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What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Why Do They Matter?


Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When you eat protein in food, your body breaks it down into amino acids and then uses them to make different proteins. Your body uses protein for growth, to maintain healthy tissues and strong muscles, and for several other important functions.

The human body needs 20 different amino acids for good health. While some of these can be manufactured in the body, others must be obtained through your diet. Nine of the 20 amino acids are “essential,” which means you must get them from food. The other 11 are “non-essential,” meaning that your body can produce them if you do not get enough from the food you eat.

What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?

Aside from being essential or non-essential, the various amino acids look and act differently in other ways, too. Scientists refer to some amino acids as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) because their chemical structure has distinct “branches.” These BCAAs, which include valine, leucine, and isoleucine, do not break down in the liver like other amino acids – in fact, research suggests that BCAA metabolism in the liver is not even possible. (1)

Instead, most of the BCAA breakdown happens in your skeletal muscles. When you consume protein or ingest a BCAA supplement, the level of amino acids in your bloodstream rises as your circulatory system transports them to various tissues around your body.

A wide variety of foods contain BCAAs, including eggs, meat, dairy products, salmon, canned tuna, and soy. Many people who need healthy muscle mass support (especially athletes, dieters, the elderly, and those with certain health conditions) may benefit from BCAA supplements.

Amino Acids Infographic

What Do Branched-Chain Amino Acids Do?

BCAAs impart a number of health benefits, and implementing supplements into your daily routine can prove advantageous in several ways, including:

Healthy Muscle Mass in Athletes, Bodybuilders, and the Elderly

Healthy muscles help us walk, move, and work, but they are also essential for your overall health. Having a low proportion of muscle mass to fatty tissue is unhealthy, for example. In fact, research shows that the lower the ratio of muscle mass to fatty tissue, the greater the risk of weakness, a lower quality of life, and premature death. (2)

BCAAs may be essential for building muscle. In one study, 10 young resistance-trained men drank 5.6 grams of a BCAA or a placebo drink, then engaged in a resistance exercise (3). The men that consumed BCAAs showed a 22 percent increase in muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of building muscle.

In another study of adults ages 68 and older, researchers found that combining BCAAs with vitamin D and low-intensity resistance training was more beneficial for muscle health compared to taking a placebo. (4) The team of scientists also found significantly improved handgrip strength in the BCAA plus vitamin D group compared to those in the placebo group.

Exercise Recovery

Branched-chain amino acids are also ideal exercise recovery supplements, as they can help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue after working out. BCAAs promote muscle recovery by blocking the breakdown of proteins that normally happens during exercise.

Other benefits of adding BCAAs to your regular workout routine include:

  • Reduction of fatigue associated with working out
  • Increased production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and other “good-vibe” brain chemicals
  • Improved energy during exercise

BCAA supplementation can also improve your stamina. Exercising can cause BCAA levels to drop, and the decrease in BCAA levels may lead to an increase of other amino acids, such as tryptophan. Tryptophan turns into serotonin, which causes exercise-related fatigue. Increasing your intake of BCAAs can improve stamina by keeping tryptophan levels low. 

Kidney Health

Impaired kidney function can prevent your kidneys from removing protein waste from your bloodstream, allowing it to build up over time. While doctors typically recommend a low-protein diet for patients with impaired kidney function, a lack of protein can cause negative health effects. In these cases, physicians sometimes suggest taking a BCAA supplement along with other essential fatty acids.

Liver Health

The liver also removes toxins from the blood, and poor function can allow these toxins to accumulate in the bloodstream and potentially affect brain health. BCAAs support both the liver and brain on a cellular level. (8), (9) Furthermore, research shows that BCAA supplements can stabilize liver function and significantly reduce the length of hospital stays for those with liver problems. (10)

Enhanced Fat Burning

When you're able to hold onto (and gain more) muscle, your body's metabolism will increase, making it easier to shed body fat. Therefore, BCAA supplements can help your body enhance its fat-burning mechanics and may even improve your glucose tolerance.

Branched Chain Aminos Bottle

The Best Source for BCAA Supplements

Vital Nutrients offers a Branched-Chain Aminos supplement that contains free-form BCAAs plus lysine, another essential amino acid. Unlike amino acids found in food, free-form amino acids do not require digestion. This means that the body can rapidly absorb and use free-form BCAAs pre- or post-workout, making our Branched-Chain Aminos supplement ideal for bodybuilding, sports performance, or as a liver health supplement.

Contact us today for more information about amino acids and how they can benefit you!

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