More than half of America’s adult population uses dietary supplements. Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) make up an important chunk of the supplement market. It’s a common misconception that BCAA supplements are meant solely for bodybuilders. But the truth is that if you exercise on a regular basis, BCAAs can really boost your performance and help you stay fit.
Before we get into the benefits and necessity of these supplements, you should know what BCAAs are, and how they interact with your body.
BCAAs make up 35-40% of essential amino acids in your body. Leucine, valine and isoleucine form the triumvirate of amino acids found in BCAAs. Nonessential amino acids are produced in the body while the essential ones (like the three mentioned above) are derived from food sources or supplements.
You might already be helping your body produce BCAAs by consuming meat, fish and certain dairy products. However, if you’re involved in daily physical activity, whether at a gym or outdoors, additional BCAA sources can help up the ante.
When going through an intense workout session, your body’s glycogen level drops and that’s when your body starts drawing BCAAs from muscle proteins to use as fuel. Being low in these vital elements can hinder muscle growth and increase fatigue. To feel your best and optimize your workout, loading up on the right amount of BCAA can be a game-changer.
If you’re on a strict diet your body can eventually lose skeletal muscle mass and BCAA can help maintain a healthy balance. If you’re a bodybuilder, BCAAs are even more vital to staying lean yet muscular.
Studies have shown BCAA supplements can help decrease fatigue during and after high-intensity sporting activities. For instance, cyclists under heat stress who consumed a BCAA drink cycled for 12% longer than those who had a placebo drink. A direct link to enhanced performance hasn’t been conclusively found, but there is well-documented evidence that BCAAs can reduce exhaustion levels.
Better Glucose Levels
When you’re working out, BCAAs are released to your skeletal muscles that help regulate blood sugar levels. The resulting glucose balance allows your cells to build muscle tissue, enhance muscle repair and keep post-workout soreness at bay. This is especially important if you’re on a restricted diet or fasting before or after a strenuous workout.
If your BCAA supplement contains more leucine than valine or isoleucine, it could help build muscle mass. That’s because BCAAs help with the release of particular enzymes that aid muscle building. The foremost reason for gym rats consuming BCAA is to build a larger body. But keep in mind that it only works when you complement it with a nutritious diet.
There is some evidence that proves BCAAs can help with weight problems. In research conducted among middle-aged adults, those who consumed 15 grams of BCAA as part of their diet were less likely to have obesity issues.
In one study, some wrestlers were given 14 grams of BCAA and others 28 grams of whey protein. The results? Participants in the first group were able to lose 1% more weight than the latter over eight weeks. Also, the BCAA group gained 4.4 pounds of extra muscle.
How to consume BCAAs
Chicken and turkey breast, salmon, canned tuna and low-fat Greek yogurt are some food items that contain all three BCAAs. However, if you have an extremely streamlined diet BCAA supplements can do the trick.
The best way to go about it is to discuss your options with a dietician before purchasing your BCAA supplements. Also, pick out a company that has been tested by a third-party organization. A leucine/isoleucine/valine ratio of 2:1:1 or 3:1:1 is your best bet.
While BCAA supplements can be consumed throughout the day, try to take them before a workout. Once isoleucine and valine enter your blood plasma they can be converted into glucose thus improving energy levels during a strenuous day at the gym.
For those who aim to reach a catabolic state on a regular basis, BCAAs can really help make your physical workouts more effective. Just make sure you don’t overdo it with BCAA supplements as this could cause excessive insulin resistance.
Last but not the least, skeptics will tell you that a whey protein powder will give you all the BCAAs you need. They’re partially right, but the BCAAs present in whey powder take longer to absorb into your bloodstream. In the case of direct BCAA supplements, the amino acids are free form, which speeds up the absorption process for you to feel the difference much quicker than you would with a whey protein shake.
At the end of the day, splurging on BCAA supplements is not a bad idea as long as you control your intake and don’t burn a hole in your pocket. If your diet is low on certain animal proteins that contain the three essential amino acids (or if you’re just tired of chowing down on meat at every meal), BCAA supplements are the way to go.