Branched Chain Amino Acids
- What Branch Chain Amino Acids Are
- When you need BCAA Supplements
- When you do NOT need BCAA Supplements
- How to pick the Best Amino Acid Supplement
Comparison Chart: Amino Acid Content of Various Foods
The Complete Guide to Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are essential for the human body so it is imperative that you incorporate the proper amount of food and supplements that contain them into your daily routine; this correct intake keeps them at the appropriate levels that your body needs. it is also important to understand that every person needs nine essential amino acids in order to stay healthy. This, and so much more is important to keep in mind when using amino acids, and this Complete Guide to Branched Chain Amino Acids is provided to help you on your journey to wellness and inform you regarding their use.
The heading of BCAAs incorporates three of these amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are of specific concern to people who are interested in nutrition and physical fitness because they are responsible for 35 percent of the amino acids that are found in muscle protein. In other words, a large portion of the energy that is needed to fuel you through your next workout will come from BCAAs.
What Ratio of BCAAs is Needed?
Although each person’s body can have slightly different needs, there is a basic guideline that can help you make sure that you get at least the minimum recommended amount of each BCAA.
- Leucine – 39 mg is needed for every kg of body weight. For example, someone who weighs 180 pounds will need approximately 3,182 mg of leucine daily.
- Isoleucine – 20 mg is needed for every kg of body weight. Therefore, someone who weighs 180 pounds will need approximately 1,632 mg of isoleucine daily.
- Valine – 26 mg is needed for every kg of body weight. If you weigh 180 pounds, you will need approximately 2,122 mg of valine daily.
Calculating these factors can be cumbersome, especially if you are not certain how to convert kg to pounds. Additionally, there are some variances based on gender and age. Fortunately, it is easy to use an online essential amino acid calculator to find out exactly what your minimum needs are.
What Ratio is Needed for Muscle Gain?
Meeting the minimum requirements for daily BCAAs intake allows your body to remain healthy, but bodybuilders who want to increase their muscle mass can benefit from increasing their consumption of BCAAs.
There are many different recommendations for how to supplement the natural BCAAs that you receive from eating a balanced diet, so it is important to carefully consider what your actual goals are. For example, if you are currently dieting and trying to bulk up at the same time, you should consider taking a BCAAs supplement of at least two grams per serving.
Some people take up to 20 grams at a time, but a more desirable amount for proper results ranges from two to 10 grams. However, this is not something that you can simply do once a day. Instead, you need to take a BCAAs supplement approximately seven times every day to receive the optimal results.
This can be accomplished by taking a supplement when you wake up, between each meal, before you begin working out, once during your workout, at the end of your workout and before you go to bed.
What are the Best Natural Resources for BCAAs?
Supplements can be a great option for boosting your BCAAs intake, but it is also important to pay attention to the role that food plays in keeping your essential amino acids at the correct levels. The good news is that BCAAs are present in every food that contains protein, so a balanced diet will enable you to meet the minimum requirements.
The best food sources for BCAAs are dairy products and red meat, but you can also derive these vital components from eggs, fish, chicken and anything else that contains protein. It is important to remember that the idea of complete proteins being found only in meat is a myth, so vegetarians and vegans can meet their minimum BCAAs needs by eating fruits, vegetables, grains, soy and beans.
How Many BCAAs Are in Each Food Source?
Eating anything with protein in it will help you achieve the necessary level of BCAAs, but certain protein-rich foods provide more bang for your buck. If we assume that an average serving size is six ounces, we can compare a few food items that are a popular source of BCAAs to determine which ones are the best for people who want to boost their intake of these essential amino acids.
Roasted peanuts will give you 6.8 grams of BCAAs for every six ounces, but the same portion size of turkey breast only provides 5.2 grams. Again, this serves as an important reminder that meat is not the only way to achieve the proper balance of protein and amino acids. However, chicken breast clocks in with 6.6 grams of BCAAs, and it also has triple the protein of roasted peanuts.
