BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) can have a positive impact during testosterone replacement therapy because these three essential amino acids helping the body process nutrients, convert fat and carbs into energy, and develop healthy dense muscle.
It’s not uncommon for men with low T to have metabolism deficiency leading to increased fat storage and decreased muscle mass. This deficiency causes muscle weakness and decreasing the quality of life.
With the liver being the central operator for metabolism, it is common for providers to prescribe BCAAs to help people improve liver function. Supplementing BCAAs promote muscle growth (protein synthesis) aiding in recovery without spiking insulin levels (insulin spikes cause inflammation). As we cover in our guide to TRT, this is why normalizing testosterone levels with TRT and supplementing BCAAs to help promote a healthy metabolism will greatly improve quality of life in men.
What are BCAAs (branched chain amino acids)?
“Branched-chain” refers to the chemical make-up of the amino acid chain. BCAAs are considered essential amino acids because the body does not naturally produce them but widely used by the body to build healthy muscle tissue. BCAAs proteins can be found in foods like dairy, egg, meat, poultry and fish but BCAA supplement drinks, powders and pills are very popular. Supplement powders or drinks provide the same benefit as sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade but without the excess sugar and corn syrup.
The branched-chain links leucine, isoleucine, and valine together creating essential proteins the body uses to function, move, dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.
- Leucine [ loo-seen] is the most important amino acid of the chain as it triggers the initiation of muscle protein synthesis and key metabolic functions like regulating blood-sugar level. Leucine aids in the growth and repair of muscle and bone tissue. It also helps in the wound healing process and plays a part stimulating growth hormone (GH) in the muscle tissue. Leucine also prevents breakdown of muscle proteins after trauma or severe stress and may be beneficial for individuals with phenylketonuria. Leucine is available in many foods and deficiency is rare.
- Isoleucine [ ahy-suh-loo-seen] is just as important for the body and found only in muscle tissue. The amino acid helps heal wounds and removes nitrogenous waste during the metabolic process. Isoleucine also helps regulate blood sugar but plays an extra role in the formation of hemoglobin (red blood cells). Last but not least, the BCAA helps stimulate immune function and hormones key for a healthy metabolism. Isoleucine deficiencies typically promote muscle twitches or tremors.
- Valine [ val-een] is most of the 20 amino acid proteins. Valine not only coordinates blood sugar but helps convert amino into glucose creating natural diazepam (Valium) which promotes mental vigor and calmness. Valine deficiency is usually marked by neurological defects in the brain.
During metabolism, each of the amino acids are literally assigned to specific roles in the process. Valine goes solely to carbohydrates, leucine solely to fats and isoleucine to both.
With testosterone the cornerstone for muscle production, in contrast cortisol is a catabolic hormone and breaks down muscle tissue. While cortisol production cannot be completely shut off, supplementing BCAAs can certainly help muscles recover quickly avoiding compounding muscle stress.
- Fast to Recover – BCAAs are rapidly absorbed in the bloodstream to reach muscles quickly bypassing first-pass metabolism in the liver.
- Better muscle “fuel” – BCAAs provide an additional fuel source for active and working muscle by providing efficient energy during prolonged exercise.
As mentioned above, BCAAs help in muscle recovery (testosterone to cortisol ratio) assisting in the speeding up overall protein synthesis.
BCAAs can be helpful when trying to build muscle, maintain lean muscle mass during caloric deficit (weight loss), or prevent muscle tissue stress during intense or endurance exercise.
If we had to rank beverages for recovery, we suggest water, BCAAs and then Gatorade or Powerade. While sports drinks are not all bad, the sugar and high fructose corn syrup common found in these drinks can tarnish any ounce of progress in muscle growth and recovery.
What are the benefits of supplementing BCAA?
BCAAs reduce muscle soreness and damage
Supplementing BCAAs by way of food, drink or pill before and following physical activity of any kind can reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – sometimes called second day soreness – is defined as pain or soreness for 24-72 hours after a workout. The pain typically peaks around 48 hours as lactic acid is built up in the muscle fibers. BCAAs may help alleviate the onsite of DOMS and keep the body hydrated to flush out all of the unpleasant lactic acid waste that’s built up in the muscle tissues.
BCAAs delay fatigue during endurance or long work-outs
BCAAs have shown to positively improve physical fatigue (peripheral) during exercise allowing the body to perform at steady pace. Actively “feeding” the muscles with BCAAs keeps the muscle fibers firing on all cylinders because the three acids are able to replenish lost nutrients by converting the amino into glucose, which in turn produces energy. While water and hydration is critical, BCAA drinks is a good combination during long and/or intense exercise.
