BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are one of the many supplements people can take to help improve their exercise performance and recovery.
What are amino acids?
Acid can sound a little intimidating, but amino acids are part of the essential makeup of your body. You may know that protein is a vital nutrient required by the body to function properly. Amino acids are the smaller building blocks that makeup protein. There are 20 different amino acids, and your body needs all of these to be able to function. Amino acids normally end in -ine such as alanine, arginine, glutamine etc.
These amino acids can be categorised into two main groups: essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids are not able to be produced by the body, and therefore, they are an essential part of your diet, as consuming them is the only way you can attain them. Non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body, and therefore it is not essential for you to consume them in your diet (although it wouldn’t hurt if you did!).
What contains amino acids?
Amino acids are commonly found in meats, eggs, whey protein, and other animal proteins. Animal proteins are generally considered ‘complete’ proteins as they naturally contain all 9 essential amino acids. However, you can also find amino acids in plant proteins such as chia seeds, beans, kidney beans, and peas. Generally plant proteins are lower in essential amino acids, meaning it can be a little harder (but not impossible) to consume enough essential amino acids. A diverse diet with a variety of vegetables, grains, and legumes can allow you to consume enough essential amino acids.
BCAA supplements traditionally include three essential amino acids; leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The ratios of these amino acids within the supplement can vary from brand to brand.
What benefits will BCAAs give me?
BCAAs are believed to help muscle synthesis (growth) and recovery during exercise. In fact, one study found that BCAA supplementation before a squat exercise session helped to decrease DOMS (the muscle soreness you can feel after exercise) and muscle fatigue after the session. To save you from all the scientific and technical language, essentially they believe that BCAAs may help to reduce any protein/muscle breakdown that can occur during exercise, and leucine may act to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis/growth.
Additionally, a study performed on resistance trained males found that BCAA supplementation increased muscle mass, strength, and fat loss more than groups who consumed whey or carbohydrate drinks after the workout.
Essentially it is believed that BCAAs can improve your recovery, make you stronger, leaner, and increase your muscle size.
Do I need to take BCAAs?
In summary, no you don’t need to take BCAAs. You can still improve your strength, fitness, and muscle growth without a supplement. You can also consume essential amino acids through your regular diet by eating a variety of protein sources. However, BCAA supplementation may help you to recover faster, and improve your muscle strength and growth.
Top 3 Mistakes Gym Newbies Make
1. Comparing Yourself to Others
You might walk into the gym on your first day and see fit, strong, ripped athletes lifting heavy weights. Some people want to be like them, and some people are intimidated by them. No matter which one describes you, it is important to remember not to compare yourself to them.
These individuals that you see have probably been training for a long time, much longer than you have. You might not be able to do as many sessions as them and recover, you might not be able to hit the weights they can, and you might not be able to hit the same goals they can. But that’s ok. You’re at the beginning of your journey, and they’re well into theirs. Trying to do what they can and compare yourself to them will most likely leave you injured and disheartened.
Compare yourself to you, and focus on improving yourself. Gradually build up your strength, volume of training, and technique base. Constantly trying to better yourself and improve your own performance will be a more rewarding and fruitful journey than trying to be like someone else.
2. Ignoring Proper Form
You need to build a strong foundation when it comes to your training, and in this context, that means learning and using the correct form for all exercises. Without a strong foundation, your fitness ‘house’ will crumble, likely leaving you injured and unable to train.
Building up proper form will take time, and will probably mean you will be lifting lighter weights and fewer reps than you may see the people around you doing. You need to understand that this process will take time, but will pay off for you in the long run. Trying to accelerate your progression before you are ready may work for a small period of time, but eventually, you will either burn out and get injured, or you will plateau.
3. Unrealistic Goal Setting
Goal setting is a great way to keep yourself motivated and on track. Remember that these goals may need to be fairly small and simple, to begin with and that if you are starting with no prior training experience you need to start building from the ground up.
