Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and play an important role in metabolism. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a special class of essential amino acids that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine and valine. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. BCAAs account for about 35% of the amino acids in muscle protein.
BCAAs are absorbed into the bloodstream and are taken up directly by the muscles. This means that dietary intake of BCAAs correlates to plasma levels and concentrations in muscle tissue. BCAAs are also used by the body as an energy source and thus are oxidized during exercise. This process, the metabolic breakdown of complex molecules into simpler ones that often results in a release of energy, is called “catabolism.”
But BCAAs do more than act as building blocks and energy sources.
In a recent study published in AGING, researchers found that ingesting a mixture of BCAAs expressed genes involved in antioxidant defense, and there was a marked reduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. Also, the researchers observed that BCAA intake preserved muscle fiber size and improved physical endurance.
Another study explored the link between BCAA consumption and mitochondrial biogenesis, which act as the center of cellular energy production. In it, researchers found that BCAA supplementation increased mitochondial creation and sirtuin 1 expression in heart and muscle cells. Sirtiuns help weakened or injured cells to survive by stabilizing DNA, causing the release of protective antioxidants. This research indicates that BCAAs can play a role in anti-aging.
In summary, BCAA supplementation has broad benefits including maintenance of muscle tissue, energy production, and muscle endurance. BCAA application goes far beyond the traditional use as a body building supplement and now this essential nutrient is being looked at also for maintaining one’s health as we age.
Dr. Mark Lange, Ph.D., is the Science Director for the Institute for Nutraceutical Advancement and has more than 15 years experience in the nutraceutical, health care and pharmaceutical research and management. Dr. Lange has earned a national reputation in the nutraceutical field for Quality Control policies and analytical testing methods and standards.