In other words, athletes and other individuals who want to increase their protein and BCAAs intake will get more out of a serving of chicken breast, but honey roasted peanuts still make a great snack. If you prefer fish, you can get 5.9 grams of BCAAs and 34 grams of protein from six ounces of wild salmon or tilapia.
Should I Use a Protein or BCAAs Supplement?
You can easily find a supplement for all three BCAAs or each individual component if you want or need to increase the level of these essential amino acids in your body, but BCAAs are also naturally occurring in most protein supplements.
For example, if you are using a basic protein powder, you should be able to get enough of a boost to meet the recommended amount for bodybuilders. However, this might require you to use the protein powder several times per day, so it could actually be more effective to take supplements exclusively for BCAAs instead.
If you choose to increase your BCAAs with protein powder or another protein supplement, you should carefully review the list of amino acids that are included to make sure you are getting all three BCAAs. A basic guideline for sedentary adults versus bodybuilders is increasing your intake of BCAAs from 0.8 grams to 1.7 grams for every kilogram of your body weight.
Can BCAAs be Toxic?
Some people are concerned about the potential for overdosing on BCAAs by taking supplements in addition to eating food that is high in protein. Due to this, there have been multiple studies conducted to test the potential toxicity of adding additional BCAAs into the daily routine of lab mice.
In 2004, a thirteen week study was performed that included increasing levels of BCAAs by up to 5 percent in the test subjects. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that there were no significant side effects or toxicity issues that were caused by increasing consumption of BCAAs.
According to WebMD’s compilation of research into the side effects of BCAAs, there are no serious risks for people who utilize BCAAs supplements for up to six months at a time. However, some people might experience loss of coordination, fatigue and nausea, especially if they take a large dosage on a regular basis.
This means that increasing your intake of BCAAs on a short-term basis to help you reach your bodybuilding goals should be beneficial with minimal to no issues. There are a few exceptions to these findings, including the fact that BCAAs can alter glucose levels in individuals who are preparing for or recovering from a surgery.
People with branched-chain ketoacidura or chronic alcoholism should also be caution about boosting their levels of BCAAs. Additionally, anyone who is breastfeeding, pregnant, a diabetic or suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease should not take BCAAs supplements unless they are recommended by a physician.
Are there Health Reasons to Increase BCAAs?
Although it is typically possible for people to get the necessary amount of BCAAs for basic body functionality from their food, there are some situations when a supplement makes sense for people who are not involved in exercising, bodybuilding or sports.
For example, any type of injury or physical stress can make it necessary for your body to temporarily receive a boost of BCAAs, especially if you want to heal as quickly as possible. There has also been some promising research regarding the supplementation of BCAAs and certain medical conditions.
Which Diseases Are Benefited by Increased BCAAs?
Research into the link between increased BCAAs and positive health benefits for certain diseases is still primarily in the beginning stages, but it is worth noting and discussing with a physician if you are afflicted with one of the applicable illnesses.
One of the most intriguing developments that have been studied since the 1980s is the impact of increased BCAAs on the appetite of cancer patients. It is common for people undergoing cancer treatment to lose weight due to issues with their appetite, and this can make it more difficult for them to recover.
A double-blind study found that giving cancer patients 4.8 grams of a BCAAs supplement on a daily basis improved the appetites of more than half of the participants, and this made it possible for them to boost their protein levels.
Another serious medical condition that could potentially be treated with boosted levels of BCAAs is Lou Gehrig’s disease. At least one study found a link between taking a supplement four times a day and the reduction of muscle strength erosion during a one year time period.
Unfortunately, mixed results have been found in other similar studies, but BCAAs are still being used in some cases in an attempt to slow down the degenerative effects of the disease. However, as previously mentioned, it is not recommended to take these supplements if you have this medical condition unless you do so under the supervision of a doctor.
The results of multiple studies have led to continuing research into the role that an increased quantity of BCAAs as a whole or individually can have on a wide variety of other issues. At this point, therapeutic doses ranging from one to five grams are used in certain cases, and the FDA has approved an injectable supplement.