It is important to set realistic goals that you will be able to achieve in a timely matter. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals are best, as they are structured to be realistic and motivating. It is a good idea to have performance goals (such as to hit a 60kg back squat or run 1km in 6 minutes) rather than purely aesthetic goals (such as weight loss or muscle building).
There are quite a few performance goals that can be set, and these can be achieved regularly. However, if you focus purely on aesthetic goals, this can sometimes be demotivating as they can take longer to achieve. Additionally, if you pick extremely large and unrealistic goals, such as making it to the Olympics for weightlifting 3 months into your training journey, you may also find yourself demotivated and disheartened. SMART and realistic goal setting includes both aesthetic and performance goals and will motivate you throughout your fitness journey.
No pain, no gain. It’s a famous saying and one we hear far too often in the fitness industry. But is it really safe to train through pain?
What is DOMS?
There are 2 major types of pain commonly associated with training, DOMS and injury pain. DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is the term used to describe the pain you may feel for one or two days after a tough training session. The pain is the result of microscopic tears and inflammation in the muscle and connective tissue. It is not something to be concerned about, and everyone from beginners to well-trained athletes experiences it. Injury pain, however, will result from an instance where your body has experienced some kind of acute trauma resulting in an injury. This kind of pain will generally be stronger, debilitating, and last for an extended period of time.
How Do I Know if I’m Injured or Have DOMS?
DOMS is described as a generalised pain, where you experience pain throughout a large area. An injury, however, will generally have more localised pain, meaning you experience pain is a smaller and more defined area.
2. Type of Pain
DOMS will cause your muscles to feel tight, achy, and sore to the touch. An injury is associated with sharp, stabbing pains that may occur both when the affected area is used and at rest.
If you experience pain on both sides of your body, for example, both legs, it is most likely DOMS. This is due to both sides being used equally during exercise. However, if you experience pain on one side such as in one hamstring, this may point towards an injury.
Injuries can be associated with localised swelling. DOMS can cause some swelling, however, this will be spread out over a larger area and not as obvious.
5. Give it Context
What happened in the previous few days before you started feeling pain? Did you start a new training cycle? Did you do a high volume of work? Then the pain you are feeling is probably DOMS. If you trained a week ago, but haven’t been able to train again due to pain in one shoulder, it might be an injury.
Did you hear a noise? A noise such as a pop or a crack may occur when an athlete injures themselves. This will not be the case with DOMS induced pain. If in Doubt, See a Professional!
Do you have some pain that hasn’t subsided for a few days? Or maybe you have pain that is very localised or asymmetrical. If in doubt, see a professional! A doctor or a physiotherapist will be able to help determine the source of your pain and formulate a plan of action to get you back to pain-free. You are better off seeking help earlier rather than later, as catching an injury earlier will make the rehabilitation process easier and faster.
So, Train Through Pain?
It is ok to train through minor cases of DOMS, as moderate exercise will not make your condition worse or cause an injury. The pain associated with DOMS usually subsides after a warmup and some stretching. But, if your pain is strong and debilitating, or you have an injury, it is best to lay off training. You can still train unaffected body parts, but training on an injury can cause it to become worse and lengthen your rehabilitation time.
At some point in our lives, each of us has probably watched ‘The Biggest Loser’ at least once. The race to lose the most weight brings with it a lot of emotions and many hours of exercise, with some of the winners losing well over 100kg. However, what is the real cost of the show?
While it may be hard to believe, there are some benefits and positive outcomes from The Biggest Loser. For starters, some individuals who compete on the show can make real, and dramatic changes to their lives. These individuals have previously tried to lose weight on their own, but have been largely unsuccessful. The show provides both support and advice that the participants may not have had access to without participating. By shedding their significant excess weight, they are able to have a new lease on life.
For people watching the show at home, they may feel inspired and more accountable. Walking into a gym, overweight individuals may not feel inspired or be able to relate to who they see around them. It can be intimidating as an overweight person to walk into a gym full of ripped and fit people, in turn making them more demotivated as there is no one they can relate to and they feel out of place.
