For years, there has been a debate within the fitness industry surrounding branch-chain amino acids – or BCAAs for short. It can be a bit of a hot subject because opinions can vary wildly. Some say BCAAs are essential for athletes while others claim that BCAAs are nothing more than a useless supplement that companies sell to make money. Here we’re answer questions like what are BCAAs? And let you know whether or know you should be taking them – and why.
So, What are BCAAs?
Let’s first answer the question ‘what are BCAAs?’ by defining what BCAAs actually are: They are the three key essential amino acids and are named leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three amino acids combine to make up approximately 35% of the muscle protein within the human body. However, the there are actually nine essential amino acids within the human body.
The nine essential amino acids are defined as the amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own. These nine essential amino acids must be consumed through proper nutrition.
Together, amino acids make up protein and ultimately help protein perform its vital functions within the body. However, the three essential amino acids that make up BCAAs allow the body to preservice glycogen which helps fuel the muscles. These essential amino acids also help reduce the amount of breakdown that occurs during a workout.
What Do BCAAs Actually Do?
BCAAs are commonly linked to exercise – specifically, muscle building. This is because BCAAs are metabolized by the muscles while other amino acids are metabolized by the liver. Since BCAAs are metabolized by the muscles, they’re credited with expediting muscle growth, improving athletic performance and reducing recovery time.
Essentially, BCAAs allow your body to maintain a source of energy that it can pull from during a workout. This is because BCAAs help to preservice glycogen. Maintaining an adequate amount of glycogen prevents your body from using protein for energy. So, all things BCAAs point to your body being able to maintain muscle while burning carbs and fat.
The Right Amount of BCAAs
There is a very small sweet spot when it comes to consuming BCAAs. The body doesn’t need an enormous amount of BCAAs to thrive – like it does macronutrients. It actually only needs a very small amount of BCAAs in order to aid the body with building and repairing muscle. A good amount of BCAAs consist of 5 grams of leucine, four grams of valine and two grams of isoleucine per day.
However, remember that BCAAs can only be consumed through proper diet. So, if you’re not consuming foods that contain BCAAs then you likely need to consume them in supplement form.
What Foods Contain BCAAs?
This is simple, foods that contain protein contain BCAAs. So, if you’re consuming a diet that consist of a medium to high amount of protein per day – then you’re likely consuming enough BCAAs. To boost your protein and BCAA intake, consider foods like brown rice, almonds, cashews, grains, mushrooms, soy and peanuts. Consuming these foods regularly will help ensure that your body maintains an adequate level of BCAAs.
The 4 Benefits of BCAAs
Reduced Muscle Fatigue – During every exercise session, athletes experience some form of fatigue. No matter how strong or fit you are, eventually your muscles will reach a point of complete exhaustion. But how quickly athletes reach a point of total exhaustion can vary greatly. Things like the environment and the workout intensity can greatly impact when the point of exhaustion occurs.
BCAAs can help delay the point of exhaustion. This means that you can workout longer, complete more exercises or reps and ultimately have a longer, better workout. This directly equates to better results.
Less Muscle Soreness – We’ve all been there after a workout – and sometimes even a day or two later. That point when our body is just completely spent and sore. That point where you have to force yourself back into the gym – even though everything seems to hurt. That’s a condition called delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s believed to be caused by the tears that occur in the muscles during a workout.
Since BCAAs help to prevent and restore torn muscle damage, they directly impact the soreness that our bodies feel after a workout. Reduced soreness means more workouts and better results.
Prevent Muscle Loss – Muscles are in a constant state of synthesis. When muscles are used, they’re broken down. They then have to be repaired – which causes a never-ending cycle. But when the muscles are broken down at a higher rate than they’re repaired, muscle loss occurs.
Consuming BCAAs ensures that the body has the necessary nutrients to repair the muscles when they’re broken down. This helps prevent muscle loss.
More Muscle Growth – BCAAs not only help prevent muscle loss, they also help promote more muscle growth. As mentioned above, the body is in a constant state of protein synthesis – it’s either going to gain muscle or lose it. BCAAs help ensure that the body builds muscle instead of losing it.
So, Do You Actually Need BCAAs?
Here’s how we see it: Protein is essential to building and maintaining muscle mass. And BCAAs are essentially the most essential part of protein. They’re what allows protein to do its job. So, I feel very confident saying that you need BCAAs.
But there’s a good chance that you are already consuming an adequate amount of BCAAs. If you’re consuming a diet that contains even an average amount of protein – which is approximately .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight – then you’re likely consuming enough BCAAs.
Likewise, if you’re an athlete that regularly consumes a protein supplement, then you’re likely already consuming BCAAs. In either of these cases, using a BCAA supplement would likely amount to flushing money down the toilet.
So, take a look at your diet. When you understand what you’re consuming, you’ll know whether or not you need to consume a BCAA supplement. But I would be willing to bet that you don’t need to use a BCAA supplement.