Essential Amino Acids: BCAAs

Essential Amino Acids

Essential Amino Acids are not produced in the body but can be found in various protein based foods and supplements. They can be consumed before or after a workout for results.  These amino acids improve protein synthesis, increase muscle mass gains, and increase strength through resistance training.

Prime sources for essential amino acids are meat, eggs, and dairy products. Vegetarians and vegans often have a more difficult time consuming the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Other viable sources come from beans, seeds, wheat, corn, rice, peanuts and especially soy. Without supplementation it is important to eat an assortment of protein sources that contain each of these amino acids. Most protein supplements have an abundant amount of amino acids in them for muscle recovery and to promote protein synthesis.


Cellular uptake of amino acids occur in the upper small intestine. During supplementation amino acids are absorbed better on an empty stomach. Digestion of food delays absorption of amino acids. This is especially important if taken after or during a workout when fast absorption is most critical to help muscle recovery. Vitamin B6 and C should be taken with these amino acids because they are beneficial for proper absorption.

Essential Amino Acids

Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)*

BCAAs are a specific three essential amino acids that consist of IsoleucineLeucine, and Valine. These three amino acids account for a third of the total amino acids present in the muscle tissue. BCAAs help stimulate protein synthesis allowing for a proper anobolic state to build lean muscle.

Muscle growth = Protein Synthesis > Muscle Protein Breakdown

Muscle growth occurs when protein synthesis is greater than muscle protein breakdown. During strenuous workouts our muscles use a lot of energy. Without adequate food intake the body looks for muscle as means of fuel. BCAAs slow down the rate in which protein is broken down in order to avoid muscle catabolism. This helps retain muscle mass and promote fat loss.

  • BCAAs are metabolized directly in the muscle as opposed to the liver like the other essential amino acids.
  • This muscle presence allows BCAAs to be a quick viable source for energy during exercise.
  • Supplementation allows the body to use these amino acids instead of catabolizing muscle for energy.


15.4mg/lb or 34mg/kg…150lb=2.31g/day

Food Source: Beef (1,690 mg /100 g), Salmon (1,615 mg /100 g), Eggs (1,090 mg / 100 g) and wheat products (920 mg /100 g)

Leucine is often considered one of the powerful BCAAs because of it’s powerful muscle building qualities. It educes the greatest amount of protein synthesis out of isoleucine and valine. In a protietary BCAA blend Leucine normally has the highest ratio and some people take leucine by itself, as opposed to all three BCAAs.

Muscle Protein Synthesis

Leucine allows for protein to be used more effectively in the body. This means those who have a low protein diet benefit from their protein more. A study by the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch proved that “In older adults, leucine supplementation may improve muscle protein synthesis in response to lower protein meals”.

mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR)

Leucine supplementation is one of the most effective ways to activate a compound in the muscle called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). mTOR is responsible for an upstream pathway for insulin, amino acids, and other factors that stimulate cellular growth. This BCAA is responsible for both stimulating protein synthesis and enhancing the rate in which protein and other beneficial compounds reach the muscle. A study in the Metabolism Unit of Shriners Hospitals for Children, University of Texas Medical Branch, proved that a combination of whey protein and leucine maximizes muscle anabolism greater than just whey protein alone.

Muscle Growth

Not only does Leucine slow down natural muscle loss from dieting and aging, it stimulates muscle tissue growth. It is the most effective factor behind BCAAs providing muscle enhancement properties.

Adenosine Monophosphate-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK)

Adenosine Monophosphate-Activated Protein Kinase(AMPK) is an energy sensor that regulates metabolism and maintaines glucose homeostasis. When this process senses a nutrition deficiency it produces energy by stimulating glucose uptake and lipid oxidation. At the same time it stops glucose and lipid production to maintain a balance of energy.

Leucine reduces the phosphorylation of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and inhibites it’s activity. The Department of Animal Science in the University of Wyoming proved in a study that “implicates AMPK as an important target for nutritional management to enhance mTOR signaling and protein synthesis in muscle cells, thereby increasing muscle growth.”

Luecine AMPK

“The way in which the AMPK system controls the balance between ATP consumption (e.g., by biosynthesis, cell growth, or muscle contraction) and ATP production via catabolism is illustrated. If the rate of ATP consumption exceeds its rate of production, ADP will tend to rise and be converted to AMP by the enzyme adenylate kinase. The rise in level of the activating ligand AMP, coupled with the fall in level of the inhibitory nucleotide ATP, activates AMPK, which then switches off ATP-consuming processes and switches on catabolism in an attempt to redress the balance.” D. Grahame Hardie. J. Clin. Invest. 114:465-468 (2004). doi:10.1172/JCI200422683.



Food Sources: Chicken Breast (1,220 mg /100 g), Rice  (330 mg /100 g), Peas (1,160 mg /100 g), and Walnuts ( 750 mg / 100 g)

Muscle Recovery + Energy

By aiding muscle tissue repair isoleucine will speed up muscle recovery after strenuous workouts. Along with other BCAAs, isoleucine minimizes muscle break down during a workout and promotes muscle endurance. This essential amino acid resides in the muscle and gets broken down providing energy during demanding exercise. In this way isoleucine protects the muscle from catabolism.

Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Regulation

Isoleucine stimulates hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is the oxygen carrying molecule in red blood cells that helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. Isoleucine also helps create blood clots and regulate nitrogen balance.



Food Sources: Chicken Breast (1,220 mg /100 g), Rice  (330 mg /100 g), Peas (1,160 mg /100 g), and Walnuts ( 750 mg / 100 g)

Muscle Catabolism Protection

Valine is a glucogenic essential amino acid that provides the muscles with extra glucose to use as energy during exercise. A greater buffer is created protecting the muscle against being broken down for energy.

