Protein intake is imperative during weight loss to maintain an efficient metabolism. Protein also plays a role when we exercise by repairing muscle damage.
Our bodies need protein because it contains amino acids, a nutrient that provides our bodies with a constant supply of nitrogen and sulphur, necessary for the ongoing growth and repair of all our cells.
Of the 23 amino acids considered biologically important, nine of these are deemed essential–in other words, the human body cannot manufacture them on its own. That’s why we need a constant supply of complete protein from dietary sources such as beef, dairy products, poultry, fish, eggs, and vegetables such as hemp and soy.
Branched-chain amino acids, which consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, seem to be the most important to help us maintain optimal muscle mass. Branched-chain amino acids (so named because of their unique branchlike structure) comprise at least one-third of our skeletal muscle and are constantly depleted in order to provide more energy, especially during exercise.
This process of depletion–called gluconeogenesis–converts branched-chain amino acids into the amino acid alanine, which is then transported to the liver and converted into glucose. By consuming high-quality proteins that are strong sources of branched-chain amino acids at regular intervals throughout the day, we provide our bodies with a constant source of these amino acids.
The amount of muscle we carry dictates how many calories we are able to burn each day (referred to as our resting metabolic rate). The problem is, when we eat poorly without incorporating weight-bearing exercise, we often lose muscle mass. This is also one of the primary reasons so many dieters hit a weightloss plateau.
In order to maintain an efficient metabolism, especially while dieting, it is imperative to ensure adequate protein intake, with special emphasis on branched-chain amino acids. Research presented in the Journal of Nutrition in 2003 showed that by adding a daily dose of 125 grams of protein, participants were able to maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat during weight loss over 10 weeks. Protein sources consisted of meat, low-fat milk, or cheese.
Exercise physiologists have long understood the importance of the branched-chain amino acids when it comes to exercise. Many of these same fitness professionals advise supplementation, both before andafter exercise, of the branched-chain amino acids.
Studies indicate that branched-chain amino acids exert their muscle-supporting functions by either stimulating protein synthesis (the manufacturing of new proteins) or by decreasing the breakdown of proteins in muscle tissue. Japanese researchers have discovered that branched-chain amino acid supplementation both before and after exercise can help to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and support the growth and repair of muscle cells.
Branched-chain amino acids can be found in animal and dairy proteins, with whey proteins containing the highest levels. High-quality whey protein formulas can contain anywhere from 4 to 7 g of branched-chain amino acids per serving. This is an effective dosage according to numerous studies. For best results, try using a high-quality whey protein isolate prior to and upon completion of your exercise routine. Better health and a trim waistline may only be a few shakes away.
From Bodybuilding to Cancer Care
Branched-chain amino acids have been studied for:
- enhancing performance during and recuperation after exercise
- reducing loss of body mass in patients who require bedrest
- enhancing healing time for severe burns
- slowing or preventing cachexia (wasting syndrome) often seen in advanced cancers