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An Athlete's Guide to Amino Acids

Author: Ashleigh Atkinson Contributing Author, MHK

Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a staple in many gym-goers shaker cups. They are a must-have supplement and are often consumed pre, intra-, and post-workout for the performance and recovery benefits they offer. If you step into the gym looking to improve your physique, you may benefit from this supplement even more than you thought.

Amino Acids Basics

Amino acids are commonly known as the building blocks for protein as the majority of our muscles are made up of them. They perform a number of functions from nutrient transport and storage to repairing tissues, including muscle.

While there are approximately 20 amino acids, nine are considered essential, meaning the body needs you to provide them to survive. Of these nine, three account for 35% of the amino acids found in muscle protein: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

When you purchase a BCAA supplement, whether it’s a powder or capsule, it’ll be a blend of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Commonly, the ratio between the three is a 2:1:1 split, whereby you get two parts leucine for every one part isoleucine and valine.

Why You Need Them

For athletes, BCAAs play an important role in retaining muscle mass during phases of serious dieting. Cutting down on your body fat means reducing calories and increasing your energy output, potentially putting your body into a catabolic state. During times of decreased energy input (in the way of calories), the body will start to look for energy sources from within. While we wish it would draw from fat, muscle is an easier energy source, so your body will break this tissue down for fuel.

Protein synthesis is the process in which muscle is generated and is supported by the nutrients you take in throughout the day. While it can be difficult to maintain a high enough intake for this to happen when you’re dieting, by supplementing with the proper nutrients you can protect the mass you have.

The purpose of training is to cause damage to the muscle fibers and then support their growth through recovery and nutrition. Enhancing the body’s ability to recover will allow you to return to training at your full potential sooner, yielding more growth in the long-term.

In terms of both of these factors—muscle retention and better recovery—BCAAs have a positive impact and should be included in your supplement line-up.

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Amino Ammo for Athletes

When it comes to training and athletic performance, muscle retention and improved recovery are of the utmost importance. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three amino acids to focus on to make the most of these factors, each offering their own unique benefit.

Leucine is the star amino acid as it has the ability to turn on protein synthesis, which stimulates muscle growth. In fact, its impact on this process is far greater than that of any other amino. Adequate levels of leucine activate mTOR, an anabolic pathway that dictates the ability for muscle to initiate protein synthesis. When leucine levels are lacking, mTOR is deactivated, halting protein synthesis. Leucine acts as a catalyst to help prevent your body from entering a catabolic state, whereby the signal for protein synthesis is removed.

During periods of intense dieting, you may not have the calories to actively build more muscle or to activate protein synthesis. By maintaining sufficient levels of leucine through supplementation, you can at least protect the mass you have already built.

Isoleucine is also related to tissue repair, but not to the same extent as leucine. The main benefit of isoleucine is its ability to assist with glucose uptake into muscle cells. By increasing the amount of glucose in the cell, there’s more energy to fuel intense training sessions and to support repair following training.

Often, training during cutting phases can be frustrating as energy levels bottom out rapidly. Supporting your body to maximize the nutrients it has, and increasing the ability to deliver them to the cell, can produce better sessions for improved results.

Valine, the third amino acid, supports the roles of leucine and isoleucine. Specifically, it helps to prevent muscle breakdown by providing extra glucose during training. It’s not as efficacious at either of these tasks as leucine and isoleucine are, but it assists them in doing their jobs. Additionally, valine helps with the removal of nitrogen from the liver, transporting it to tissues in the body when needed, such as during training sessions.

How Much You Need

Knowing how beneficial these three amino acids are to your physique goals, you’ll want to ensure you’re supplying your body with what it needs. While these compounds can be purchased individually, KAGED MUSCLE has taken the guesswork out of it for you and developed a comprehensive fermented BCAA product.

