BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. They are three essential amino acids called valine, isoleucine, and leucine. Essential amino acids are amino acids that we must get from our diet because our bodies don’t produce them.
Many people wonder why these branched-chain amino acids are singled out. They want to know if BCAA supplements are worth investing the money to take.
Well, let’s find out!
What are Amino Acids?
Before venturing into if a BCAA supplement is worth taking, you need to know the basics. If you already do then feel free to skip to the next section.
Amino acids are the building blocks of the macronutrient protein. Amino acids have many different functions in the body. There are 20 amino acids that are relevant for humans. As adults, you have 12 of them classified as non-essential and 8 as essential.
The 12 non-essential amino acids are the ones that are produced and stored in our body, while the other 8 we are required to obtain through food and/or supplements.
We obtain these essential amino acids through protein, which is made up of amino acids. Protein is classified as either complete or not complete. A complete protein contains all of the essential amino acids while and incomplete only contains some of them. Complete protein is found in meat, poultry, and dairy.
What are Branched Chain Amino Acids?
The branched-chain amino acids are 3 of the 8 essential amino acids. They are used to often to treat brain conditions due to liver disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, in cancer and elderly patients. Other people use BCAA’s to improve concentration and prevent fatigue.
For fitness, people primarily use BCAA’s to improve their performance during exercise and reduce muscle breakdown while losing weight. While there isn’t much scientific evidence about the increase performance during exercise, it is widely accepted that taking a BCAA supplement helps to prevent muscle breakdown.
Increasing Performance During Exercise
The theory behind BCAA supplements increasing performance during exercise is widely in part by how it affects serotonin levels. When you exercise you increase serotonin levels which is believed to cause fatigue. When you take BCAAs it is believed to reduce your serotonin levels which is theorized to cancel out the fatigue which will increase your overall performance while exercising.
There are a few studies that validate this theory. One such study was done in 1998 which had participants ingest either a BCAA or placebo before doing endurance cycling. The placebo group averaged 137 minutes while the group who took BCAAs averaged 153.1 minutes. However, there is also conflicting studies that show BCAAs have no influence on increasing performance while exercising. More conclusive evidence is needed to validate this theory.
Reducing the Breakdown of Muscle
The main difference between BCAAs and other essential amino acids is that BCAAs are metabolized primarily in the skeletal muscles while other amino acids are metabolized in the liver. BCAAs are known to help decrease muscle soreness, increase muscle function and repair damaged muscles.
Studies have shown that taking BCAA supplements before and after exercise assists in increasing protein synthesis for build more muscle and decreasing muscle damage caused by exercising.
In fact, a 2006 study concluded that taking BCAA supplements may promote repairing muscle after workouts while decreasing muscle damage done by exercise. This study, along with many others that offer similar reporting evidence has many experts believe that taking a BCAA supplement can aid in the preservation of muscle and help with muscle recovery.
I personally have been taking BCAA supplements and can attest to them helping me out. I have noticed I recover quicker from my workouts than I did when not taking a BCAA supplement. I also notice that my muscles tend to be less sore after working out.
I mainly decided to take a BCAA supplement because I wanted to preserve as much muscle mass as possible while I was cutting my body fat down. I wanted to focus my weight loss efforts on fat and keep the muscle. I believe that the BCAA supplement has helped me with this too.
I’ve been taking a BCAA supplement before my workouts and a protein shake after to assist in the preservation of muscle mass.
I recommend if you’re finding it difficult to fit enough complete protein into your diet and want to preserve muscle mass to take a BCAA supplement. I found due to time constraints in my schedule I could not always prepare enough whole foods with ample amount of protein so I took a BCAA supplement to assist with my muscle preservation.
I recommend if you do take a BCAA supplement that you purchase an unflavored one as the flavored supplements tend to have a lot of junk such as artificial sweeteners and dyes. The unflavored BCAA supplements taste absolutely terrible, but if you mix it with something it isn’t too bad. I personally mix it up with about 6 ounces of water and drink it quickly. Once I am done I take a small sip of orange juice which completely masks the aftertaste of it. This way, I get all the benefits of a BCAA supplement without the added artificial sweeteners or dyes.
My BCAA supplement of choice is Optimum Nutrition BCAA powder. It contains no artificial dyes, preservatives, or sweeteners and I’ve found it’s the easiest to mix without clumping.
What are your thoughts on BCAA supplements? Comment below!