Amino Acids and BCAAs Explained

Arguably, amino acids and their role in sports supplementation is one of the most commonly misinterpreted. One of the reasons for this is the complexity of how these micro-nutrients are used by the body given that they play such a wide role in how our body functions. The other is that there are just so many different types of amino acid products available, all making different claims and subtly re-arranging the formula from one to the other. So here is a no-nonsense breakdown to help you understand what amino acids are.

There is a total of 20 different amino acids. They are often loosely referred to as the building blocks of protein due to the body using them in a similar fashion to protein. These individual 20 different amino acids all play individual and supporting roles in the day to day functions required for our body to achieve a steady level of health. A lack of or deficiency in any of these amino acids in our body would lead to some kind of consequence, some of which over an extended period of time would certainly lead to health and sporting performance deterioration.

Amino acids are broken down into two major groups. These two groups are most commonly referred to as Essential and Non-Essential amino acids. The Non-Essential group are amino acids which the body can create for itself and these are often produced as direct result of other bodily functions and processes being performed. The Essential amino acid group the human body cannot produce for itself and as such these must be obtained through an individual’s diet.

These 9 essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

These amino acids are responsible for everything from protein synthesis to collagen production and the effective use of calcium and other minerals once inside our bodies. Some are even responsible for the effectiveness of our neuro network, which is essentially the efficiency of our CNS (Central Nervous System) to allow our brains to interact with our muscles. Essential for any high performing athlete.

Within the 9 essential amino acids, three have been highlighted in studies as those most responsible for the growth of muscle tissue as well as the retention of muscle when the body is under a catabolic state. These amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They are often referred to as BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids). These three acids are those that you will most commonly found isolated as the ingredients of your typical amino acid sports product. Among all the amino acids these three have been highlighted through studies as the most directly responsible for assisting the body with:

  • Promote protein synthesis and the growth of new muscle tissue through the creation of new muscle cells
  • Providing an anti-catabolic protection for existing muscle when dieting or under intense strain

Two very powerful functions when you consider the main aim for the bulk of modern-day gym goers and athletes is to gain lean muscle while minimising fat stores. This is particularly true for endurance athletes who are more often than not working and training in a depleted state but want to retain functional muscle. Any athlete training intensely or for long periods of time will require a higher volume of essential amino acid intake to continue to perform to the best of their ability, retain muscle tissue and ensure other bodily functions are working as they should, given the high level of strain on their body.


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