Nitrogen Regulation

This essential amino acid protects the liver from excess nitrogen and distributes it to other parts of the body. It also can be helpful in treating and restoring muscle in those with liver or gallbladder disease. Valine can help minimize damage done to the tissues and organs affected by drug abuse or alcoholism.



Food Source: nuts, red meat, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, and sardines

Fatty Acid Metabolism

Lysine is necessary for the body to produce carnitine. Cartinine is a product of metabolism that can be produced naturally by the liver, brain, and kidneys but most people need more through supplementation, especially athletes. Cartinine is very beneficial for fat loss because it transfers fatty acids from the the blood to the mitochondria where it gets broken down into energy. After the transfer, it attaches itself on the metabolic waste product and removes it from the mitochondria. Removing clutter from the mitochondria allows energy production to occur at peak levels.

Connective Tissue Health

Calcium absorption and collagen formation are important for muscle and bone health. Hydrolysation of Lysine is responsible for collagen Hydroxylysine synthesis. Collagen is a protein made of amino acids that plays the role of vaious connective tissue in the body. Ligaments, tendons, bones, skin, and the skeletal muscles are all made up of mostly collagen. Collagen is especially important for skin firmness and renewal.



Food Source: Garlic, Onions, Beans, Fish, Meat, Lentils

Liver Health

Mthinonine helps the liver process fat in the body. When it enters the liver it converts into S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) which is produced daily by the liver. SAMe converts into the antioxidant Glutathione which protects the liver cells from being harmed from the waste products that the liver removes from the body. Normally the body produces enough SAMe but people with liver disease and other liver dysfunctions will benefit from supplementation.



Food Sources: Dairy, Beef, Poultry, Fish, Walnuts, Cashews, Peanuts, Sunflower Seeds, Flax, Soy

Phneylalanine is a precursor for Tyrosine, which then converts into L-DOPA (L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine), and ultimately converts into Dopamine. There is a chance that dopamine can be converted into Norepinephrine or even further converted to Epinephrine.

Stress can depletes norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters so by supplementing with pheneylalanine a balanced levels can be maintained. It can also help depression due to the uplifting properties of dopamine and norepinephrine.

Phenylalanine Conversion



Food Source: Lean Meat, Eggs, Dairy, Nuts, Fish, Beans

Connective Tissue Health: Skin

Threonine  creates glycine and serine amino acids necessary for collagen and elastin formation. Elastin is a connective protein in body tissue that allows skin to stretch and retain shape. Collagen is also responsible for helping connective tissue in the body. It especially benefits skin firmness and renewal.

Strengthen Immune System

Threonine is one of the nutrients that stimulates the immune system because it promotes thymus growth and activity. The thymus is an important organ in the immune system that educates the T-cells. Phagocytes are stimulated by the thymus and are responsible for protecting the body against viruses and bacteria by ingesting them.

Liver Functionality

Threonine helps cleanse the liver by aiding with the digestion of fats and fatty acids when combined with the amino acids aspartic acid and methione. A fatty liver can result in liver failure. It also helps stabilize blood sugar by converting into glucose in the liver.

  • Vegetarians should consider supplementation because there is a low amount of threonine in grains
  • Forms tooth enamel and strengthen bones
  • Relieves stress, anxiety, and depression by producing nerotransmitters in the brain that assist nervous system communication



Food Source: Egg whites (1g/100g), Atlantic Cod (.7g/100g), Soybeans (.59g/100g), Parmesan Cheese (.56g/100g), Pork Chop (.25g/100g), Turkey/Chicken (.24g/100g), Beef (.23g/100g)

Sleep Aid/Anti-Depressant 

Tryptophan helps support sleep and relaxation through stimulating production of serotonin. Serotonin helps fight against depression and stress by providing a feeling of well being and happiness.

A study in the journal of psychiatric research shows that Tryptophan is most effective in those with mild insomnia or “normal subjects reporting a longer-than-average sleep latency”. People with normal sleep pattern have mixed results because there is no room for improvement.

Turkey Myth

Most people think turkey has a high amount of tryptophan that makes people tired but it has no more tryptophan than any other poultry product (.24g/100g). Proteins like turkey, chicken, and fish need carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels in the brain. A small 30g carbohydrate snack combined with already eaten food that is high in tryptophan is the most effective source of dopamine.

Curve Appetite

Serotonin releases after having a high carbohydrate meal, decreasing appetite. By obtaining this serotonin through Tryptophan supplementation extra carb consumotion is less likely. The relaxing qualities of seotonin will extinguish the impulse of stress eaters to overeat.



Food Sources: Rice, Wheat, Rye, Eggs, Cheese, Seeds, Tofu, and Fish.

Histidine helps drop blood pressure, dilate capillaries, and secrete gastric acids. It also helps transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body.

There has been much controversy about if Histidine should be considered an essential or non-essential amino acid. It was believed to only be essential in children but further research found it to be essential in adults in the long term.

In a study by the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Paediatrics, healthy males had a histidine-free diet for an long period of time. As the length of time without Histidine increased, albumin, transferrin, and hemoglobin concentration decreased. “This study demonstrates that a lack of histidine in the diet for a prolonged period resulted in an accommodation of protein turnover and phenylalanine oxidation.”

Maintaining a proper diet that includes Histidine can aid with obtaining a positive protein turnover. Protein turnover is the balance between protein synthesis and proteolysis (protein breakdown). If there is more protein synthesis than proteolysis than your body will build more lean muscle in an anobolic state. If there is more proteolysis than protein synthesis than the body with catabolize muscle.

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