What is BCAA?
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they have many vital roles within the body. There are 20 different amino acids that we need to be healthy. Of these 20, nine are considered ‘essential’. Essential amino acids can’t be made within our body and must be consumed as part of a healthy diet. Of these essential amino acids, three are branched chain amino acids.
The three branched chain amino acids are called leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are called branched chain amino acids because they have a branch-like structure. Their structure means that they are not processed in the liver before entering the blood stream. Instead they directly enter the blood stream and can be immediately used for protein synthesis and energy production.
Leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, while isoleucine induces glucose uptake into cells. Further research is needed to determine valine’s role in a BCAA supplement, but what we do know is that they are most effective when taken in combination. As is so often the way in human nutrition, the sum of the whole is much more important than it’s parts.
What are the benefits of BCAA?
Due to their rapid absorption into the blood stream, BCAAs maximise muscle growth and repair, fuel training, and play other important roles. Lets look at these benefits in a bit more detail.
BCAAs build muscle
Leucine could be considered the king of the amino acids when it comes to building muscle. Leucine is highly researched, and there is a large body of evidence supporting its role in triggering muscle repair and growth. A serve of BCAA will ensure you receive enough leucine to stimulate the muscle building response after training. A 5g serve of leucine will optimise muscle repair and growth when taken around training.
BCAAs can reduce fatigue
There is some research to suggest that BCAA may decrease the rate at which you tire from exercise. Taking BCAA helps restore the levels of another essential amino acid, tryptophan, in the brain. Our bodies convert tryptophan into serotonin, the happy hormone, and this can help reduce perceived exhaustion during exercise. This can make exercise feel easier than it actually is, helping you to push harder for longer. This is similar to the role that caffeine plays, in that it improves our rate of perceived exertion.
BCAAs are used as fuel and prevent breakdown of muscles
During intense exercise, our bodies use branched chain amino acids as a fuel source. This is especially true if you are on a low carbohydrate diet. When carbohydrate availability is low, our bodies must increasingly rely on protein oxidisation to produce energy. If our blood levels of BCAA are low, we start to break down muscle tissue to use as fuel. This is not desirable as it makes recovery more taxing and kills our gains! Taking a supplement ensures you have a ready supply of BCAA in your bloodstream to use as fuel if needed.
The below table summarises the evidence surrounding the use of BCAA supplements, as taken from https://examine.com/supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids/
Should I be using BCAA?
Essential amino acids should be eaten or taken daily. BCAA is purchased in powder form. You can take it in a capsule, or mix the powder with the liquid of your choice to drink it. BCAA powder comes as either an unflavoured pure BCAA such as our BCAA 211 ,or as part of a intra-workout drink like our BCAA7000. It can be taken instead of, or along side, whey protein powders. As BCAA’s are not a milky drink many people prefer to use it before or during training so to not upset their stomach.
Supplementation isn’t necessary if you have a sufficiently high protein intake (1-1.5g/kg a day or more).While most people consume enough BCAA through their usual diet, a supplement could be useful for those with a lower protein diet. As BCAA’s occur in animal derived products, BCAA may be an important supplement for vegans and vegetarians. BCAA can be taken by anyone who wants to maximise their muscle growth or performance in training.
The world of supplements can be a minefield at times, with not all supplements having good evidence to support their use. Some supplements have more backing evidence than others.
When deciding whether or not to use a supplement you should consider the evidence supporting it, it’s cost, and whether it’s use make optimise your nutrition in a convenient way. In summary, branched chain amino acids play several important roles in the body and are a simple yet effecting supplement. BCAA is a useful alternative to whey protein powder. When taken before, during or after exercise, a BCAA supplement can help to fuel your workout, prevent fatigue and facilitate recovery and muscle synthesis.