Trainers, forums, gyms and almost the entire sports community focused on fitness and bodybuilding have promoted the benefits of amino acids in increasing muscle development. That has made a huge variety of products, from pills, bars, jellies and smoothies, all of them with a high protein content.
However, the popularity of the protein has also meant that less attention has been given to the investigation of its potentially negative side effects. That is precisely what a team of scientists from the University of Sydney has done, led by Stephen Simpson and Samantha Solon-Biet.
The results, published in Nature Metabolism, suggest that while its benefits related to muscle development are true, excessive consumption of basic and essential branched amino acids (BCAA) can reduce life expectancy, negatively affect the state of encouragement and lead to weight gain.
Simply put: BCAAs are excellent for adding muscle mass, but science says you could pay for it later.
“Although it was shown that diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates are beneficial in certain aspects,” notes Solon-Biet in a statement, “they had detrimental effects on health in the middle stage of life, and also led to a more life short. What this new research has shown is that the balance of amino acids is important: it is better to vary protein sources to ensure that the best balance of amino acids is obtained.”
The problem is the following. Using BCCA supplements along with the proteins that are already consumed regularly, causes high levels of these amino acids in the blood to compete with tryptophan (another essential amino acid) to travel to the brain.
“Tryptophan,” Simpson adds, “is the only precursor of the hormone serotonin, known as the” happiness hormone” for its positive effects on mood and its role in promoting sleep. But serotonin does more than that, and therein lies the problem. When tryptophan does not reach the brain in adequate amounts, serotonin levels are reduced and appetite increases. The decrease in serotonin caused by excess BCAA intake led to massive overfeeding in our mice, which became extremely obese and had shorter lives.”
The mice were fed twice the normal amount of BCAA (200%), the standard amount (100%), half (50%) or one fifth (20%) for life. Mice that were fed 200% BCAA increased their food intake, resulting in obesity and a shorter life.
The authors point out the importance of varying protein sources to obtain a variety of essential amino acids, through a healthy and balanced diet. Red and dairy meats are the richest sources in BCAA. Vegetarians can find BCAA in beans, lentils, nuts and in soybeans. Meanwhile, tryptophan-rich foods include seeds and nuts, soy, cheese, chicken, turkey and, interestingly, crocodile.
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