If you’re working out regularly, you might have heard around that you should take BCAAs. BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids, are superstar supplements, especially in the world of bodybuilding, but they also have their place in the hearts of endurance athletes too.
While it’s nice if you can take all your essential amino acids from real food, it’s not always possible. BCAAs, for example, are most abundant in protein-rich foods, such as beef, salmon, eggs, nuts, and Greek yogurt. But if you’re exercising vigorously, you’ll find that you could greatly benefit by taking BCAAs in supplement form.
When in free-form BCAAs bypass the liver and go straight to the muscles to power them immediately. This is why you’ll find out many experts recommend taking your BCAAs right before, after, or during your workout.
What are BCAAs, Anyway?
BCAAs are three of the nine essential amino acids that our body needs to synthesize protein and build muscle. Unfortunately, our bodies do not manufacture their own BCAAs; we have to get them from elsewhere.
Out of these nine essential amino acids, three make up 35% of our muscles. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three have distinctive branched side chains that allow the body to easily convert them into energy.
Having a rich supply of these BCAAs can trigger more protein synthesis, make you burn more fat, reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness, improve endurance, and even sharpen your mind.
BCAAs increases protein synthesis.
There’s a reason why bodybuilders stock up on BCAAs, whether in powder or capsule form. The essential amino acids trigger the cells to create more protein, which are the building blocks of all muscle found in your body. When you take BCAAs, you stimulate your muscles to grow faster, which means you’ll likely see gains from your workouts faster than you would if you didn’t take BCAAs.
This effect is so powerful that it works even after you take a break from your regular workouts, such as if you have to travel or recover from an injury. Research shows that people who continue to supplement with BCAAs even on an exercise break are able to maintain muscle even without lifting a single weight during that time.
BCAAs make you burn more fat.
The powerful combination of leucine and isoleucine can provide your body what it needs to access its fat stores and burn them up directly for fuel. Isoleucine has properties that improve glucose tolerance, while leucine boosts your ability to burn more fat.
In addition, the increased amount of muscle in your body revs up your metabolism, which directly contributes to your increased fat-burning abilities as well. When you combine these two properties, you get a supplement that promotes accelerated muscle gain and fat loss at the same time.
BCAAs reduce muscle soreness.
Soreness after a particularly intense workout is to be expected, but sometimes, soreness can prevent you from exercising the next day or upping your ante. Multiple studies have shown that taking BCAAs can largely reduce soreness after exercise, and it works whether you’re lifting weights or doing endurance exercises.
What’s even more remarkable is BCAAs work against soreness even for people who have not worked out for a long time. This is great news since people who haven’t moved off the couch for a while will definitely feel a lot more soreness than athletes who have been exercising for years.
But even if you’re an advanced exerciser, reducing soreness helps because it speeds up your recovery and allows you to raise the bar more quickly. When you push the intensity level up more often, you take your body to places you thought were impossible to go and see more incredible results from your workouts.
BCAAs are great for older people.
The bad news is as we grow older, our bodies start losing muscle at around age 35. The good news, however, is protein and BCAA supplementation paired with regular resistance training can push back the age at which we start dropping muscle.
Many experts believe that the BCAA leucine alone can increase protein synthesis by a whopping 145%. Don’t think it’s an excuse to hoard all the leucine tabs, though, because isoleucine and valine have their own benefits. An extra high dose of leucine could also lead to an imbalance in your amino acid levels.
BCAAs sharpen your mind.
Scientists couldn’t explain how this works, but it definitely does. Athletes supplementing with BCAAs during a marathon have significantly better results in a mental performance test done right after the race.
A study was done on athletes who were asked to take three BCAAs during a marathon. After the race, the athletes had to complete the Stroop Color Test, where they had to name the word or color that appears on a page.
The results show that those who supplemented with BCAAs performed better on the test than those who didn’t. Also, the slower runners showed improvements in their running time, although the faster runners didn’t go faster.
BCAAs reduce fatigue and increase endurance.
BCAAs are not for bodybuilders only. If you’re an endurance athlete, you can gain a lot from them. These specific amino acids can be burned directly for energy, which is especially useful if you’re doing glycogen-depleting cardio exercises.
They have also been proven to inhibit the rise of tryptophan, a naturally occurring amino acid that produces serotonin. While serotonin improves your mood during exercise, it also speeds up the onset of fatigue. So while you may feel happier, you also feel more tired earlier. With the use of BCAAs, you can prevent fatigue by curbing the release of serotonin into your nervous system.
Andy Atari is a fitness blogger, researcher, and enthusiast. She writes for the every guy and every girl, the average Joes and Janes of the world who aren’t training to win a competition tomorrow or run a marathon in a week. She believes that everyone can have a fit and strong body, a goal that is not impossible to achieve if you set your mind to it. For more information, check out Andy’s work at FitnessAtrium.com.