When mental fatigue (central) sets in during physically or mentally stressful situations, BCAAs may be able to help replenish lost nutrients that help block mental fogginess or doziness (caused partially by tryptophan). Reference
BCAAs improve aerobic and VO2 max
According to a few small sample studies, BCAAs can improve aerobic and VO2max but we believe BCAAs simply influenced the athlete’s performance at a nutritional level not at the performance level. Nine well-trained cyclists’ vitals were measured during morning session and an afternoon session of exercise testing separated into BCAA or Placebo groups.
VO2 max is the volume (V) of oxygen (O2) your body can take in and efficiently process. A VO2max score includes:
- Lung capacity and heart volume: The wider your lungs can expand to intake oxygen the more oxygenated blood your heart can pump throughout your body.
- Capillary delivery: The more oxygenated blood that circulates throughout your body, the faster the blood gets transported to your muscle.
- Muscle efficiency: The faster your muscles are able to extract and use oxygen from your blood, the higher your VO2 score.
Quick tip on how to improve VO2 max: Exercising or running at 85% of your VO2 max 3 times a week can improves your muscles’ ability to process oxygenated blood. Simply divide your VO2 max pace by 85% by your best 1-mile pace.
BCAAs protect lean muscle mass
From ultramarathons to mountaineering and through hikes, BCAAs has been used to replenish and repair lost proteins during these strenuous activities. Rather than tapping into the body’s reserves to regain energy levels, the body can use the supplement BCAAs to fuel muscle fatigue. In non-extreme adventures like the above, during weight loss, BCAAs can help preserve muscle mass while the body is in a caloric deficit state (aka weight loss).
BCAAs can help improve the immune system
Overtraining or prolonged intense and high-volume exercise (like endurance running) can break down the body so much that the common fatigue starts suppressing the immune system. Using BCAAs during or after exercising or physical activity can combat issues from compounding fatigue.
BCAAs promote muscle protein synthesis
Probably the main reason to love BCAAs is protein synthesis. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or retain muscle, protein synthesis is crucial for looking and feeling your best. Without visible results, weight loss or working out can lose its luster pretty quickly. BCAAs can help efficiently build muscle.
Are BCAA Good for the liver?
The liver is the center piece for metabolism playing big role in breaking down fats and produce energy. Many specialists tell patients suffering from liver issues to supplement BCAAs because many people with cirrhosis [sĭ-rō′sĭs] or mild to moderate liver issues typically develop metabolic and nutrition disorders as well as protein deficiency leading to hypoalbuminemia (significant decrease in fat and muscle mass and causes muscle weakness).
Does the liver affect testosterone levels?
Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) is a protein produced within the liver that helps transport testosterone (an androgen), dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (androgen), and estradiol (an estrogen) in the bloodstream in both men and women. When these hormones are not bound to SHBG, they are considered “free” or “bioavailable” and able to affect the body. Bound and free testosterone is referred to as total testosterone. Some studies have shown that low testosterone is prevalent in 90% of men with cirrhosis and liver issues.
Researchers have found that estrogens may have a protective effect on insulin sensitivity. Testosterone is a major source of estrogen (estradiol (E2)) by way of aromatization (T converting to E2) in both men and postmenopausal women. Too much of either hormone can lead to serious issues, which is why it’s important to normalize T or E2 imbalances.
Testosterone helps regulate healing and repair within the liver. This repairing process is called lipolysis where the liver creates new tissue for itself and muscles aiding in the fight against compounding inflammation, which can lead to liver issues.
Overeating foods high in fat and carbohydrate combined with little to no exercise leads to a snowball effect inside the liver clogging up the normal process. Excess fatty acids that are not processed into energy suppress your metabolism.
What BCAAs do you suggest?
Be warned, not all BCAA drinks taste the same. Some taste really gross while other taste great. For example, powder Brands like Stance (found at Nutrishop) or Isopure (found at most gyms) taste good but brands like MGM Nutrition taste not-so-good but work just as effective.
If you don’t have a nutrition shop near you, Powerade recently released Powerade Ultra, which is actually pretty good and sugar free.
Powerade Ultra is made with creatine, branched-chain amino acids, vitamins B3, B6 and B12 and 50% more ION4 electrolytes than the original Powerade. They call it the ION4 because the blend helps replace sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium during or after work outs.
Medically peer reviewed by Dr. Kenneth LeCroy, MD. Written by Our Editorial Team.
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