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.

Our bodies need protein to build bone, skin, hair, nails, and cell membranes, and to manufacture blood, hormones, neurochemicals, immune cells, and enzymes. That's because proteins contain amino acids, a nutrient that provides our bodies with a constant supply of nitrogen and sulphur. Nitrogen and sulfur are also essential to the ongoing growth, repair and detoxification of all our cells. In fact, nitrogen balance (the measure of how much nitrogen is retained as opposed to excreted) is the measurement researchers use to determine protein requirements.

Twenty-three amino acids are considered biologically important. At least nine of these are deemed essential because our bodies can't manufacture them on their own. That's why we need a constant supply of complete protein from dietary sources such as beef, dairy products (especially high-alpha whey), poultry, fish, eggs, and vegetable proteins such as hemp, rice, alfalfa and Moringa.

Of the nine essential amino acids, the branched chain amino acids, which consist of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, seem to be the most important in terms of helping us maintain optimal muscle mass. Branched-chain amino acids (so named because of their unique branch-like shapes) comprise at least one-third of our skeletal muscle and are constantly depleted in order to provide more energy-especially during exercise. This biochemical process-called gluconeogenesis-converts branched-chain amino acids to 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 an alternative source of these amino acids, rather then the body having to strip its own muscle to obtain them.

In addition to their benefit to the bodybuilder and athlete and due to their significant value in protein metabolism, branched-chain amino acids have been studied for their benefits in reducing loss of body mass in patients who require bed rest, and for their ability to enhance healing time in those with severe burns and also in those recovering from cancer surgery. Aside from this, branched chain amino acids may also be able to slow or prevent cachexia (wasting syndrome) often seen in advanced cancers, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential applications for these amino acids.

All exercise physiologists understand the importance of the branched-chain amino acids when it comes to exercise. Many of these same fitness professionals advise supplementation of the branched-chain amino acids both before and after exercise to enhance performance and recuperation. 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. 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.

Branched-chain amino acids and weight loss
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 people go on the majority of unbalanced diets-especially without incorporating weight bearing exercise-they often lose muscle mass. This is also one of the primary reasons so many dieters hit a weight loss plateau where fat loss comes to a sudden halt.

In order to maintain an efficient metabolism-especially while dieting, it is imperative to ensure adequate protein intake, with special emphasis on the branched-chain amino acids. Research presented in the Journal of Nutrition showed that by adding proteins (approximately 125 grams/day) known for their high amounts of branched-chain amino acids, people were able to maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat during weight loss. The study looked at protein foods (125 grams each day for 10 weeks consisting of: 10 ounces of meat-including one beef serving-as well as three servings of low-fat milk or cheese) that provided optimal levels of the branched-chain amino acid, leucine. Dr. Donald Layman, professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois where the study was conducted said, "Traditionally, people have built a diet around low-fat foods, instead of high-quality protein foods. Study participants following the moderately high protein plan were twice as effective in maintaining lean muscle mass."

Fuelling up on branched-chain amino acids
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 grams 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 both before and after exercise. Better health and a slimmer you may only be a few shakes away!