Making Muscle

Amino acids called BCAAs help create the protein you need for a ripped physique.

October 2016

by Lisa James


The old adage “work smarter, not harder” is as applicable in the gym as it is on the job. Building muscle safely and effectively requires more than just thoughtlessly loading a bar with plates and lifting; it necessitates training with specific weight levels and a specific number of repetitions for specific muscle groups on a set schedule.

In a similar manner, eating to support a weightlifting program requires some thought, too. In addition to planning a healthy diet tailored to your needs, you should carefully consider which supplements can maximize the muscle-building power of every pound you lift.

Muscles are packed full of protein, which in turn are made of amino acids. Three of these substances, known as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)— isoleucine, leucine and valine—are particularly useful for lifters who want to create a brawny, sculpted look.

Breaking Down, Building Up

Muscle mass doesn’t increase when you lift—it actually increases when you recover from the lift.

Here’s the deal: Lifting greater and greater amounts of weight and/or increasing your repetitions makes your muscles do a little more work than they can handle comfortably. This pushes them into what’s called a catabolic state, one in which muscle tissue suffers tiny areas of damage known as microtears.

During the recovery period between training sessions, you go into an anabolic state. In this stage, your body responds to tissue damage by fixing the microtears—and creating even more muscle tissue in the process.

Powering Protein Synthesis

That’s where the BCAAs come in, especially leucine, the single biggest driver of protein synthesis among all the amino acids. Research has shown that BCAA supplementation helps speed recovery and may also reduce soreness (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 5/8/12, ISRN Nutrition 3/17/13).

To get the greatest benefit of BCAAs after a workout, have a shake with a 12:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine; a leucine-loaded shake can promote faster recovery. High-quality shake powders combine BCAAs with another amino acid, glutamine, which also helps muscle tissue increase bulk while decreasing protein loss.

In addition, BCAAs are useful when taken before you start working out. That’s because they help your muscles stay hydrated, a key factor not only in making your exercise sessions more effective but also in the prevention of inflammatory toxin buildup within soft tissues. Isoleucine and valine can be converted to glucose, which helps supply the energy needed to power you through your workout. What’s more, evidence suggests that BCAAs may be able to counteract exercise-induced increases in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can reduce workout intensity by heightening your perception of fatigue.

Finding BCAA shake powders that are free of banned substances such as steroids and masking agents is crucial, especially if you’re involved in organized sports and subject to regular drug testing. Always look for products verified by INFORMED CHOICE, a program that checks for such substances and ensures that manufacturers meet high
quality-control standards.

Developing the body you want involves both physical effort and smart thinking. Using the right BCAA supplement at the right time can make a world of difference.

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