By watching the show they may become more conscious about their dietary and exercise habits, and they are able to see ‘role models’ who are in a similar situation to themselves who are being successful at weight loss. These factors combined may be enough inspiration to lead them to overhaul their own bad habits and pursue a successful fat loss journey.
With rapid and dramatic weight loss, comes quite a few drawbacks.
Firstly, the exercise the participants are asked to complete on the show is extremely intense and can cause injuries and illness such as rhabdomyolysis, a condition where your muscles begin to break down causing severe muscle pain. The participants on The Biggest Loser are generally individuals who have not performed exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, in a long time. This sudden increase in activity coupled with a high body mass can be a recipe for injury.
Unmaintainable Weight Loss
Another issue with the rapid weight loss encouraged on 'The Biggest Loser' is it is most often not maintainable. The metabolism and hormones of the contestants are negatively impacted by the very low-calorie diets they are on in order to lose weight. As a result of these diets, the participants’ resting metabolic rate is often slowed, meaning they do not burn as many calories throughout the day before exercise.
A slower resting metabolic rate will predispose the participants to regain the weight they have just worked so hard to lose. Additionally, once they leave the show they must go back to a regular schedule which can include structured work or education and other real-life commitments. This change in timetable provides a vast change from the whole-day exercise sessions the participants are exposed to on the show. Quite simply, the participants do not know how to assimilate back into normal, everyday adult life and balance their commitments with an exercise regime.
Unhealthy Body Image
Some anecdotes from previous participants on the show also reveal what really went on in The Biggest Loser household. Not only were participants often shamed by images of themselves decorating the house, but the competitive nature of the show encouraged dangerous methods for weight loss. By dehydrating themselves the participants could achieve rapid weight loss which was better for the cameras, but not their health.
The focus on purely weight loss and not body composition does not reward individuals who started smaller than others and also does not take into consideration fat loss compared with muscle gain or muscle loss. The weight loss focus does not encourage a healthy, balanced lifestyle with fat loss and muscle gains, it promotes starvation.
SO WHAT'S MY OPINION
It’s important to remember that the Biggest Loser is a TV show, and it isn’t true life. As mentioned above, the way the show is filmed can be manipulated to make people seem as though they are losing more weight than they are – and this form of editing is not unique to The Biggest Loser.
When embarking on a weight loss journey, remember that losing fat is not the only goal. Setting goals around cutting out bad food choices is a great way to gradually improve your eating habits without rebounding and binge eating. Setting performance goals such as learning to squat 60kg or running 1km can be so much more rewarding than hitting your target weight.
Performance goals can be a much more encouraging way to motivate yourself through your weight loss journey other than purely aesthetic or weight-based goals. Also, the scale will fluctuate day to day, and is not always a reliable way to track your progress as gaining muscle may mean gaining the same amount of weight you just lost in fat. Taking photos, or even just noticing changes in the way your clothes fit you are much better ways of assessing your progress. Having looser jeans or starting to see your biceps pop soon become much more exciting than seeing the number go down on the scale.
It is also important to remember that because of the structure of the show, the contestants have a great support network. They cannot access the food they would normally eat, they are forced to exercise, and do not have to worry about real-life chores such as cooking a meal for the family, going to work, or getting children to various commitments. Therefore, it is important to take away from this that you cannot model your weight loss journey off what you see on TV.
Being in such a controlled environment makes it easy to lose weight, and assuming that will work for you as well will not allow you to make realistic plans and goals. Instead, be inspired by the changes the contestants have made to their lives and allow that to fuel your decision to take your health into your own hands. Set yourself realistic goals and expectations, and organise your nutrition and training around your actual life schedule. The harder you make things for yourself, the less likely you are to follow through. Don’t expect the world from yourself, just get started!
Anurag Gill is the Head Coach at HYDRA Movement in Moonee Ponds.