Are you looking to build muscle, prevent muscle loss, or improve your post-workout recovery? If any of these goals resonate with you, Branched-Chain Amino Acids (or BCAAs for short) are a must for your supplement stack.
Never heard of BCAAs before? Wondering what you need to know about BCAAs before you start using them? Read on to find out.
What Are BCAAs?
Branched-Chain Amino Acids are a subset of essential amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids that your body needs to get from food or supplements (it cannot make them on its own). They are as follows:
The first three amino acids on this list (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine) are BCAAs. They get their name because of their unique molecular structure, which features an extra branch that sticks out from the side.
BCAA vs EAA Supplements
When shopping for amino acid supplements, you’ll likely see several different products on the shelf, including BCAAs and EAAs (short for Essential Amino Acids).
The fact that there are multiple options has created some confusion among athletes and gym-goers. It’s also led them to ask questions like, “Which is better, BCAAs or EAAs?” and “Do I need BCAAs or EAAs?”
The main difference between these two supplements is that BCAAs just contain the three Branched-Chain Amino Acids. EAAs, on the other hand, provide you with all 9 Essential Amino Acids.
If you take an EAA supplement, you’ll automatically be getting a dose of Branched-Chain Amino Acids. The same isn’t always true if you take a BCAA supplement, though.
Are EAAs Better Than BCAAs?
Based on this information, you might assume that EAAs are better for you than BCAAs. That’s not necessarily the case, though.
It’s great to get all your Essential Amino Acids in one fell swoop with an EAA supplement that also contains BCAAs. However, if you eat plenty of protein-rich foods, you might not need all of those Essential Amino Acids. You might be fine supplementing with some Branched-Chain Amino Acids.
What Do BCAA Supplements Do?
When they first learn about BCAA supplements, a lot of people start asking, “What do BCAA supplements do?”
The body uses BCAAs for all kinds of things. The following are some of the well-known ways that BCAAs can support you on your health and wellness journey:
Fill in Dietary Gaps
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, BCAAs can be especially helpful for you, both from a muscle-building standpoint and from a general health standpoint.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids often aren’t available in plant-based protein sources. This is because many plant-based proteins are incomplete proteins (meaning they don’t contain sufficient quantities of all 9 essential amino acids).
What happens if you’re not getting enough BCAAs (or EAAs) from your diet? You may be prone to certain health issues. For example, you may end up with skin and hair issues, fatigue, or reduced cognitive abilities (brain fog, memory problems, etc.).
Improve Workout Performance
Branched-Chain Amino Acids can improve your workout performance, too. Many people find that BCAA supplementation improves their endurance, specifically, and makes it easier for them to push through difficult workouts.
BCAAs may be especially beneficial to those who are training on consecutive days or doing multiple workouts on the same day.
For example, one study followed 22 participants and monitored their sprinting capabilities over 2 consecutive days. The participants who received a BCAA supplement experienced significant performance improvements compared to those who took a placebo.
Support Immune System
If you want to support your immune system, BCAAs may be a helpful supplement to include in your routine.
Research shows that BCAAs are essential for lymphocytes (white blood cells). Without BCAAs, the lymphocytes cannot synthesize proteins and divide in response to pathogens. This, in turn, makes you more susceptible to illness.
What Do BCAAs Do for Your Muscles?
BCAAs play an important role in all kinds of bodily processes. Let’s get specific to health and fitness, though. What do BCAAs do for your muscles?
Easier Muscle Building
First of all, BCAAs (especially Leucine) play an important role in muscle protein synthesis. When you’re not getting enough BCAAs, you may have a harder time building muscle and gaining strength, no matter how hard you’re pushing yourself in the gym.
BCAA supplements, specifically, can be helpful for muscle building because they provide you with a significant dose of Leucine relative to Isoleucine and Valine.
Leucine is the most important amino acid for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. When you get it in higher quantities, you can see more noticeable results from your training.
Faster Muscle Recovery
When you add BCAAs to your supplement stack, you might notice that you recover faster after difficult workouts, too.
This is because BCAAs can minimize the muscle damage that you experience while training. They also lower the blood levels of enzymes like creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, both of which contribute to muscle damage.
Because they reduce muscle damage while training, you may also be less sore after workouts when you supplement with BCAAs. This can be especially advantageous for those who are doing high-intensity workouts on consecutive days or are involved in two-a-day workouts.
Less Muscle Loss While Dieting
If you’re trying to get lean and want to avoid losing muscle mass at the same time, BCAAs can help. They’re often recommended for those who are worried about muscle loss because they provide additional amino acids that the body needs to preserve muscle and maintain healthy tissues.
On a different note, because BCAAs help you to maintain and build muscle, they can also help you on your weight loss journey. When your muscle mass increases, so does your metabolism. This makes it easier for you to burn calories and see progress from your workouts.
Why Take BCAA Supplements?
Do you have to get BCAAs from supplements? Can’t you get them from food?
Technically, yes, you can. If you eat plenty of foods that are rich in BCAAs, such as meat, poultry, or eggs, you can probably get by without a BCAA supplement.
What happens if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, though?
For those who don’t eat many (or any) animal products, BCAA supplements are a great tool. They can help you fill in those amino acid gaps (remember, many plant protein sources are not complete proteins) and ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to build and maintain healthy tissues.
BCAA supplements are also easy to add to your routine. Why wouldn’t you want to keep them on hand, just in case, regardless of your current diet?
Not only can you take them at any time of day, but they also come in tasty, flavored powders that are easy to mix with water when you’re at the gym or on the go. You can buy pre-workout drinks like HydroBCAA that have BCAAs mixed in to make your supplementation even easier, too.
Tips for Taking BCAAs
BCAAs are one of the easiest supplements to incorporate into your routine. However, if you want to maximize the benefits you get from them, here are a few tips you should keep in mind:
Consider the BCAA Ratio
Ideally, you’ll consume BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine to Isoleucine and Valine. This ratio is most effective when it comes to supporting muscle growth and experiencing the other benefits of BCAAs.
When you’re shopping for BCAA supplements, look at the label to see how many grams of each BCAA it contains. If this information isn’t readily available, that’s a sign that you should consider a different supplement.
Consider Additional Ingredients
There are plenty of other ingredients you might find in BCAA supplements besides BCAAs themselves.
For example, you might choose a BCAA supplement that also contains other Essential Amino Acids or electrolytes to support optimal hydration. You can also find BCAA supplements that contain caffeine to help you feel energized during your workouts.
Ask About Testing
Consider a BCAA supplement that is Informed-Choice tested and free from banned substances, too.
Informed Choice testing isn’t a necessary credential for a supplement to be effective. However, it can be a good thing to check for, especially for competitive athletes who are concerned about potentially taking in banned substances.
Order Your BCAA Supplements Today
Now that you’re better informed about BCAAs and what they can do for you, are you interested in trying them out?
If so, keep the tips outlined above in mind so you can get the most out of them. Don’t forget to look for high-quality BCAA supplements with a science-backed amino acid ratio, too.
Head to our shop today to check out all our BCAA products and find one that will work best for you.