Supplements are the easy way out, and most people assume that just taking a powder is going to get them to their goal…with as little effort as possible. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Supplements help bridge the gap between a solid training routine, and a well rounded diet. If there was actually a pill or supplement that worked, I would be out of a job. But their isn’t. We cannot outsmart science and how our body functions. Todays blog is about Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and how they affect women and their hormones.
BCAAs are branched chain amino acids. They are made up of three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. the name comes from their molecular structure and are essential because our bodies do not make them, so we need to get them from outside sources.
This can be in the form of a supplement, or from your diet.
Amino acids are an essential part of our diet, and bodies. They make up our DNA, build muscle, and create structure and function or our tissues and organs. I would say that is a pretty big job.
Aside from those big jobs, amino acids also aid in digestion, hormonal signals, neurotransmitter messaging and energy. All from protein being broken down into 20 amino acids. Science is cool, right?
BCAAs are different than amino acids because of their structure and also because these amino acids cannot be made in the body. We need to get BCAAs from supplementation or our diet, so that they can help carry out these process’ within the body.
We wouldn’t call BCAAs essential if we didn’t need them. There are several benefits of BCAAs on a molecular level within our body, but a few things we can highlight that are benefits of BCAAs include:
The BCAA leucine activates a specific pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis. In other words, its the muscle building routine. Studies show that those who consume BCAAs after a resistance training workout have an increase in muscle development than those who don’t.
Muscle soreness after a workout is common, although not always a sign of a good workout. This soreness is typically from tiny tears in the muscle tissue from damage caused by resistance training..or just from a new movement that your body isn’t familiar with. BCAAs can help prevent muscle damage, or at least the severity of it.
We know that fatigue starts to set in at a certain point of a workout. This is because during your workout, your muscles use BCAAS, which causes the levels in your blood to decrease. When this level decreases, amino acid tryptophan in your brain is increased. When this increase occurs, trypophan is then converted into serotonin, which contributes to the fatigue during exercise. So by replenishing your BCAAs level during your workout, it could decrease the fatigue.
Side effects of taking BCAAs are very uncommon. One major PSA to note is that those with ALS or Lou Gehrigs should refrain from supplementing with BCAAS.
There has been some research done in mice where one controlled group supplemented with the correct BCAA dosage, while the other took double. The study showed that excess BCAAs in the blood led to a decreased level of serotonin. This is because BCAAs are competing with tryptophan for brain transportation. If BCAAs are using that uptake, we have less serotonin since tryptophan (unable to get a position in the brain) is the only precursor. This can leave us with decreased mood and increased appetite.
Research has shown that high levels of BCAA supplementation can lead to renal disfunction, and possible failure later in life. High levels of protein and amino acids in the blood increase plasma flow and glomerular filtration rate, which is not ideal. This has really only been looked at in the elderly based on high protein diets. There is not research that follows someone from mid 20s to 60s supplementing with BCAAs.
Another side effect that is uncommon, but should be noted is the effect BCAAs have on tumors. This is a new area of research, but should be mentioned as certain types of cancers have an increased rate of specific pathway usage, and BCAAs could alter that. Again, it needs to be studied closer to be sure.
BCAAs or branched chain amino acids, are something our body needs. We cannot carry out full body process’ to the extent we need to without these amino acids. We talked about before that they come from either our diet, or supplementation. It is important to note that supplements should really only be used to supplement, or fill a gap within your diet. So if you can get your BCAAs from food, that is going to be a better source than a synthetic powder version from a container.
With that, because BCAAs are something we need, they don’t necessarily have a negative impact on hormones. Now, this could have to do with the amount of BCAAs consumed, but there is not current research on it.
BCAAs could potentially increase testosterone. There are a few studies done in conjunction with exercise that showed an increase in sperm motility and testosterone levels with BCAA supplementation. Testosterone is important for both males and females, for different reasons, but BCAAs could increase testosterone which in turn will boost workout performance.
There isn’t any (from what I found) that states a correlation between BCAAs and female fertility. Things like stress hormones can affect sex hormones, but no published research shows any findings of BCAAs causing changes or issues with female fertility.
The livers job in the body is basically a filter. It filters the blood coming from the digestive tract to the rest of the body. It detoxifies, or cleans, chemicals within the blood and metabolizes drugs. The liver also secretes bile which helps clear out any waste and breakdown fat during digestion. So the liver is pretty important.
When talking about BCAAs, the liver is going to detoxify the blood when it passes through. So if there is excess BCAAs in the blood, the liver is going to get rid of them. This is just the liver doing it’s job. In the side effects section, we talked about potential renal issues later in life due to prolonged supplementation. This is not researched enough to see if liver failure or function is damaged by BCAAs.
There is some research out there that has been done on the effects of BCAAs on the heart.
In conclusion, there can be adverse effects on the body in general in regards to long term supplementation, as well as over supplementation.
The real reason you probably landed on this blog post. Do BCAAs help with weight loss, or promote weight loss? Well, there is no real supporting research to state that BCAAs help with weight loss. BCAAs could help because of the positive impact they have on muscle development and benefits they bring to your workouts.
BCAAs are not going to melt fat off of you, but again, they could possibly help. There is not support research, so that take as it is.
BCAAs aren’t going to have a direct impact on recovery, that is where the other amino acids come into play. BCAAs are more so going to help decrease muscle soreness by limiting the number of muscle tears. Making sure you get adequate protein in your diet filled with amino acids is going to the the best benefit of muscle recovery. Not to mention the other usual things such as stretching, water intake and an epsom salt bath if necessary.
There is no current research right now to say the best time to take BCAAs, or if it makes a difference at all. Some take their supplement prior to exercise, during, or even after. I think it comes down to personal preference. If you struggle to drink water during the day, maybe take your BCAAs at a different time than your workout.
Just be sure not to over do it. The short term supplementation of BCAAs is not detrimental, but taking supplements for a long period of time can have side effects later in life. So, don’t put it in every glass of water you drink.
Whether or not BCAA supplementation is worth it is a personal preference. Most people get enough from their diet, if it is balanced and focused on whole foods. You can supplement with them if it makes it easier to drink water and you enjoy them, but don’t feel like you have to. Again, if you have a well rounded diet, you likely are getting enough and the supplement is then just a waste of money.
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