BCAAs are being utilized by some physicians as part of their treatment plan for issues such as muscle wasting, certain brain disorders and chronic appetite loss. Preliminary studies have also been looking into the possibility that increased levels of BCAAs can help people with bipolar disorder manage their maniac episodes.
Other possible positive uses for BCAAs include treating cirrhosis of the liver, recovery from fatigue and injuries that developed as the result of running long distances, a reduction in the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia, quicker recovery from a traumatic brain injury and enhanced muscle recovery after an extended period of bed rest.
What Interactions Should I Be Aware Of?
BCAAs have the potential to help you with everything from building muscle mass to improving your appetite, but it is still necessary to pay close attention to the possible negative interactions that these supplements can have with other parts of your treatment plan. In fact, any new supplement or prescription medication that you add to your daily routine should be discussed in advance with your physician, and it is also a good idea to double-check everything with your pharmacist.
BCAAs supplements have been found in some cases to produce bad results and undesirable side effects when they are taken with five specific types of medication: Thyroid hormones, corticosteroids, diabetes medication, Proglycem and Parkinson’s medication. There have not been any verified reports of interactions with supplements, but make sure that you talk to your doctor if you begin having any unusual side effects.
Ultimately, having the option to temporarily boost the amount of BCAAs in your body can be beneficial for a long list of reasons, including helping your muscles recover from a strenuous workout.
There is still a lot of research being conducted to help determine other practical applications for taking supplements or eating a high protein diet in order to attain higher levels of BCAAs. However, the lack of any serious side effects in most cases makes it easy for bodybuilders and other individuals who are working on fitness goals to add a BCAAs supplement to their daily routine.
Excipients in Supplement Pills: Menace or Aid?
Excipients are (supposedly) bioinert substances that are added to supplements to make them easier to swallow. Their bioinertness means that they’re not supposed to be utilized in any way, passing through the digestive tract without interacting with bodily tissues. Unfortunately, an ideal excipient does not exist, and there is always a varying degree of interaction with the digestive tract as whatever supplement pill and the excipients it contains make their way through the body. Some excipients are even intentionally introduced into a supplement to heighten the active ingredient’s bioavailability or lengthen the duration that the active ingredient lingers in the body, while again having as little direct interaction with the body as possible. These excipients can effectively be considered “catalysts,” which accelerate or decelerate the rate of reaction of the active ingredients with bodily tissues.
Gelatin is an excipient commonly used in capsules and gel caplets. It also sometimes finds usage in liquid supplements as a thickening agent. Gelatin can be either plant or animal derived, with an ongoing debate as to which is better. Animal gelatin is effectively purified collagen from the tissues of animals. This animal gelatin was the first to be produced and used in foodstuffs, with the first documentation of its widespread usage dating back to the late 17th century. There is a considerable amount of controversy revolving around the usage of animal gelatin in foodstuffs and supplements. For example, the source animal for this excipient might often be left unstated, leaving the consumer to wonder where the gelatin came from. Instead of explicitly mentioning that their product uses beef gelatin or pork gelatin, many producers simply state that their product contains “gelatin” and leave it at that. This can be particularly troublesome for religious and ethnic groups, vegetarians, and vegans which all have deeply rooted aversions to food products made from certain animals.
These complications regarding the usage of animal gelatin have led to the sourcing of similar substances from plants, which are colloquially called “gelatin” although they strictly aren’t. Some such similar substances include agar, carrageen, which are both sourced from algae, and pectin-based vegetable gum. Strides are being made towards genetically engineering plants such as corn to produce animal gelatin. This new transgenic corn gelatin is almost identical to the animal counterpart- sans the animal. The problem therein being that the amount of controversy surrounding the usage of genetically modified products matches, and perhaps even surpasses, that around the usage of animal-sourced excipients.
