Know Your Nutrients: Branched Chain Amino Acids

BCAA Survival

Branched chain amino acids are very popular in the supplement and weight training world for their effectiveness in building and repairing muscle. As a prepper, this is of paramount importance to anyone who is undergoing physical stress through a bug out or defense situation. The ability to repair muscle also goes beyond gym application into the recovery of many tissues in the face of injuries. Does this sounds like something you need to be able to do in a post-collapse situation? If so, then read on to see if BCAAs should be in your emergency supplies.

Defining the Branched-Chain Amino Acids

The three amino acids which make up the category of BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are essential amino acids. They account for 40% of the amino acids required by mammals to survive. The reason they are referred to as branched-chain has to do with their chemical structure. They all have aliphatic side chains which lends to their characteristic ‘branched’ structure.

One of the important distinctions of this structure is the way it is metabolized. Instead of being metabolized in the liver like other amino acids, BCAAs can be metabolized locally in the muscle tissue or wherever they are being used structurally. This contributes to their important role in recovery of a number of tissues.

BCAAs: Recovery and Performance

As mentioned the application for BCAAs in recovery is most often noted for athletes and bodybuilders, however have been proven to help for far more serious conditions such as burn recovery. Part of their ability to affect recovery in such a holistic way can be attributed to their positive effect on blood. BCAAs have been shown to increase red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit in scientific studies.

In addition to helping the body recover, BCAAs have been shown in a number of studies to have a positive effect on performance. While this may be a ‘nice to have’ on the field or in the gym, in a situation of survival the smallest margins of performance can make the difference between life or death. One of the main markers of performance shown to be helped by BCAAs is fatigue. In a situation

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of bugging out over a period of few days, the ability to manage fatigue would be absolutely essential. We have seen with the recent events of Hurricane Sandy that not making it out before the crowd is as good as not making it out at all.

BCAAs and Insulin

One of the most intriguing findings related to BCAAs that has recently come out has to do with their effect on insulin. As we know, maintaining proper insulin response is one of the most important ways to maintain a working metabolism and prevent diseases such as diabetes and obesity. BCAAs have been shown to be effective in studies designed to treat diabetes and have been shown to even aid in weight loss. In a recent study in the journal Diabetelogia, sustained weight loss was positively correlated with BCAA content in the blood.


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by JP Martin