If you’re looking to maximize your gains and specifically your body’s uptake and synthesis of protein, Branched Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs should form part of your supplement regime.
In this article, we’ll give a brief overview of the main BCAAs, their function in our body and their importance for bodybuilders. We’ll also be looking at Optimum Nutrition’s BCAA 1000 capsules to see if they offer you the right mix and value for money.
What are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids are 3 of the 9 essential amino acid nutrients that our body’s obtain from proteins found in the food we eat, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. Without being too scientific, “Branched-chain” refers to their chemical structure.
In medicine, BCAAs are used to treat the symptoms of many health problems and diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrigs disease), liver diseases, poor appetite in patients suffering kidney disease or the effects of chemotherapy and others.
They are also used to slow muscle wasting of patients who are confined to bed for long periods due to illness or surgery.
BCAAs can also improve nerve transmission to the brain and therefore a person’s focus and mental awareness. Because of this, they’ve have been used in treating patients with certain disorders of the brain and can help athletes to focus during training or competition.
While all nine BCAAs are essential for overall good health, three, Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are of particular interest and offer a great benefits to us as bodybuilders as well as to other athletes.
The BIG 3: A short summary.
Unlike most other amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine are metabolized within muscle tissue rather than the liver. This allows them to be oxidized and used as energy by producing ATP ( Adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the primary source of energy that fuels muscle contraction when lifting weights or doing any other form of heavy exercise.
These 3 also have other properties which make them high on an athletes priority list.
Leucine: Leucine assists in maintaining the nitrogen balance in the body and supplies energy to the body during training. By doing this, it conserves glycogen used for muscle contraction. It also increases alertness and focus during your workout.
Probably the most important aspect of Leucine for us as bodybuilders is that it is one of the most important aminos for protein synthesis. Low levels of Leucine mean your body won’t be able to convert protein for building and repairing muscle tissue as efficiently.
Valine: Essential for the growth and repair of tissue, Valine also helps to maintain the nitrogen balance in your body. It can also be used as a source of energy for muscle tissue during exercise, again preserving your body’s glucose stores.
Isoleucine: Is a precursor for glutamine and alanine which our body’s need during intense physical activity like weight training. Isoleucine is also used as a fuel source by muscle cells to preserve others such as glycogen. Like other BCAAs, it’s also important for protein synthesis and has been found to have anabolic and anti-catabolic properties increasing endurance while reducing fatigue and muscle tissue break-down.
With pedigrees like these, it stands to reason, that these three make up the whole 1000mg of BCAAs contained in Optimum Nutrition’s capsules.
Optimum Nutritions BCAAs
Optimum Nutrition are famous and highly regarded throughout the supplement and bodybuilding industries for their Gold Standard Whey Protein. They’ve been in the business a long time and have built their strong reputation on high quality products at an affordable price. In recent years, ON have diversified, to offer other supplements such as the BCAA caps we’re reviewing here.
As the name suggests, each serving of ON’s BCAA 1000 contains 1000mg of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine (500mg), Isoleucine (250mg) and Valine (250mg) respectively.
While the dosage here is good, I think they could have included some other aminos into the mix such as Taurine and Alanine which are beneficial during and post workout.
One serving gives you 1000mg of BCAAs but here you need to remember that one serving is 2 capsules, so if you’re purchasing a 60 cap container, it’s only a 30 maximum day supply. However if you use them pre and post workout or as recommended by Optimum, between meals that supply will dwindle quickly.
Nutrition Info, Taste and Mix-ability
Being as these are amino acids, the calorific value is < 0 with no fat or carbs and as they are in capsule form taste and mix-ability aren’t relevant for this review.
BCAA 1000 capsules are sold in packs of 60, 200 and 400 capsules. The recommended retail prices are $11, $25, $35 respectively, so at $0.36 per serve or less they are well priced.
At the time of writing this review, there are some great deals on an already competitively priced product, with the best I found being the 200 pack for $12 from Allstarhealth.com ($0.12 per serve)
Because BCAAs are naturally sugary, they should be used with caution if you suffer from diabetes. They also interact with diabetes medications, so if you are diabetic, talk with your specialist before using BCAAs.
It’s also been reported that BCAAs cause the blood sugar level in infants to lower considerably. Researchers believe it is because Leucine causes the pancreas to release insulin, lowering blood sugar.
The research is not complete, but I recommend that if you are pregnant or breast feeding you should avoid using BCAAs or at least talk to your doctor before using them.
Pros and Cons
- BCAAs are medically proven and tested to improve protein synthesis, muscle recovery and growth as well as numerous other health benefits.
- Optimum Nutrition are a well established and respected supplement company.
- Easy to use capsules, so no mixing or taste issues.
- Very affordable even at higher dosages.
- They could contain more essential amino acids as I’ve mentioned to give a more complete profile.
If you have no medical reason to NOT use a BCAA supplement and you want to improve focus, endurance, gains and recovery (who doesn’t) then I strongly recommend adding them to your supplement stack.
As for Optimum Nutritions 1000 capsules, despite the fact they only contain 3 amino acids, they are the BIG 3 for athletes and in a very high dosage. They are very well priced and you have peace of mind knowing the company’s award winning reputation for high quality products, so I recommend them without hesitation.