is a stress hormone and can increase when you get into an argument, go on a diet, don’t get enough sleep and even when you workout for long periods of time. The main functions of cortisol are to increase blood sugar, suppress the immune system and aid in protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism. When cortisol is released with low levels of HGH and/or high levels of insulin, it causes muscle burning and fat storing and no one wants that! BCAAs have been shown to lower cortisol, balance blood sugar and have the ability to suppress stress induced cravings and blunt hunger.
Taking a BCAA supplement post-workout or between meals can help control your appetite so you experience less cravings so that you don’t binge between meals and will help keep your blood sugar steady. Eating foods that cause rapid increases and then drops in your blood sugar levels can trigger cravings (hello! Let’s stay away from these foods!). Your blood sugar levels can also swing up and down dramatically when you are adjusting to a low carb or Paleo diet and cutting out sugar. These swings can often lead to cravings for sugary foods like cookies and sweets. Taking a BCAA supplement on an empty stomach between meals when you are adapting to these types of diets can keep your blood sugar steady and cravings under control.
So, I believe I’ll stick with taking BCAAs for a while! =)
Check out the photo to see which is my favorite. It tastes like a green apple jolly rancher! =D