From Charles Poliquin
Take the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) during training if you’re trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. A common pitfall to fat loss is that it’s difficult to increase muscle at the same time, and training “feels” much harder if you are working out on low energy stores. Taking BCAAs and supplemental protein can solve this problem. New research shows that providing your body with an extra pool of amino acids can have a profound effect on fuel utilization to promote fat burning and protein synthesis.
Researchers analyzed what happens when trained athletes performed a high-intensity cycle workout to exhaustion with low muscle glycogen. One group took a protein supplement that provided the BCAAs and the other took a placebo before and during the workout.
To review, your body stores the carbohydrates you eat as muscle glycogen, and it favorably calls on glycogen over fat for energy during training. However, an excellent way to lose fat and increase your work capacity is to use training cycles in which you exercise with low muscle glycogen. Then, when you compete, or simply go back to training with full energy stores, your work capacity is enhanced and you are leaner—can’t go wrong there.
The concern is that athletes who train with low glycogen will lose muscle mass over time, which is where BCAAs and protein come in. The study in question found that by taking a protein supplement before the exhaustive exercise test, protein synthesis pathways were enhanced post-workout compared to the placebo trial. Researchers suggest that training with low glycogen but increased protein availability is a beneficial way to help athletes build muscle and improve performances. Although not shown in this study, it may also lower the rating of perceived exertion by alleviating central fatigue.
This was seen in a previous study that showed that BCAAs improved mood scores in young men after a tough workout. The BCAA group also recovered faster than a placebo group, reporting less fatigue two hours after the workout. Any coach knows that minimizing the sensations of physical stress and pain during high-intensity training is a benefit for getting trainees to work harder and faster.
To recap the benefits of BCAAs and protein include the following:
1) Greater work capacity and reduced sensations of fatigue.
2) Enhanced protein synthesis for bigger muscle gains—this is especially effective when trying to lose fat.
3) Faster recovery after hard workouts allowing for less soreness and more frequent intense training.
Taylor, C., et al. Protein Ingestion Does Not Impair Exercise-Induced AMPK Signaling When in A Glycogen-Depleted State: Implications for Train-Low Compete-High. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2013. Published Ahead of Print.
Hsu, M., Chien, K., et al. Effects of BCAA, Arginine, and Carbohydrate Combined Drink on Post-Exercise Biochemical Response and Psychological Condition. Chinese Journal of Physiology. April 2011. 542), 71-78.