For some people new to fitness nutrition lingo, trying to figure out what BCAAs is referring to may be just as difficult as trying to understand millennial abbreviations like LMAO, FOMO, and ROFL mean.
Or maybe you already know what BCAAs are, but you don’t know if you really need to include them in your fitness routine.
I’m here to tell you, you need them.
There are so many benefits of BCAAs that I don’t know why you wouldn’t want them.
What are those benefits? I’ll go into more detail in this article, but here are a few to spark your interest:
- Recover from workouts faster
- Lose fat, NOT muscle
- Improve performance
Keep reading to learn the science behind branched chain amino acids.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are actually way more simple than they may sound.
BCAAs consist of three different types of amino acids that are especially important for muscle growth and recovery. These three amino acids are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
Branched chain amino acids are mostly found in meat and eggs but the easiest way to get them is in supplement form.
What do BCAAs do?
To understand what BCAAs do, we are going to take a detailed look at each specific amino acid to see how each one benefits you.
Leucine is the MVP, the lead singer, the big dog of branched chain amino acids. This amino has the greatest influence on muscle growth and recovery.
Why is this important?
When you workout out as a lifter, swimmer, rock climber, or anything in between, you create tiny tears in your muscle fibers.
These tiny tears can often cause soreness, scientifically referred to as DOMS. (There I go again, throwing in another acronym for you to debunk.)
DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness, or in simple terms, your muscles hurt and moving can be a struggle.
DOMS can occur 12-24 hours after physical activity and leaves you feeling stiff, achy, and makes squatting to use the toilet surprisingly difficult <- body builders who don’t use BCAAs call this the ‘death drop’. :))
For some, that sore feeling may seem like an accomplishment, but for those who want or need to workout on a daily basis, it can be a downright nuisance.
So how do you avoid DOMS and limping around like you’ve been mortally wounded?
One way is to include a BCAAs supplement! The Leucine will help prevent major muscle damage and assist your body to recover faster.
This branched chain amino acid is going to be your new best friend during workouts.
Isoleucine increases your body’s capacity to use glucose, especially during activity.
This means you’ll have more energy for your workouts and the glucose (carbs) you eat will be more efficiently used rather than stored as extra padding for your behind.
When you consume carbohydrates, two things can occur: the sugars are either used as energy, reserved in glycogen stores, or stored as fat.
Most of us have enough fat on our bodies and don’t need anymore. This is why Isoleucine and branched chain amino acids are helpful. Isoleucine helps regulate blood sugars, preventing harmful insulin spikes and drops.
Valine has similar properties as Isoleucine and Leucine and works best when combined with them.
Valine, like Leucine, helps your body recover and stimulates muscle growth. Like Isoleucine, valine helps with the uptake and usage of glucose and it may play an important role in muscle coordination and brain function.
Why Use Branched Chain Amino Acids?
I’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of BCAAs, but that was only scratching the surface.
Here are four more impressive benefits of BCAAs:
1.You’ll recover faster.
One study found that branched chain amino acids reduced muscle damage. Another study found those who took a BCAAs supplement before and after a strenuous workout had faster recovery times.
This means you will be able to workout more often at higher intensities while avoiding possible muscle soreness and risk of injury. How many times have you skipped a workout because you were, “too sore”?
More training and less muscle fatigue will mean greater gains in strength and endurance.
2. You’ll lose fat, not muscle.
Research has shown that those who include a BCAAs supplement are more likely to lose unwanted fat while keeping lean body mass.
Many times when people are trying to build muscle and lose fat, they actually lose both. Additionally, beginning in your 30s, you actually begin to lose lean muscle and usually replace it with fat. A natural yet unfortunate process called sarcopenia.
By being physically active, including some kind of strength routine, and including the right kinds of supplements (like BCAAs) you can reduce muscle loss over time.
Branched chain amino acids can also help with muscle retention, keeping you lean and active as you age. How?
By keeping your muscles properly fueled with amino acids from BCAAs, you spare muscle tissue.
Muscle tissue can and is used for energy by the body, especially when calories are restricted and during endurance sports like marathons. Reduce muscle loss with a BCAA supplement!
3. You’ll improve performance.
A study conducted back in the 90s found, “that both mental and physical performance was improved by an intake of BCAA during exercise.”
This is because when amino acids are used for energy, your body prefers to use the amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine (aka BCAAs).
Understanding what each of the three BCAAs do, and considering that all amino acids are responsible for every important function in your body, these types of conclusions seem obvious.
If you’ve been doing any kind of sport or physical activity long, you know that it is just as much a mental game as well as physical.
Branched chain amino acids can help boost your mental capacity and keep you in top physical condition to perform your best.
4. They are effective and convenient.
You now know that branched chain amino acids are extremely important, but why supplement them? Why not just eat them naturally in your food?
I’m all about getting my nutrition through my food whenever possible, but for most people getting all the essential nutrients we need naturally in the diet can be difficult.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying that supplements can make life much easier.
For example, you would have to eat 4 whole eggs to get the same amount of BCAAs that you could get in one calorie free powder scoop of BCAAs.
If you’re aiming for the recommended 5g of BCAAs before and after a workout, that’s 8 eggs and 560 calories to get 10g of branched chain amino acids that you could get for zero calories.
Besides supplementing being a simple way to get the needed protein and BCAAs in the diet, the powdered form of BCAAs is digested and absorbed quickly by the body.
The BCAAs found naturally in foods such as eggs and beef, take much longer to digest and cannot be immediately used by the body.
When Do You Take BCAAs?
Generally, before and after a workout take one serving or 5-10g of BCAAs. These are the times when your body most needs amino acids.
Others find it helpful to sip on their BCAAs drink during their workout for added energy and hydration.
Those looking to preserve muscle mass may take a serving of branched chain amino acids in the morning.
When you wake up, your body is in a fasted state. Since you haven’t eaten all night long, you are probably burning muscle as a source of energy.
This is bad news if you want to preserve that hard earned lean mass! Taking BCAAs in the morning with a healthy protein filled breakfast can end this muscle breakdown and give you an energy boost to start your day.
Personally, I like to take my BCAAs with my pre-workout drink like Uplift for Her. I conclude my workout with my protein (Trutein is a great protein drink). Currently, for the goals I am trying to achieve I workout 3 times a week. I will shoot for 4-5 once I get closer to my body fat percentage goal. This means I drink my pre-workout drink 3 times a week. I also have a protein shake I drink in the afternoons sometimes for that added boost. This protein has added BCAAs and vitamins to help me along with my goals. I drink Her Whey from NLA.
I have also found IdealLean to be a great product. I have some client’s who use this but I have yet to try it. I am thinking of Ideal Shape protein/meal replacement to take the place of Her Whey as I like the vitamin content in their shake. I hope I like the flavor, especially more so than the Her Whey which I find to be a bit under the top on the flavor scale.