Thursday, August 18, 2011

BCAA? Don't Trip Over Your Acronym!

by Kris Pitcher

What is a BCAA? And do I need that? Now, that's a good question. It depends on who you ask, what they're selling, and who's paying them. I'm not selling anything...and so far no body's paying me. All I've got is my opinion, a bunch of crazy hair and enough knowledge to help you make your own decision.

BCAA stands for branch chain amino acid. I work in higher education and the only place there are more acronyms is maybe the health/fitness industry. So, don't feel silly if you didn't know what a BCAA was. Let's start backward.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are critical components of metabolism and act as precursors in those functions. Some are non-essential, meaning our body can make them out of other ones. Fancy. Others are essential meaning we must get them from the foods we eat. There are 9 essential amino acids and we get them from eating protein.

There are three BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine, and valine (amino acids end in "ine"). These special amino acids have an alphatic side chain with a branch of carbon bound to more than 2 other carbon atoms. No, don't run away!

BCAAs are among the 9 essentials - we need to eat them, our body can't make them from others. These ones especially help us to aid in recovery, prevent protein catabolism, and promote protein synthesis. They are also a precursor for glutamine and alanine.

So, the question is do you need one. I don't know, and I'm not going to make a recommendation. Generally speaking, a diet sufficient in protein sources would provide the essential amino acids required for the average to elite athlete. Many whey products have them added. Read your labels.

My preference is a diet of whole foods vs. replacement foods or shakes. A post workout shake is a vital replacement anyone would recommend and if you added BCAAs that would be an ideal time to have them. Again, lots of varying ideas. You'll have to decide for yourself. At least now you won't trip over your acronym!

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