Pro BCAA is Optimum’s most recent intra-workout/amino-based supplement which features a relatively straight-forward blend of BCAAs, Glutamine, and an anti-oxidant blend…[Skip to the Bottom Line]
GRAPE SEED EXTRACT:
A 2012 study, published in the “British Journal of Nutrition”, found that Grape Seed Extract was able to reduce exercise induced oxidative stress while simultaneously increasing Nitrix Oxide levels in rats. These findings were replicated in a 2013 study from “Phytotherapy Research”, also using rats. Despite these promising preliminary findings, there are no human studies to test whether these benefits extend to humans, let alone exercising humans. However, given the popularity of Grape Seed Extract in recent years, such studies are likely underway.
RED WINE GRAPE EXTRACT:
Red Wine Grape Extract is generally standardized for Resveratrol. Resveratrol has gained massive popularity in recent years as an anti-aging supplement, though there is really no evidence which indicates it can extend the lifespan of humans. That being said, it is a relatively potent antioxidant which has implications for overall cardiovascular health. A 2012 study, published in “The Journal of Physiology”, concluded that Resveratrol was able to improve exercise performance via augmenting fatty acid oxidation in rats. However, as with Grape Seed Extract, there are no studies in humans upon which to draw solid conclusions.
Bioflavonoids refers to a class of related nutrients which can further be broken down into subsets (antoxanthins, flavanones, flavanonols, flavans, anthoxyanidins). Ultimately, the benefits of citrus bioflavonoids are the same benefits that can be obtained through a diet rich in citrus fruits. These compounds tend to be anti-carcinogenic as well as beneficial for bone health and reducing fat mass over-time (not short-term fat-burning).
Leucine is an amino acid that belongs to the group known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). In most BCAA products, there is a higher concentration of Leucine than the other two BCAAs. The most common ratio, the ratio found in Pro BCAA, is 2:1:1 of with the higher weight being Leucine. While there is no reliable scientific evidence to indicate one true “optimal ratio”, several studies have confirmed that Leucine is the most important BCAA in regards to muscle protein synthesis. Supplemental Leucine has been shown to increase protein synthesis in rats as well as humans in dozens of studies. A 2012 study found that supplementation with 12 g of L-leucine per day resulted in improved protein synthesis in elderly males consuming a low protein diet, indicating that it may be especially useful for those with low protein intake. Since Leucine is the most studied of the three BCAAs, its mechanism of action has been established. Leucine works via activation of Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) which is a signaling protein that signals the body to synthesize protein. To put it simply, Leucine signals mTOR which in turn stimulates protein synthesis.
While Leucine is the most important with regards to muscle protein synthesis, Isoleucine appears to have unique benefits regarding glucose uptake by muscle cells (while lowering blood glucose). In several rat studies, Isoleucine has effectively lowered blood glucose and increased glucose uptake into muscle cells. While the effect of Isoleucine (in isolation) on muscle glucose uptake has not been studied in humans, BCAAs in general due appear to induce glucose uptake, and based on the rat studies this may be due to Isoleucine more so than the others.
Valine appears to possess the least unique benefit, but there are claims circulating that Valine may reduce mental exercise-induced fatigue by reducing the amount of Tryptophan available for Serotonin synthesis. A 2001 study concluded that Valine lowered the amount of exercise-induced 5-HT (Serotonin) in mouse hippocampuses. During exercise Tryptophan is transported to the brain where it is converted into Serotonin. It is hypothesized that Serotonin is responsible for mental fatigue. It has also been established that BCAA directly compete with tryptophan for the same pathway to the brain, and therefore may reduce the amount of Tryptophan available for Serotonin production. This would explain certain subjective anti-fatigue effects of BCAA supplementation noted in a few studies. However, the claim that Valine is solely responsible for this effect is unsubstantiated by human studies. Given the current literature, it appears more likely that BCAAs in general help to attenuate fatigue.
BCAAs IN GENERAL:
A 2004 study conducted by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences found that BCAA requirement was significantly increased by exercise and that supplementation had “beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis”. A second study, published in the “American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism”, found that while BCAA intake did not seem to affect amino acid concentration during exercise, it did have a protein-sparing effect during recovery. If you consume a diet rich in complete proteins, then you already receive enough dietary BCAAs to fulfill all normal physiological functions. However, this in no way means you cannot derive added benefit from supplementing with BCAAs.
A 2009 study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” tested the effects of BCAA supplementation in comparison to whey protein supplementation or simple carbohydrates (from a sports drink) in athletes. All subjects consumed the same diet and participated in the same physical training regimen. At the end of the 8 week study, the BCAA group significantly outperformed both the whey group and carbohydrate group in terms of lean body mass as well as strength. Results like these make us question whether skeptics of BCAAs have even bothered to read the literature. There is more than enough evidence to conclude that BCAA supplementation can have a significant anabolic effect in both protein deficient AND non-protein deficient humans.
A major criticism of BCAA supplements is that Leucine alone can achieve a significant increase in muscle protein synthesis. While Leucine does appear to be the most critical in regards to muscle protein synthesis, a 2009 study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” concluded that BCAAs (2:1:1) have a more pronounced effect on protein synthesis than the same amount of Leucine alone. So, theoretically speaking, if you had to choose, you would choose Leucine, but all three is undeniably a better way to go.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid (your body can make it) that is involved in a variety of bodily functions, from immune health, to providing a back-up fuel-source for the brain. Because Glutamine is an amino acid, some people assume that it may have a muscle sparing effect, and to be fair, it has demonstrated increased muscle protein synthesis in vitro as well as in the human gut. However, a 2001 study, published in the “European Journal of Applied Physiology”, found that Glutamine supplementation had no significant muscle sparing effect in resistance trained human subjects. A 2006 study from “Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism” which compared a combination of carbs, amino acids, and glutamine to a combination of just carbs and amino acids (not glutamine), found no difference in muscle protein synthesis following exercise.
So, while some of the claims that are often attached to Glutamine aren’t quite based on facts, it has shown a lot of promise when it comes to fighting exercise induced immune system suppression. Our immune systems ultimately benefit from regular exercise, but in the short-term, exercise actually temporarily lowers our immune defenses, thus making us more susceptible to infection during that time-frame. This temporary compromise of the immune system is highly correlated with lower glutamine levels, so glutamine supplementation can potentially reduce exercise-induced damage to immune cells.
A 2007 study, published in “Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism”, found that Glutamine supplementation effectively reduced ammonia in endurance exercise longer than one hour, leading to increased endurance. So, while Glutamine may be of minimal importance to individuals getting a quick 45 minute workout in, it may be quite useful for long-term exercise during which Glutamine depletion would normally occur.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Pro BCAA isn’t so much a revolutionary innovation as it is a well-formulated, solid BCAA supplement with the addition of an antioxidant blend. With 8 grams of BCAAs and 5 grams of Glutamine there really is no need to consume multiple doses (as is the case with some other BCAA supplements we’ve reviewed). At around $1.30 per serving, Pro BCAA is priced at a slight premium, considering the BCAA + Glutamin portion could be reconstructed for about 90 cents.
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