Amino acid supplements, and particularly branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) have been shown time and time again to have a wealth of benefits to anyone undergoing resistance or endurance training. Research has shown that supplementing with amino acids can inhibit fat mass growth, increase muscle mass, reduce muscle breakdown, increase athletic performance, reduce muscle soreness, raise testosterone levels, increase energy, increase endurance and burn body fat. For such a valuable supplement to any athlete, it's little wonder why supplement companies are scrambling to develop new formulas of amino acids before their competitors.
Amino acids are the ‘building blocks' of protein, and there are approximately 20 amino acids which make up a complete protein source. These consist of non-essential amino acids (which the body can produce on its' own, such as glutamine), and essential amino acids (which the body cannot produce and must be taken in through diet). Of these essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine are known as the branched-chain amino acids, and are widely regarded as the most important amino acids for supplementation.
Here's what you need to look for when choosing your amino-acid supplement:
- Leucine - Research has shown that leucine is absolutely vital for inducing muscle growth and stimulating protein synthesis (absorbing protein into muscles). Studies show that anywhere from 3g right up to 20g of leucine per day results in increased muscle mass, better protein synthesis, less muscle soreness and a host of other benefits. In fact, supplementing with 12g leucine per day was shown to increase muscle mass in elderly women who did not train with weights at all. It's due to all these great benefits that you will often see leucine in a higher ratio than other amino acids. Shoot for at least 5g per day from your supplements, especially around your workouts.
- BCAA Ratio - As supplement manufacturers (and consumers) realise the value of leucine, BCAA products are being released with leucine in a higher ratio than isoleucine and valine. The ratio is often written on the label as 2:1:1, or 4:1:1, or 3:1:2, which is leucine:isoleucine:valine. Some manufacturers have developed ratios as high as 12:1:1, in products such as Inner Armour BCAA Peak. Research has shown that a 2:1:1 and 4:1:1 ratio have significant benefits, so it's not necessary to go higher than that, although it certainly won't hurt to increase the ratio of leucine to the other amino acids.
- Glutamine - Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the human body can create it on its' own from other sources. It's the most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue, but often can't be made by the body fast enough to fully restore what is depleted by exercise. It's for this reason that supplementing with glutamine can be beneficial to strength or aerobic athletes. Glutamine supplementation has been shown to decrease muscle soreness, improve immunity, and reduce recovery times. Anywhere around the 5g mark of glutamine is a good amount to look for in an amino acid supplement.
- Electrolytes - Amino acid supplements are best used during exercise, as their ingredients work to rebuild and protect damaged muscle immediately. As well as muscle damage, dehydration is a major issue affecting athletic performance, and with loss of water comes loss of essential electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. The lack of these will result in reduced muscle function, increased soreness and susceptibility to cramping. A good amino acid supplement should also have electrolytes added to them, so look for a product with added sodium and potassium.
With a laundry-list of benefits to using amino acid supplements, most people involved in any athletic activity should be taking advantage of these powerhouse products. If you're looking to build muscle, burn fat, enhance performance or recovery, then supplementing with aminos, and BCAA's in particular is essential. Look for a product that delivers a high amount of leucine, as well as a good BCAA ratio, added glutamine and electrolytes for optimal performance.
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