You work hard in the gym, placing stress on your muscles and fatiguing your aerobic system. When you head for the shower, your body is beaten up and broken down. What you put into your body over the next few hours is going to determine if you get bigger, better and stronger or smaller, weaker and worse.
The most important thing that your body needs during this critical period is amino acids. In this article, you’ll discover why you need to be taking amino acids before, during and after your workout.
The Vital Role of Amino Acids
When protein is taken into your body it breaks down into amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, with the body being able to manufacture 12 of them. That leaves eight, which are considered essential amino acids because they need to come from the foods that you eat.
The 8 essential amino acids are:
Of the essential amino acids, three have been shown to be especially beneficial for post workout recovery. These are leucine, valine and isoleucine, which are collectively known as the branch chain amino acids (1).
Amino Acids Before Your Workout
When you supplement with BCAA’s before your workout, you will be promoting muscle endurance and blunting fatigue. That’s because the BCAA’s, in contrast to other amino acids, are able to go directly into the muscle cell to be used as an energy source. This effect is enhanced when you are doing intense exercise like weight training (2).
Amino Acids During Your Workout
Taking a branch chain amino acid supplement during your workout will allow you to fast track these vital nutrients to your muscles cells while they are under stress and breaking down. Your body will be getting those rapidly absorbed amino acids precisely when it needs them.
As your workout drags on and BCAA levels get depleted in the body, tryptophan levels increase, which causes an increase in seratonin levels. This makes you feel tired, with the result that your strength and endurance are lowered.
The BCAA valine competes with tryptophan for entry into the brain, and normally overpowers it. As a result, less tryptophan is available to be converted to serotonin. This allows your muscles to contract with more force for longer. That is why supplementing with BCAAs during your workout is the key to maintaining your strength, power and training endurance (3).
Amino Acids After Your Workout
When you work out, you place stress upon your muscles, which causes micro tears in the tissue. The body is able to repair and rebuild the cell, actually making it bigger and stronger than it was before. But it can only do so with amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body.
That is why your body craves amino acids immediately after your workout. With them you will be able to push yourself into an anabolic, muscle building state. Without them, you will remain in a catabolic, muscle wasting state (4).
Leucine is the primary amino acid involved in protein synthesis. As a result, it is often referred to as the anabolic trigger, turning on protein synthesis. This is vital after your workout when your body is in a catabolic state.
Leucine is also the post workout amino acid of choice due to its ability to spike insulin levels. Leucine causes the pancreas to release more insulin. This helps to drive the aminos into the muscle cell where it stimulates muscle growth. Insulin, itself, also decreases the breakdown of muscle tissue and encourages greater muscle protein synthesis.
That is why you should take a BCAA supplement post workout that has a higher ratio of leucine. Look for a BCAA supplement that has a leucine:valine:iso-leucine ratio of 4:1:1
A number of studies have shown that BCAA supplementation reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise. Scientists believe that this is because supplementation with BCAA’s allows for a steady stream of muscle enhancing amino acids to saturate the bloodstream (5) (6).
Amino Acids and Libido
The amino acid arginine has been proven to be an effective booster of male sexual performance. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, which has the effect of relaxing the walls of our blood vessels. This, in turn, improves the circulation of blood throughout the body, including to the penis. This can dramatically improve erectile function.
With every passing decade beyond our twenties, we lose a few percent of our body’s testosterone levels. This makes us lose muscle and strength as we age. Amino Acids are the counter to that natural process. Ensuring that we get a plentiful supply will allow us to retain our hard won muscle and to stay strong as we age.
What’s the Ideal Amino Acid Intake?
To maximize your training performance and recovery, you should . . .
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs 30 minutes BEFORE your workout
- Sip from a water bottle fortified with 5 grams of BCAAs DURING the workout
- Take 5-10 grams of BCAAs AFTER the workout with a ratio of 4:1:1 in favor of leucine.
- Stoppani, Jim: Jim Stoppani’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Srength: Online Edition