BCAAs, or Branched-Chain Amino Acids, are one of the hottest topics in nutrition these days. Almost every nutrition specialist, bro science expert, and fitness Youtuber has a strong opinion about them. They’re either telling you it should be a core part of your supplement regime, or that they’re a waste of money. For someone who’s just beginning to workout, it can be really confusing. So what are they? And should we use them or not? Let’s take a look at some of the facts.
What are BCAAs?
Without getting into too much organic chemistry, it’s important to know that our muscles are made up of different molecules. A lot of them are made up of water, but also they’re made up of long-chain molecules called proteins. Those proteins are made up of different kinds of amino acids. There are 500 different kinds of amino acids, and putting them together in different combinations create proteins which do different things.
There are three kinds of BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re called “branched” because they have a branch attached to them which is mostly made up of carbon molecules. They are 3 of the 9 kinds of essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the amino acids which our body can’t make on its own, so it needs to get them from food.So what do BCAAs do? They help in protein synthesis and building muscle. It’s also important to know that when we’re exercising, we use them up very quickly (1). BCAAs are essential because of their contribution to energy metabolism which is greatly increased during workouts (2). Because of this, a lot of experts have studied how much of an effect BCAA supplementation can have on building muscle and our workouts.
Benefits of BCAAs
The main benefits that experts have found is that BCAA can help in building your muscles back up after an exercise. Every time you do a workout, you’re creating small tears in your muscle-proteins. As your muscle-proteins and the amino acids work at repairing them, you build your muscles more. BCAAs have a huge role to play in repairing those damaged muscles. Your muscles need all the help they can get after a hard workout, in order to rebuild the muscle-proteins.
What’s more, the longer and more intense you exercise, the more BCAAs that you’re muscles are going to need. Leucine is one of the most needed BCAAs after you workout. Your muscles don’t store a whole lot of it, so you need to get it from outside sources like food or supplements. Leucine is one of the most important things that your muscles need after an intense workout (3). It has been shown that BCAAs can help in all different kinds of exercise conditions. For example, when working out in heat, BCAAs can help you to workout that much longer (4).
A lot of the food you’re already eating contains BCAAs. Food like whey protein, milk, meat, soy, brown rice, and others are all great sources of BCAAs. However, there are benefits to taking BCAAs directly as a supplement as well. The main one is the time factor. When you get proteins through eating food, they have to be processed by your liver and stomach tissue first. However, when you take them directly, they are able to be used by your muscles much more quickly.
Tips for Using BCAAs
There has been a lot of research done about how much we should take and when the best time to take BCAAs is.
Generally, most experts recommend that you take about 5 g of BCAAs twice a day. At that dosage level, they have been shown to improve muscle building and prolong workouts. However, you should check your protein powder ingredient label before you gulp down 5 g of BCAA twice a day. Why? Because your whey protein probably already includes a bunch of BCAAs. However, it may not include quite as much as you want, so you can supplement it with a BCAA powder.
Another thing to watch out for is that you want to make sure that your BCAAs are proportioned properly. There should be a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. In this way, the BCAAs are similar to the molecular composition of an animal protein. Even though leucine is the main muscle builder in there, too much leucine on its own has been shown to not be that great for you.
When to take BCAAs is a question which has attracted a lot of debate and it’s worth doing a bit of research to look into when is best for you to take BCAAs. Generally most experts agree that taking BCAAs before and after a workout would be the most effective way to take them. Taking BCAAs during workouts hasn’t shown to be as effective as before and after (5).
Overall, you can see that BCAAs are a great option to help you build muscle, improve your recovery time, and help you last longer during your workouts. No wonder they’re so popular in the world of supplements these days. Studies and research has shown that they are really an effective choice. Boosting your body’s building blocks is an awesome way to get the energy you need to meet your fitness goals.
- Influence of Exercise on Protein and Amino Acid Metabolism. Comprehensive Physiology.
- Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise. The Journal of Nutrition.
- A Primer On Branched Chain Amino Acids. Huntington College of Health Sciences.
- Branched-chain amino acids prolong exercise during heat stress in men and women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
- BCAA intake affects protein metabolism in muscle after but not during exercise in humans. American Journal of Physiology.