Protein as a food supplement
Protein supplements in particular can now be found in almost every supermarket. Whether in the form of shakes or bars, they claim to achieve greater and faster muscle growth and promote weight loss. There are various protein combinations on the market. Strength and endurance athletes have been swearing by so-called BCAAs for several years. What does this combination of amino acids contain and what does it do for our body?
What are BCAAs?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids and is the term used by marketers. The products are made up of the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are three of the eight amino acids that the body can't produce itself, the essential amino acids, or EAAs for short. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. But why are BCAAs so important? And what do they do in our body?
Leucine, isoleucine and valine
These three amino acids are the only ones that aren't converted in the liver but in the muscles. Therefore – it’s assumed – the muscles can draw from the amino acids directly.
BCAAs in natural form
According to the Food Chemistry Research Institute, the following foods are particularly rich in BCAAs:
The effect of BCAAs
This much is certain: BCAAs help our body to build protein and supply our muscles with energy. However, many studies go much further and attribute almost magical powers to BCAAs.
Facilitating fat loss and combating muscle atrophy
BCAAs are said to help with fat reduction and counteract natural muscle loss in older people and people on diets. Leucine in particular is thought to reduce muscle atrophy resulting from a low-protein diet or lack of exercise.
Promoting muscle regeneration
According to several studies, BCAAs also help muscles to recover more quickly after exertion. BCAAs aren't only popular with strength athletes, but ideally form part of an optimal diet for endurance sport athletes. This is because the BCAAs prevent the body from getting exhausted too quickly which, in turn, prevents muscle injuries.
A training booster
Advocates of the product take the food supplement before training. This enables them to provide their body with enough BCAAs to build protein without having to eat a heavy meal. BCAAs can also slightly increase athletic performance.
Application in medicine
BCAAs have long been used in the treatment of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance. Studies have also shown a positive impact provided by BCAAs on the recovery of critically ill patients with severe burns and blood poisoning, or after operations. They're also said to be helpful as a supplement to trauma therapy.
EAAs for muscle building
All essential amino acids, i.e. EAAs, are necessary for building muscles effectively. Why? Because only when all amino acids are available can proteins be built in the muscles. If BCAA supplements are taken during fasting, muscle mass can even be lost. This is because if the body lacks not only BCAAs but the remaining EAAs too, protein is broken down in the muscle to obtain the missing EAAs.
Do we need extra BCAAs?
Scientists and researchers find no consensus on this: different studies come to different conclusions. That’s why nutrition experts recommend that athletes first make sure they eat enough BCAAs and other amino acids in the form of natural foods. Whether it makes sense to take additional BCAAs is best discussed with a nutritionist.
Food supplements are a current trend
According to a study by the Federal Office for Food Safety, about 30% of the Swiss population regularly take some form of food supplement. Whether vitamins, minerals or combined products, many are convinced of the effect and feel more energetic and achieve higher performance levels as a result.