Just as protein is considered the main building block of animal life, cellulose can be considered the main building block of plant life. This bio-inert substance is often used as an excipient because risk of bodily interaction with it is slim to nil. Cellulose fibers have high cohesiveness, making it easy to compress them to high densities, increasing the attractiveness of using cellulose as an excipient for dry, solid supplements such as tablets. When used as an excipient, cellulose is often refined to microcrystalline form, giving it additional desirable traits. These include a readiness to flow, which makes it easy to feed through lines into capsule processing plants, a resistance to degradation, as stomach acids are generally incapable of breaking it down, and a lack of absorption, again because of the digestive tract’s inability to process this substance. Microcrystalline cellulose is also extremely hydrophilic, facilitating the breakdown of this substance to release the active ingredient within the supplement. The usage of microcrystalline cellulose as an excipient is approved by the U.S. Pharmacopial Convention. In moderate quantities, the consumption of cellulose is not harmful, and may even be beneficial to the body, as this fibrous substance promotes the healthy functioning of the digestive tract by exfoliating the inner lining of intestinal tissues.
Stearic acid is a waxy, saturated acid that finds usage as an emulsifier, solubilizer, and lubricant in the manufacture of capsule supplements. This excipient is usually sourced from animals, although it is also naturally occurring in cocoa and shea butter. Although stearic acid is a lipid, food scientists and cardiologists alike agree on its safety of its usage to cardiovascular health when used in moderate amounts. There are some concerns regarding the usage of stearic acid in tablets because the substance is believed to “coat” supplements’ active ingredients, limiting their efficacy. Metal salts of stearic acid, and in specific, magnesium stearate, are also commonly used as an excipient in quantities lower than 2% by weight to prevent supplement powders from sticking to industrial equipment during processing.
Claims have been made of stearic acid and its derivatives being indigestible, as their consumption does not raise cholesterol levels, leading people to assume that it is nonabsorbable in the intestines. Refuting studies have shown that stearic acid is just as intestinally absorbable as palmitic acid, a food substance that is generally considered healthful. Moderate consumption of stearic acid has even associated with lower heart disease, making its usage favorable in the manufacture of supplements. Usage of both stearic acid and magnesium stearate in health supplements has been approved by the FDA.
Croscarmellose sodium is an FDA-approved excipient that’s introduced into supplements to aid in their dissolution. In its purified form, the substance is a white, fibrous, and free-flowing powder. Introducing croscarmellose sodium into a supplement increases the disintegration of active ingredients in the digestive tract, increasing their absorption. Croscarmellose sodium is also enables the “fixing” of these active ingredients to the digestive tract walls for longer durations, enhancing these substances’ bioavailability while remaining unabsorbed itself. In low to moderate quantities, such as single-dosage daily supplements, croscarmellose sodium should not be a reason for worry. However, croscarmellose sodium is capable of expanding to 20 times its original size by absorbing bodily fluids, meaning the excessive usage of supplements containing this excipient can cause intestinal blockage. The large surface area that expanded croscarmellose sodium provides in the intestines, encouraging the growth of intestinal fauna is another reason why the excessive usage of this substance is disagreeable. There have even been rare but reported cases of hypersensitivity to croscarmellose sodium, triggering allergic reactions.
Titanium dioxide is an impressively multifunctional, naturally occurring mineral that finds usage in a host of industries. It has the appearance of a powdery, white solid when purified, and is often used as a pigment and excipient in supplements. Its persistently white color and bioinactivity make it an ideal white food colorant and opacifier. No concrete human studies have been conducted documenting the long-term effects of titanium dioxide ingestion. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently found a correlation between the ingestion of this mineral and the development of certain cancers, leading them to classify it as a Type II carcinogen, one that is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Recent size minimization of titanium dioxide to the nanometer regimen has also been suspected of rendering the substance toxic, because of the photocatalytic properties that the mineral gains when reduced to that scale.
