Dropping weight will get you shredded, but it can also shave some size from your biceps. BCAAs can help protect your muscles against the catabolic effects of dieting.
Recently, branched-chain amino acid supplements (BCAAs) have made something of a comeback in the bodybuilding and fitness community, and with good reason. There's more research that supports the benefits of BCAAs than most other supplements on the market.
While BCAA supplementation may be useful for gaining mass, they are also especially helpful for maintaining muscle mass while on a calorie-deficit diet. BCAAs are also particularly useful for bodybuilding competitors who take their physiques to the lean extreme.
Although dieting down will make you look awesome on stage, on the beach, and to members of the opposite sex, it can also reduce your muscle mass.
Dieting is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown. There are several reasons for this. The leaner a body gets, the more likely it is to lose muscle mass as the body tries harder to hold onto body fat stores. In doing so, the body will turn to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. This is bad news for anyone interested in a hard body.
Muscle loss occurs because the body increases protein breakdown (catabolism) in order to free up amino acids for fuel. Muscle loss is compounded by the fact that the level of protein synthesis will also decrease due to a reduced energy intake.
The basic equation for muscle mass is:
Muscle mass = rate of protein synthesis - rate of protein breakdown.
When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don't gain or lose muscle.
If the rate of synthesis exceeds the rate of breakdown, you gain muscle.
When the rate of breakdown exceeds the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle.
If you're dieting, you may be burning the candle at both ends: elevating muscle breakdown and reducing protein synthesis.
Working out compounds the metabolic effect of dieting. The leaner you become, the more lethargic you can become. Decreased energy intake and decreased glycogen storage make for some rough energy levels and training sessions. If you find you're too tired or weak to lift as heavy as your body was previously getting used to, your muscles will adapt and they won't use as much energy to get the work done. That means your body won't increase lean muscle mass. It might also mean that your body will use lean muscle for energy because you aren't using it to lift a heavy load.
FIGHTING MUSCLE LOSS WITH BCAAS
How do you defend against catabolic muscle loss?
It's well known that branched-chain amino acids (particularly leucine) stimulate protein synthesis, and possibly do so to a greater extent than a normal protein on its own. BCAAs also increase the process of protein synthesis. As a result, BCAAs not only increase the rate of protein synthesis, but they also increase the cell's capacity for protein synthesis!
BCAAs also reduce the rate of protein breakdown. They do this primarily by decreasing the activity of the components of the protein breakdown pathway. They primarily accomplish this by decreasing the amount of mRNA produced from the gene that codes for these components.
If we look back at our original equation for muscle mass, it's evident that increasing synthesis and decreasing breakdown will equate to muscle gain/maintenance. And that is the secret to fighting muscle loss when dieting.
HARDER, LONGER WORKOUTS
BCAAs have even more positive benefits than reduced breakdown and increased protein synthesis. It’s thought they might also help improve workout intensity!
BCAAs compete with the amino acid tryptophan for entry into the brain, where tryptophan can be converted to the neurotransmitter serotonin. During exercise, serotonin levels rise and can increase the perception of fatigue—meaning a less intense workout for you.
BCAA supplementation reduces the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain, resulting in reduced amounts of serotonin being produced. This might allow you to work harder for longer.
BCAAS AND WHEY
Despite the numerous positive benefits of BCAA supplementation, there are many sceptics who suggest that BCAAs are overpriced and that, to ingest more BCAAs, one should just consume more whey protein. While whey is rich in BCAAs, this isn't the most effective source.
The BCAAs in whey are peptide-bound to other amino acids and, in order to be effective, must be liberated through digestion before being absorbed into the bloodstream. Even though whey protein is relatively fast digesting, it still takes several hours for all the amino acids to be liberated and absorbed into the bloodstream.
BCAAs in supplement form, however, are free-form, require no digestion, and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. They spike blood amino acid levels to a much greater and faster extent than peptide-bound aminos. Even a few grams of free-form BCAAs will spike BCAA plasma levels to a much greater extent than 30 grams of whey protein. This results in a more immediate impact on protein synthesis and protein degradation.
Additionally, since BCAAs bypass the liver and gut and go directly into your bloodstream, they can be used as an immediate energy source during workouts. Valine and isoleucine are considered glucogenic amino acids, meaning they can be converted to glucose. They then act as an important energy source during exercise to help fight off fatigue during your workouts.
New studies have shown that dieting groups supplementing with BCAAs (like leucine) increase muscle retention and maximize fat loss much more effectively than non-supplemented groups.
The bottom line is: more muscle mass retained, and a greater percentage of lost body fat.
And THAT’S the answer to the equation we all want to get to!