You have your go-to pre-workout and your favorite protein powder on hand at all times. What about Branched-Chain Amino Acids (or BCAAs), though? Are they a regular part of your routine?
If you've never heard of this supplement or the benefits of BCAAs, keep reading. We'll break down everything you need to know, including the ways that BCAAs can help you achieve your fitness goals.
What Are BCAAs?
Branched-Chain Amino Acids are, as the name suggests, a type of amino acid. Amino acids, as you may remember from high school science classes, are building blocks of protein.
There are 20 amino acids that, in different combinations, makeup thousands of different tissues in the body. Of those 20 amino acids, 9 of them are considered essential. This means your body can't make them on its own. They have to come from food or supplements.
The nine essential amino acids are as follows:
Within that collection of 9 amino acids, the first three (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine) are known as Branched-Chain Amino Acids. These three amino acids have a unique structure with one “side chain” consisting of 3 hydrogen atoms and a carbon atom.
BCAAs are found in a variety of protein-rich foods, including animal protein sources like meat, eggs, poultry, and fish. You can also get them from specially formulated EAA (Essential Amino Acid) and BCAA supplements.
Why Are BCAAs Important?
“Why are BCAAs important?” is one of the most frequently asked questions about these supplements.
The truth is that BCAAs matter for a variety of reasons. For starters, they’re essential amino acids. Your body can't produce them on its own, so you need to be diligent about getting them from outside sources.
For those who eat animal products regularly, this typically isn’t much of an issue. However, for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it can be trickier to ensure you’re getting enough BCAAs from food alone.
There aren't as many plant-based protein sources that contain all 9 essential amino acids (including the 3 BCAAs). These types of proteins are known as complete protein sources, and some of the only plant-based options are quinoa, peas, and soy products.
If you're not getting enough BCAAs, either from food or supplements, you may have a hard time building and maintaining muscle. Remember, the three BCAAs, and Leucine, in particular, play key roles in muscle growth and preservation.
What Are the Benefits of Taking BCAA Supplements?
Clearly, BCAAs matter. What are the benefits of taking BCAA supplements for athletes and gym-goers, though?
There are lots of reasons to incorporate BCAAs into your regular supplement routine (beyond avoiding nutrient deficiencies), including these:
Increased Muscle Growth
If you're looking to build muscle, BCAAs can help you earn those results faster. Leucine, specifically, activates the pathway that stimulates muscle protein synthesis (this is the process by which the body makes muscle).
One study revealed that those who consumed BCAAs after a resistance training session experienced an increase in muscle protein synthesis that was 22 percent greater than those who consumed a placebo.
Reduced Muscle Soreness
In addition to helping you build muscle, BCAAs can also help to reduce muscle soreness after a difficult workout.
This benefit has to do with the fact that BCAAs can minimize the amount of damage muscles sustain during exercise. Muscle damage and micro-tears are often blamed for delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.
By reducing muscle damage, BCAAs can also reduce the amount of stiffness and soreness you'll feel after training.
Reduced Risk of Muscle Loss
Not only do BCAAs help you to build muscle, but they also help you to avoid losing it.
Are you worried about losing muscle, perhaps because you're in the middle of a cut and are eating in a calorie deficit? If so, supplementing with BCAAs may make it easier for you to preserve your hard-earned mass while also getting lean.
Increased Fat Burning
The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be. When your metabolic rate goes up, so does your body’s ability to burn calories while exercising and at rest.
Because BCAAs can help you preserve and build muscle, they can also help you to burn more fat and achieve your weight loss goals faster.
There are other ways that BCAAs support fat-burning as well. For example, some studies have shown that combining BCAAs with glutamine, an amino acid that supports the immune system and aids in muscle recovery, can lead to more significant fat loss for those who are eating in a calorie deficit.
Reduced Fatigue and Improved Focus
Taking supplemental BCAAs can improve your endurance and help you to feel less fatigued while exercising as well. Research shows that those who consume BCAAs have an easier time staying focused and pushing through during difficult workouts.
This benefit may have to do with the fact that supplemental BCAAs prevent tryptophan levels from rising while exercising. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which, as it increases, can cause you to feel fatigued and sleepy.
BCAA supplements are also very versatile.
You can take them at any time of day, for starters. Lots of people prefer to combine them with their pre-workout drink (they may even choose a pre-workout supplement that already has BCAAs mixed in to make things easier).
Some like to sip on BCAAs while they exercise. This is especially helpful during long workouts when you need extra stamina and energy to push through.
BCAAs also stack well with other supplements. In addition to pre-workout, you can also combine BCAAs with supplements like Creatine to support optimal post-workout recovery.
How Do You Know if You Could Benefit from Taking BCAA Supplements?
There are certainly lots of benefits of BCAAs. However, some people can get more out of these supplements than others.
How do you know if you could benefit from taking BCAA supplements? The following people are most likely to benefit from BCAAs:
- Vegetarians and vegans who need extra amino acids from supplements
- Hard trainers who want to protect their muscle mass and speed up recovery
- Endurance athletes looking for extra energy and less muscle fatigue or soreness
- Those who are dieting and concerned about losing muscle while in a calorie deficit
The specific amount of BCAAs these individuals should take varies depending on a lot of factors, such as diet and activity level. What seems to matter more than the size of the serving, though, is the ratio of Leucine to Isoleucine and Valine.
Research shows that a 2:1:1 ratio (i.e., twice as much Leucine as Isoleucine and Valine) works best for those looking to experience the most benefits of BCAAs. Look for one that offers amino acids in that ratio for the best results.
Try BCAAs Today
Do you fall into any of the categories mentioned above? Do you think BCCAs would be a good addition to your supplement regimen?
If you're ready to experience the benefits of BCAAs, make sure you’re using a high-quality BCAA product like ProSupps HydroBCAA+Essentials, ProSupps HydroBCAA+Energy, or Mr. Hyde Icon.
Head to our shop today to check out all of our BCAA supplements.