Essential amino acids are nine important substances that the body needs as building blocks of protein, which in turn are important for muscle building. BCAAs are three of these nine amino acids, and the abbreviation stands for ‘branched chain amino acids’. In Dutch, these are also called the ‘branched-chain amino acids’. These consist of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Together they make up about 70 percent of the total muscle protein.
The body uses amino acids to support muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. When the glycogen stores are depleted after you have consumed a lot of energy for a long time, BCAAs are used. Our bodies do not have the enzymes that produce leucine, isoleucine and valine. The body can only supply BCAAs to the muscles through food. BCAAs play a role in protein synthesis where proteins are converted into muscle for building and repairing muscle mass. The amino acid leucine is directly related to muscle protein synthesis and is therefore the most important of the three. Furthermore, research also shows that the use of BCAAs reduces muscle pain in test subjects.
Most studies show that supplementing BCAAs has little to no positive effects, especially if you already follow a protein-rich diet. With regard to BCAAs, a comparison is also made with turning on a sprinkler when it rains outside. In fact, supplementing BCAAs may even lower protein synthesis if you don’t get enough of the other essential amino acids. This in turn can lead to a reduced build-up of muscle mass.
There are indications that BCAAs help to a certain extent in combating loss of concentration and fatigue. Another function of BCAAs is that it prevents the absorption of tryptophan and the production of serotonin. These body-specific substances provide a feeling of satisfaction and influence the experience of a feeling of fatigue.