Supplements are great for people, but a lot of the time the information surrounding them can be very confusing. Especially, when it comes down to if you should be taking something or not, or if it will interfere with another supplement you are taking, etc. This is why we want to take the time to share with you what BCAAs are exactly, why they are beneficial, and why you should include them in your supplement line up.
What are BCAAs?
The quick and dirty answer is – BCAAs are essential amino acids. Our bodies can’t produce them, so we need to eat them or find sources that provide them to our bodies.
There are actually 20 different amino acids that make up the thousands of different proteins in the human body. Nine of the 20 amino acids are considered essential amino acids (like BCAAs), meaning they cannot be made by your body and must be obtained through your diet.
Of the nine essential amino acids, three are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Branched-chain refers to structurally how they are made, but not something you need to really understand unless you want to get super nerdy on the topic.
If my body cannot make BCAAs, then how do I get them?
Good sources of BCAAs can be found in quality protein-rich foods. The quality of the food does matter so that your body can absorb the great nutrients the food source has to offer. If you are not able to find quality sources, possibly don’t like the foods (protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products) that BCAAs are commonly found in, or just find yourself not eating enough of them, then this is where a supplement can come in handy.
What are some BCAA benefits?
Increase Muscle Growth
The specific BCAA, leucine activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which is the process that makes muscle.
There have been many studies that show how beneficial drinking BCAAs is in comparison to those that do not. For example, in one study, people who consumed a drink with 5.6 grams of BCAAs after their resistance workout had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who consumed what they thought was BCAAs, but wasn’t.
Prevent Muscle Breakdown
BCAAs can help prevent muscle breakdown (or what some like to call muscle wasting).
First, it is important to understand that muscle protein is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. This is a natural process. What is important to pay attention to is the balance between muscle protein breakdown and synthesis. Muscle breakdown happens when the protein breakdown exceeds the muscle protein building. If you have too much muscle breakdown then this can lead to malnutrition and other chronic infections.
In our bodies, BCAAs account for 35% of the essential amino acids found in muscle proteins. Therefore, it’s important that the BCAAs are replaced during times of muscle breakdown (like working out) to slow down the process so that your breakdown does not exceed your muscle growth.
Decrease Muscle Soreness
It is common (and important) to have muscle soreness after a great workout. In most cases, the body feels this as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and can occur 12 to 72 hours after a workout. DOMS comes from tiny tears in the muscles that their repair helps to make them stronger.
What some of us can suffer is DOMS that gets to be pretty painful and keeps us off of our training program for more days than expected, which is when it is nice to reduce this amount of time.
Several studies show that BCAAs decrease protein breakdown during exercise and decrease levels of creatine kinase. Reducing the levels of creatine kinase can help reduce the length and severity of DOMs.
In one study, people who supplemented with BCAAs before a squat exercise experienced reduced DOMS and muscle fatigue compared to those that thought they were consuming a BCAA supplement.
Should you take BCAAs?
If you haven’t figured it out already. BCAAs are essential to the body and something our body does not make. BCAAs can be great for just about anyone. We always suggest consulting a doctor before starting any supplement.
Like we said, BCAAs are great for anyone but more specifically those that workout, struggle with muscle fatigue, struggle with muscle soreness, have a hard time getting in enough protein, or those working on improving overall fitness, to name a few.
When should you take BCAAs?
Since we are in the boat that a lot of different people can benefit from taking BCAAs, then there really isn’t a wrong time. If your body is getting a nutrient that it cannot produce, then your body will use it when it needs to. If you decide to take it first thing in the morning, then your body will react the way it needs to first thing in the morning (and the same is true for other times of the day, as well). However, many would argue that the best time to take BCAAs, if you work out, is to take them prior to working out or during your workout. This is also a big reason why people take a separate BCAA supplement and not just rely on a food source or protein source. It all comes down to when is best for you and your lifestyle.