As a base, you get amino acids from the foods you eat throughout the day. Specifically, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are predominantly found in proteins including animal sources, eggs and egg whites, as well as beans, lentils, and nuts. A 6oz serving of chicken breast will provide you with a dose of all three aminos, in approximately a 2:1:1 ratio.

However, when it comes to serious athletes, supplementation is beneficial to help keep these levels elevated, especially around training sessions. Dosages should fall in the following ranges to be of benefit:

Leucine: 2.5 – 5g

Isoleucine: 1 – 2.5g

Valine: 1 – 2.5g

When Should You Take Them?

While you’ll ingest amino acids throughout the day from your diet, timing your supplementation doses for optimal use is of interest to athletes. Due to the multi-faceted benefits of BCAAs, they’re helpful at numerous points throughout the day.

After a full night’s sleep, your body has been in a fasted state for upwards of seven to eight hours. Taking 5g of BCAAs upon waking can help protect your muscle mass, especially if you’re unable to eat upon rising. Additionally, BCAAs are of benefit here as your body can process them quickly, ensuring they’re put to work immediately.

Pre- and post-workout are critical times to use BCAAs for their performance and recovery benefits. Approximately 15 – 30 minutes before you plan on starting your workout, you should take 5g of BCAAs to fuel your workout. Within 45 – 60 minutes following training, you’ll want to get another 5g of BCAAs into trigger protein synthesis and add in recovery.

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Glutamine: The Essential Non-Essential Amino Acid

While the focus has been on the three essential amino acids that make up the majority of those found in muscle protein, we need to pay respect to glutamine. It is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body can make it. However, for athletes, supplementing with additional glutamine can prove to be advantageous in the right circumstances.

Glutamine has a wide range of applications in the body. It passes the blood-brain barrier easily and has been linked to improved brain function, memory, and concentration. It also helps the body eliminate nitrogen and lactic acid. Finally, glutamine has been regarded for its ability to assist in the repair of the gastrointestinal tract, which is vital for athletes looking to change their physique. Without ideal digestion, nutrients are unable to be put to use.

For athletes, glutamine can also be used as a source of fuel for energy. This is especially important during dieting phases, where carbs are drastically reduced. In this case, glutamine can help preserve lean mass, giving your body fuel to burn before turning to muscle as a source of energy.

A typical supplement dose is 5g. During phases of lowered carbs, athletes can take upwards of 15-20g of glutamine throughout day, based on their level of output. When using higher doses, they should be split up and taken at various points throughout the day.

Quality Over Quantity

All supplements are not created equally and if you’re taking your health and training seriously, you will want to fuel your body with the best. Ensuring that the supplements you buy have been derived from pure sources and are dosed appropriately are good checks and balances to do.

Through the fermentation of vegetable sources, amino acids are derived. This process is both costly and time intensive, but yields a cleaner and more beneficial product. On the other hand, many companies will put animal by-products through chemical extraction to end up with amino acids. At KAGED MUSCLE we use fermentation processes for our amino acids including BCAAs and glutamine. You’ll find that our BCAAs dissolve completely and rapidly in water due to the purity of the ingredients.

Using MICROPURE ingredients, you can be assured that the doses listed on the products are what you will be supplementing your body with. No fillers or by-products are used, guaranteeing that you get what you need. Finally, in order to appeal to a wide audience, KAGED MUSCLE ensures our aminos are non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegan.

You’ve done your homework to know what supplements your body needs, but don’t stop there. Put the time into learning more about the products before you use them. A healthy body always performs better!

When you’re browsing the supplement selections, you want to be an informed consumer. Having the knowledge of what supplements do as well as what you personally require, can help you make certain that you buy what you need.

Amino acids are the building blocks of our cells, especially muscle tissue. Due to the fact that training promotes the oxidation of BCAAs, depleting your stores of these essential nutrients, supplementing adequately will go a long way in helping you retain lean mass and recover as quickly as possible. In order to keep your body functioning at its full potential, ensuring that your amino acid levels stay topped up should be at the top of your training checklist.

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