Why and how do BCAA preparations work

BCAA for the muscles - are the amino acids really useful?

By Laura Pomer | January 22, 2021, 11:24 a.m.

Many amateur athletes use dietary supplements out of conviction to improve their general health or to increase their physical performance. Especially popular with fitness fans: BCAA - an amino acid combination that is used to protect muscles and is said to do the muscles a lot of good. What's up FITBOOK spoke to experts.

What exactly does BCAA mean?

BCAA is the abbreviation for the English term Branched Chain Amino Acids. BCAA is specifically a combination of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. Amino acids are proteins and are responsible for various tasks in metabolic processes in the body, such as maintaining and building muscles. Some amino acids form the cells themselves, while others can only be supplied from outside. This is the case with BCAA, i.e. leucine, isoleucine and valine.

What do BCAA have that other proteins do not have?

Many athletes believe that BCAA promote muscle growth and fat loss - at the same time. First and foremost, they want to "protect" their muscles and prepare them for top athletic performance. In her opinion, the combination of leucine, isoleucine and valine has some advantages over other protein sources - especially those from the classic diet, as they are supposed to provide the body with something extra without it having to take revenge with additional calories. The leucine contained in BCAA is used to strengthen and improve the development of muscles, valine is supposed to control the production of energy from food in the muscle cells; Isoleucine performs a similar task.

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Above all, the aim is to prevent the muscles from becoming fatigued or broken down by exercise. BCAA should therefore donate power and prevent your own reserves from being tapped to generate energy, especially when training on an empty stomach. Above all, people on a low-carbohydrate diet rely on BCAA as a supplement before endurance exercise.

BCAA is available in capsule, pill or powder form, the latter being the most common variant. Athletes drink a measuring spoonful of it mixed with water or milk, before or after the workout, some even during it. The ideal time should vary depending on the training goal.

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Nutritionists: Yes to BCAA - from food

FITBOOK spoke to the qualified nutritionist Dr. Nicolai Worm. In his opinion, there is actually something to the positive recovery properties of BCAA. However, he doubts that preparations are needed for this purpose. “BCAA are particularly abundant in milk and accordingly in dairy products. The whey protein is outstanding, ”he explains.

Most people know whey as a buttermilk-like drink from the refrigeration department, although it is also available in powder form. Basically, whey is a waste product from cheese or quark production. Doesn't sound very appetizing, but the yellowish residual liquid was already considered a natural miracle cure for beauty and health by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Dr. Worm is convinced of the health-promoting ingredients in whey - vitamins, minerals and, last but not least, valuable protein.

Do dietary supplements support health?

According to Professor Thomas Konrad, internist and metabolism expert from Frankfurt am Main, there is no need for dietary supplements to support health. Neither to achieve top physical performance. "It's true that intensive athletes and people with a higher energy expenditure should get more electrolytes and protein," admits the expert when asked by FITBOOK. "The utilization of animal protein ingested through food is much better."

But why then do so many athletes believe in BCAA and Co.? According to Professor Konrad, the dietary supplement industry is a gigantic market with huge sums of money - albeit few scientific studies. "It has never been proven with an investigation that or to what extent the intake of protein preparations affects the stimulation of the muscles," says the metabolism doctor. Belief in such products is based only on testimonials from athletes who speak of “unbelievable” increases in development in interviews, forums or advertisements.

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Diet supplements can be harmful

In fact, in excess, they are said to be dangerous. As Professor Konrad knows, athletes who consume excessive protein supplements are not infrequently a case for nephrologists (specialist in kidney and hypertension diseases). The reason: Too much protein can attack the kidneys if you don't drink enough fluids to flush them through.

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And that is by no means the only problem. “To make protein powder edible, flavorings are added to it,” explains Konrad, “vanilla, chocolate or orange aromas. Often there is also sugar in it. ”Those who overdo it“ and have two more beers in the evening ”have quickly exceeded their daily calorie requirement and gain weight. “The body also turns excess protein into fat sooner or later.” As Professor Konrad assures, some bodybuilders also suffer from fatty liver.

What does the ideal sports nutrition look like?

Above all, it is varied, says Professor Konrad. In his metabolism center, he also advises competitive athletes on goal-oriented nutrition and recommends “a balanced diet.” So although a steak is the ideal source of protein, he does not recommend more than two portions of meat per week. On the other days, according to Konrad, eggs, cheese or fish are also used - and in between, particularly vegetable protein from legumes such as peas or lentils.

Conclusion on BCAA

As the name suggests, dietary supplements are just an addition to the diet. If this is done in a balanced and conscious way, powder and capsules are not necessary - and in case of doubt can do more harm than good. This also applies to BCAA.

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