Written by Carina Fabia
Last updated on: Sep 18, 2022
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Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) have become a popular supplement for athletes and fitness enthusiasts as a performance enhancer. But can Branched Chain Amino Acids help with weight loss? Does it break fat down? We have the answer.
Branch chain amino acids can help with weight loss by regulating glucose and blood sugar levels in your body, helping you stave off cravings. BCAAs also help you maintain muscle mass and perform at a higher level in the gym.
BCAAs are primarily used to gain muscle mass (and therefore weight) or for muscle recovery. Still, they are also incredibly effective at helping you reduce body fat, shed pounds, and create a cut physique.
But using them exclusively as a weight loss supplement is only tapping into a fraction of the potential it has to help you build the perfect, “cut” physique that you should be targeting.
Branched chain amino acids are fundamental to your body’s process of breaking down and utilizing protein. The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
However, performing-enhancing supplements will mostly consist of isoleucine, valine, and leucine, which aid in maintaining muscle mass (1). All of the nine essential BCAAs can be manufactured by the body and are naturally occurring, so supplementing your diet with BCAAs is considered safe, with no side effects when taking the correct dosages at the correct times. Three BCAAs are important for maintaining muscle mass and losing weight, namely Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine (6).
Leucine is the essential amino acid that is considered the most important ketogenic acid in the human body. It promotes protein biosynthesis, the process within cell structures that balance the loss of cellular proteins by creating new proteins (2).
Isoleucine is also used in the biosynthesis process and helps employ other biosynthesis enzymes like leucine through the intermediary in metabolic pathways, known as pyruvate.
Valine is another essential amino acid that is synthesized through pyruvate. It is specifically useful in promoting insulin resistance, which is associated with weight loss.
Branched chain amino acids may help enhance your weight loss strategy by helping you regulate your blood sugar and glucose levels. With your liver releasing BCAAs into your blood system, your body can avoid fluctuations and steady drops in your blood sugar, which make you crave high-calorie foods.
This is helpful with “cut diets”, which focus on restricting calories and carbohydrates. These cut diets reduce your carbohydrate storage and lead the body to burn fat to fuel itself, which results in fat loss (5).
However, while caloric restriction does help with fat loss, it can also lead to declines in muscle mass (8). And neglecting other essential nutrients puts you at risk of illnesses and disease. Therefore, an insufficient protein intake (which BCAAs help with) is not conducive to maintaining muscle mass.
BCAA supplements aid in maintaining lean muscle mass as well as muscle recovery both pre-and post-workout. Over and above this, Branched Chain Amino Acids can help you increase the intensity of your workouts and reduce fatigue.
And by triggering protein synthesis and inhibiting the breakdown of muscle cells, it improves your body’s ability to gain muscle mass (9).
Therefore, it is recommended that you exercise in conjunction with your calorie-restrictive diet to give your body more shape and aid in your weight loss goals (7).
However, if you are a vegan or follow a diet low in protein, you will need to use protein supplements to see the full effects of your BCAA supplements.
Branched chain amino acids are not only beneficial for weight loss but have a plethora of benefits (some of which we’ve already covered. Let’s take a look at some of the additional benefits of taking BCAA supplements:
As we’ve already discussed, there is plenty of evidence to support the notion that branched chain amino acids promote muscle growth. This is because they activate the enzymes that build muscle in your body. This is particularly true for BCAA supplements with higher portions of leucine, isoleucine, and valine (4).
However, this requires you to follow a high protein diet as well, where you consume protein-rich foods like dairy, eggs, and meat so that the BCAA supplements have protein to synthesize.
Branched chain amino acids can also help you to exercise for far longer. BCAAs can help to restore serotonin converting tryptophan levels in your body. This helps reduce fatigue and mental focus, allowing you to spend more time in the gym working off that excess fat and building or maintaining muscle (9).
Branched chain amino acids can also reduce pain in your muscles after exercise. They lower the presence of enzymes that create muscle damage, such as creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase. This is why BCAAs are touted as a great supplement for people going through rehabilitation exercise programs (4).
Over and above the benefits it has for your body when your dieting and exercising, BCAA’s have other long-term health benefits like reducing the risk of diabetes and liver disease (7).
For example, BCAAs can reduce the severity of complications such as hepatic encephalopathy (HE), which is associated with liver failure – although it doesn’t affect survival rate, it mitigates some symptoms like gastric bleeding. It also helps to reduce water retention, which reduces cancer risks (10).
BCAAs also help elevate insulin levels, which makes them an effective diabetes treatment.
You may not be intent on taking branched chain amino acids in the form of capsules or supplements and would prefer to increase your natural intake through your diet (3). So what are the best foods to eat that contain high levels of BCAAs? Add these foods to your protein-rich diet to enjoy the benefits that BCAAs will have on your health and fitness:
• meat, poultry, and fish
• beans and lentils
• dairy items such as cheese and milk
• tofu and tempeh
• nuts and seeds
Branched chain amino acids can help you lose weight by staving off cravings and supplementing a low-carb, calorie-restricted diet. However, they also have several other benefits for your fitness regimen, including helping to build and maintain muscle mass, reducing fatigue, muscle soreness, and other health risks. You can take BCAA supplements or simply add BCAA-rich foods to your diet to achieve weight loss and exercise goals.