Saccharides are a sub-family of carbohydrate molecules that includes sucrose, mannitol, and sorbitol. These excipients are used as an adhesive to keep other tablet components together. They are a naturally occurring class of materials that is safe to ingest. Besides their adhesiveness, other advantages of this family of materials include their hydrophilicity, which makes them readily dissolve in water, and their tendency towards gelation, which allows them to be used in controlled drug release. Depending on the shape of the saccharide molecules, they can be made to dissolve in the stomach, the small intestine, or the colon, making them ideal candidates for specifically targeting drug delivery systems. In addition to plants, saccharides can also be cultivated using bacteria. These bacteria-sourced saccharides form films that have superior mechanical properties to their plant sourced counterparts and are also eco-friendly to cultivate.
Hypromellose is an excipient that is often used as a coating agent for unpleasant-tasting powders and as a rate-controlling agent for sustained-release supplements and medications. In its dry form, hypromellose is a granulated beige powder. The introduction of water renders it a highly viscous and bioinert liquid. Recent controversy surrounded hypromellose regarding the likelihood of its degradation into unsafe compounds at the high temperatures and pressures reached during its processing into pill form. Hypromellose is also suspected of having drug interactions with active ingredients and other excipients at these high temperatures and pressures.
Silica is found in nature as sand or quartz. In ultra-fine powdered form, it’s used as an excipient in tablets to prevent caking, act as an interface between bodily tissues and the active ingredient, and as a gliding agent to keep other tablet constituent powders from sticking to one another during processing. Silica is assumed to be biologically inert and is considered safe by the FDA. There have been studies correlating the consumption of silica to the activation or aggravation of celiac disease, the same hereditary illness that renders people gluten intolerant, indicating that people who have this illness should steer clear from ingesting large amounts of this excipient.
Shellac was the predecessor to hypromellose. In the 1940s and 1950s, most coated tablets on the market were coated using this material, due to its cost efficiency, high biocompatibility, and exceptional mechanical properties. Shellac coating properties can be fine-tuned to release tablet contents at specific locations in the gastrointestinal tract. The fact that this excipient is effectively a biopolymer sourced from grounding and crushing scale-forming insects led to backlash against it that ultimately caused it to fade into obscurity as an ingestible excipient. The most prominent usage of shellac nowadays is as a nail polish glossing agent.
Alginic acid is an algae-sourced carbohydrate excipient. This substance is used as a cheap volumizer and gelling agent for processed foods and tablets. The foaming properties of this carbohydrate when it comes in contact with stomach acids make it an ideal ingredient in antacid pills. This substance does not metabolize after ingestion, passing through the gastrointestinal tract with minimal interaction with the body. Alginic acid is classified as a safe food additive by both the FAO and the WHO.
Methacrylic Acid Polymers
Methacrylic acid is a monomer for many synthetic polymers that are often used in tandem with other polymers such as poly-ethyl acrylate to facilitate on-site gastrointestinal drug delivery and sustained release. This polymer appears as a fine, white powder that dissolves in media of an acidity lower than 5.5pH. Excessive ingestion of methacrylic acid polymers heightens patients’ risk of exposure to the monomer form of this chemical compound, which is highly corrosive, carcinogenic, and destructive to the kidneys.
Calcium stearate is an excipient formed by reacting calcium oxide with stearitic, palmitic, or other fatty acids. This substance is used in the production of capsules and tablets because of its lubricative properties. FDA approved tests have shown that the substance does not metabolize in the human body, and has tested negative for carcinogenicity. Calcium stearate is a “generally recognized as safe” food additive according to the FAO, FDA, and WHO.
Benzalkonium chloride is an excipient that doubles as an antimicrobial and solubilizing agent. It is used frequently in contact lens and other opthalamic solutions. It’s also used as preservative and hand sanitizing agent. Studies have found benzalkonium chloride usage to be linked to bronchiospams, facial flushing, burning sensations in the respiratory tract, and other adverse effects. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review has even found a weak but persistent positive correlation between benzalkonium chloride usage and cancer.
Excipients are additives that are added to supplements to increase their volumes, make them easier to process, or modify them in other ways that are beneficial to the manufacturer, but not strictly necessary to the end user. Many supplement companies could do without them, but choose not to because of the additional packaging and processing costs they would incur in the process.
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