Growing Naturals protein powders provide 5 grams of BCAAs per serving of rice protein and 3 grams per serving of pea protein.  But what exactly are they and why do we care so much about this little 4 letter acronym?

BCAAs or “branched chain amino acids” refer to three specific amino acids whose chemical structure resembles a branched tree. They include: valine, leucine and isoleucine.  BCAAs represent about 40% of the amino acids that need to be consumed via food since they cannot be produced by your body.  In other words, if you require 100 g of protein per day, 40 g should be from BCAAs alone.  Aside from being essential for proper growth and function, BCAAs play a special role in muscles because they can be broken down within the muscles (rather than the liver, where all other aminos are metabolized) and be used for energy.

This fact has been a major interest to athletes and the sport nutrition industry alike, considering its beneficial impact on muscle recovery and therefore performance.  Research continues to support this role.  In fact, an article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (May 2012) found that BCAA supplementation before and after damaging resistance exercise (weight training) reduced muscle damage and sped up recovery in a group of resistance-trained males1.

For treating a liver condition

In hepatic encephalopathy (a liver condition), BCAA supplementation is also used as a form of dietary intervention.  This condition usually occurs in patients with chronic liver disease.  The impaired liver has difficulty releasing toxic substances like ammonia, which can then build up in the bloodstream.  This accumulation of ammonia is thought to be the cause of hepatic encephalopathy.   Symptoms include impaired mental status, altered consciousness, neuromuscular disturbances and presents with an imbalanced ratio of BCAAs to aromatic amino acids (a group of different chemically structured amino acids).  The goal of treatment is to properly balance this ratio.

For treatinshutterstock_1573904g a neurological condition…possibly

Most recently, BCAA supplementation may play a new role in a condition unrelated to sports or athletes. The study, published by Science (Sept. 2012) found that BCAA supplements may help to treat a rare form of autism associated with epilepsy2.  An estimated 25% of patients with autism also suffer from epilepsy and scientists determined that the presence of epilepsy was associated with the presence of a gene mutation which speeds up the metabolism (break down) of BCAAs.  In a healthy person, the process shuts off once the “stock” of BCAAs is gone; however, the mutation causes a defect in the ability to shut down BCAA metabolism.  Therefore, the proposed treatment is to simply supplement the body with the BCAAs it is lacking.  To make sure this would work, scientists examined that brain stem cells from patients with this form of autism were normally functioning in the presence of BCAAs.  Also, in mice engineered with a mutation in the same gene, the epileptic condition was reversible with dietary supplementation of BCAAs and induced when BCAA intake was lowered.  Although these findings seem promising, the effectiveness of BCAA supplementation in humans remains to be been determined.

This trio isn’t essential for nothing. Evidence has shown their effects go beyond normal growth and functioning under special circumstances.  Make sure you’re getting the proper amount of BCAAs in your diet, especially if you are an athlete or exercise enthusiast.  To determine your daily protein needs visit our protein calculator page.

References

  1. Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, et al. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in exercise-trained males by branched-chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012. 9; 20.
  2. Novarino G, El-Fishawy P, Kayserili H, Meguid NA, et al. Mutations in BCKD-kinase Lead to a Potentially Treatable Form of Autism with Epilepsy. Science. 2012. DOI: 10.1126/science.1224631. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120906141119.htm
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