Dieting, with the aim of getting shredded and defined, can come at a price, in the form of shaving size from your muscles. BCAAs can help protect your muscles against the catabolic effects of dieting!

Recent years has seen a revival of branched-chain amino acid supplements in the bodybuilding and fitness communities and with good reason; there’s more research that supports the use of BCAA’s than most other supplements on the market.

While BCAA supplementation may be useful for gaining skeletal muscle, BCAAs are especially helpful for maintaining mass while on a calorie-deficit diet; they’re particularly useful for bodybuilding competitors who take their physiques to the lean extreme.

Although dieting down makes you look awesome onstage, on the beach, and to your friends, it can also take a large chunk out of your muscle mass.

How Dieting Can Cause Muscle Loss

The body’s ability to store fat is a feat of evolution and a natural, inbuilt protective energy store. The body does all it can to hold onto these energy stores. While most people have heard the word anabolic, dieting is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown. When you diet, the body tries to retain its energy stores and instead turns to muscle for its immediate energy requirements.

On the molecular level, muscle loss occurs because the body increases protein breakdown (catabolism) in order to strip muscle amino acids for metabolic fuel. On top of this, muscle loss is compounded by the fact that levels of muscle protein synthesis will also decrease due to reduced energy intake.

The basic equation for muscle mass is: Muscle mass = rate of protein synthesis – rate of protein breakdown.

When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don’t gain or lose muscle. If the rate of synthesis is higher than the rate of breakdown, you get muscle growth. When the rate of breakdown is higher than the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle. If you’re dieting, you can be compounding the equation, raising muscle breakdown and lowering protein synthesis.

Working out negatively increases the metabolic effects of dieting. The leaner you get, the more lethargic you can become. This can directly impact your training; if you’re too tired or weak to lift as heavy as your body is used to, your muscles will adapt, and they won’t use as much energy to get the work done.

The above scenario leads directly to, at bedt, a lack of increase in muscle mass and at worse, a decrease.

Luckily, There Is A Way You Can Keep Your Muscles

Here are the ways branched-chain amino acids can help you keep your muscles while you’re dieting.

Increase Protein Synthesis

Branched-chain amino acids (which are the essential amino acids valine, isoleucine, and leucine) stimulate muscle protein synthesis, potentially more than a normal protein on its own. Protein synthesis is the metabolic process when your body makes new muscle protein; think an increase in size.

Reduce Protein Breakdown

Increasing your BCAA intake also work in your favour by reducing the rate of protein breakdown. BCAA’s do this by decreasing the activity of the protein breakdown pathway, and also by decreasing the expression of several complexes involved in protein breakdown. (They decrease the amount of mRNA produced from the gene that codes for these components).

Increasing synthesis and decreasing breakdown equates to muscle gain and/or maintenance.

BCAAs And Glucose Levels

Maintaining optimum glucose levels is important for health, as well as building  muscle. Branched-chain amino acids play an important role in regulating glucose. They are continuously released from the liver and other internal organs to skeletal muscles to maintain blood sugar levels. Having enough of these amino acids in the body can help improve glucose uptake and insulin sensitivity in healthy people.

These essential amino acids are responsible for a large portion of blood sugar production during workouts. This is vitally important, if you work out in a fasted state or if you’re on a calorie restricted diet.

When you have a balanced carbohydrate, high-protein, and amino acid beverage during and post-exercise, this can induce an insulin response. The insulin response helps transport aminos into cells to repair muscle damage and build muscle tissue. You are essentially replenishing the anabolic building blocks that your body needs to for repair and to help reduce post training soreness.

Taking BCAA’s Pre-workout

BCAA amino acids bypass the liver and go directly into the blood plasma, providing an immediate energy source during high-intensity workouts. Valine and isoleucine are glucogenic amino acids, meaning they can be converted to glucose to give you energy, which can help you fight fatigue during your muscle-building workouts.

The Difference Between Essential And Non-Essential Amino Acids

You have probably heard, or read about Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s) and Brainched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), so what is the difference? Essential amino acids include all the amino acids that cannot be made by the body; thee include BCAA’s. You must get them from protein foods. There are nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine. Your body makes other, non-essential amino acids by itself from vitamins and other amino acids.

The term “non-essential” can be misleading since all amino acids are essential for proper metabolism and certain non-essential amino acids, such as glutamine, become very essential during illness or trauma. The 13 non-essential amino acids are alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, cysteine, cystine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, hydroxyproline, proline, serine, and tyrosine.


How much BCAA’s should you be taking? The standard dosage for isoleucine is 48-72 milligrams per kilogram of body weight and the recommended dosage for leucine is between 2-10 grams. This equals about 20 grams of combined amino acids with a balanced ratio of leucine and isoleucine.

This would be the equivalent of consuming natural food protein sources a ratio of 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

Don’t over do it with the BCAA’s though, as taking too much can overstimulate insulin signals, and cause insulin resistance.


Whether your goal is muscle building or weight loss, supplementing with branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) can support the metabolic processes that make it happen. They can also make your gym workouts more effective and decrease recovery times.

You can get these amino acids from foods, but dietary BCAAs won’t hit your blood plasma as fast as BCAA supplements. You can take BCAA supplements before, after, and/or during your workout. You can also sip on these amino acids between meals to stay in an anabolic state as much as possible.