Beta-BCAA is the latest amino-based supplement from Cellucor’s COR-Performance series which combined BCAAs, Citrulline, Beta-Alanine, and HICA.
Leucine is an amino acid that belongs to the group known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). If you have ever purchased a BCAA product, you may have noticed that it contains more leucine than the other two BCAAs (isoleucine and valine). The ratio is generally along the lines of 2:1:1 but we’ve seen as much as 8:1:1. COR-Performance Beta-BCAA contains the standard 2:1:1 dose of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, respectively. While no study has ever proved that there is an “optimal ratio”, several studies have confirmed that leucine is the most important BCAA with regards to muscle protein synthesis. Supplemental leucine has been shown to increase protein synthesis in rats as well as humans in dozens of studies, via activation of a special protein called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which stimulates muscle protein synthesis in mammals. Most recently, 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. However, leucine has been shown to be effective at dosages ranging from 2-5 grams.
Isoleucine however, does appear to have unique benefits in regards to inducing 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 effects of isoleucine alone on muscle glucose uptake have not been studied in humans, BCAAs in general due appear to induce glucose uptake. Whether this effect is due to isoleucine alone or the BCAAs in general is uncertain.
Valine appears to possess the least unique benefit, but to be fair, it has also been individually studied the least compared to leucine and isoleucine. A 2001 study concluded that valine lowered the amount of exercise-induced 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin) in mouse hippocampuses. During exercise tryptophan is transported to the brain where it is converted first into 5-HTP and then into serotonin. It is hypothesized that serotonin is responsible for fatigue in a broader sense than the cellular fatigue caused by lactic acid build up. It has also been established that BCAA directly compete with tryptophan for the same pathway, and therefore may reduce the amount of tryptophan available for serotonin production. This would explain certain 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. More studies are needed to directly compare the effects of valine vs. leucine and isoleucine.
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. Skeptics of BCAA supplements claim the same efficacy can be achieved with just leucine alone, and the other two are more or less useless.
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. If you consume a diet rich in complete proteins, then you already receive enough dietary BCAAs to fulfill all normal physiological functions. However, this does not mean 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 dificient humans.
The benefits of Citrulline supplementation pertain to its ability to increase ATP production, as well as buffer ammonia (generally associated with muscle fatigue). Citrulline has also been shown to increase blood arginine levels more effectively than supplemental arginine itself, making it a popular additive to nitric-oxide enhancing supplements. One thing that’s important to note is that most studies that have been done showing a positive correlation between citrulline supplementation and increased performance have used doses of atleast 6 grams. One study found that even 15 grams of Citrulline daily is safe, but there may be no additional benefit at that level. Another study that used 6 grams/day found that “The changes in muscle metabolism produced by CM treatment indicate that CM may promote aerobic energy production.” Citrulline is now included in BCAA products such as this because there is preliminary evidence to suggest it may act in a synergistic manner with Leucine by positively influencing leucine’s stimulation of mTOR. However, this is currently only a theory and has yet to be proven. COR-Performance Beta-BCAA contains 2 grams of Citrulline per serving, which is more than the average Citrulline containing BCAA product (usually around 1000mg).
Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the amino acid carnosine, which acts as a lactic acid buffer, effectively reducing muscle fatigue, when taken over time. One study in particular that measured the carnosine levels of sprinters found that “people whose muscle carnosine was high could exhibit high power during the latter half of the 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting”. So it seems that increasing carnosine levels may delay muscle fatigue. Various studies have shown that daily supplementation with beta-alanine does increase muscle carnosine levels over time. Most of these studies have used doses between 3-6 grams, but efficacy has been noted at 1.6 grams. COR-Performance Beta-BCAA contains 1.6 grams, a scientifically validated dose (although better efficacy can be achieved with a higher dose).
A-HYDROXYISOCAPROIC ACID (HICA):
A-Hydroxyisocaproic Acid (HICA) is a product of leucine metabolism and is alleged to be an anti-catabolic agent. A 2010 study found that athletes who consumed 1500mg of HICA per day for four weeks experienced an increase in lean body mass, a decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the 4th week, but no noticeable increase in strength. Unfortunately, this is the only study directly testing the effects of HICA on muscle mass or strength so we don’t have much to go on, That being said, the preliminary evidence is somewhat promising. HICA, when purchased separately, tends to be considerably more expensive (by weight) then the other ingredients in the formula.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
COR-Performance Beta-BCAA is a well-rounded, effective product. BCAAs, Citrulline, and Beta Alanine are among the most scientifically validated ingredients commonly found in workout supplements these days, and COR-Performance provides all of them in relatively substantial doses. The addition of HICA differentiates COR-Performance Beta-BCAA from other BCAA products, and while more research is needed to determine the inherent value of HICA as a workout supplement, on a relative basis, Cellucor is not overcharging for it. From a value standpoint, COR-Performance Beta-BCAAs are priced rather competitively at about $1.30 per serving, given an estimated reconstruction cost of $1.30-$1.50.
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