BCAAs: the all-or-nothing approach to protein synthesis.

Written By: Jennie Cwikla, Master Sports Nutritionist

Got Gainz Bro? Not if you’re not getting adequate levels of these essential nutrients in your diet.

Day in and day out you’re putting in countless of hours in the gym to get in shape, look good, feel good, have more confidence, and to live a healthier life.  You’ve mastered the art of training, understanding reps and sets, to get stronger, to create more shape, to tone, or because you want to become more jaaacked, but have you considered that maybe you’re doing all the right things in the gym but it’s what’s going in your mouth (or lack of) that’s slowing you down?

How many of you walk through the gym with your water bottles filled with some sort of flavored colorful concoction in them but truly understand the benefits of what’s inside?  Hopefully you’re at least carrying a water bottle with water in it as if you’re not, well that’s a whole other conversation for another time.  I’m talkin about Branch Chains.  There’s hundreds of branch chain products on the market and most people have no clue what they’re taking or why.  They just do what their coach or trainer or friend tells them to take, but even few of those people know what they’re talking about.

Open your cabinet and pull out your branch chain amino acid product.  Look on the back where the label is and check out the ingredients.  What do you see?  Do you see a short list of items like leucine, isoleucine, and valine?  Or do you see a longer list of all kinds of words you can barely read much less say out loud like tryptophan, histidine, methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine, AND leucine, isoleucine and valine?

I’m going to explain below what these are and why it’s important to get ALL of the essential amino acids in your diet to help you build more muscle (faster), tone up and maintain the lean muscle you’ve worked so hard for all while following a strict, restrictive diet.

What is an amino acid?

Amino acids are a type of organic acid that contain both a carboxyl group (COOH) and an amino group (NH2).  There are 20 amino acids that come from protein and when they are linked together they create one COMPLETE chain of protein that can be used to repair and rebuild broken down muscle, support new tissue growth,aide in organ function and many other things. There are 9 essential branch chain amino acids and 11 non essential amino acids that together make up this complete chain of protein.  The 9 essential branched chain amino acids can only be obtained through foods in our diet or through supplementation.  Once these nine essential amino acids are found in the body they are then used to create the other 11 that are needed to complete the chain. Our bodies run on the all-or-nothing approach when it comes to protein synthesis. Meaning, that if you are not taking in these 9 essential amino acids through your diet being that you may be following some type of specialized program for contest prep or maybe because of allergies or other food preferences, you are definitely missing out on a number of these vital proteins and cutting down your body’s ability to grow and recover properly.

What benefits aside from protein synthesis come from branched chain amino acids?

  • Branch chains being that they are proteins and our bodies are made up of proteins and water, have many other benefits.
  • BCAA’s are acknowledged by the body as food, so on a restrictive diet, BCAA’s would actually help with appetite suppression and feelings of hunger. This works great during times of fasting.
  • BCAA’s can be used as fuel by the body, so if inadequate carbohydrate intake is causing the body to pull protein off itself to turn into a carbohydrate to be used when in need, then having those BCAA’s handy is going to protect lean muscle mass by being used instead of protein from skeletal muscle.
  • BCAA’s also help balance out electrolyte imbalances so for performance needs in or out of the heat, amino acids are going to help maintain the needs of the muscles “engine” for contraction.
  • BCAA’s help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)

Here’s a quick reference guide to each of the 9 Essential Amino Acids, their main functionality in the body and what foods you can find them in the most.

Amino Acid Benefit/Job/Uses Food Found In
Histidine involved in synthesis of hemoglobin, tissue repair, and strengthening immune system. found in soy beans, chicken, beef, wheat germ, raw salmon
Isoleucine It regulates blood sugar and boosts the body’s energy levels.It plays a key role in the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the various parts of the body and the production of hemoglobin, the part of the blood that contains iron.

Isoleucine is important in the efficient metabolism of glucose as manifested by the increase in the absorption of sugar.


eggs, chicken, fish, cheese, soy beans, seaweeds and turkey
Leucine delays the deterioration of muscle tissues through the significant increase in the production of muscle proteins 

Increases stamina and endurance


can be used for losing weight because it has the ability to dissolve visceral fat, the kind of fat found in the deepest layer of the skin that does not respond to the usual weight loss exercises or non-surgical procedures

cheese, soybeans, beef,chicken, pork, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and beans
Lysine Plays a key role in calcium absorptionPromotes the growth of hair, nails, teeth and bones

Prevents bone loss leading to osteoporosis

meat, fish, eggs, soybeans, poultry products, nuts and other dairy products
Methionine an effective antioxidant and helps in body metabolism in the cellular level 

Essential for human growth

nuts, beef, lamb,cheese, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, soy, eggs, dairy, and beans
Phenylalanine Relieves pain and fights depression Breast milk, milk, dairy products, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and nuts
Threonine An important ingredient in the formation of bone and cartilage cottage cheese, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, beans, poultry, fish, meat, lentils, corn, and various grains
Tryptophan To make protein in the body Turkey,Seeds, Nuts, Dairy
Valine Glutamine synthesis and an important source of nitrogen Cottage cheese, fish, poultry, peanuts, lentils


For more information on nutrition and supplementation, follow me on Facebook or Instagram @jenniecwikla or you can visit my website at www.valkyrieathletics.com