what is bcaa

What Is A BCAA? The Lowdown On Branched Chain Amino Acids

When it comes to burning fat and improving athletic performance, most men and women will tell you that the field of supplementation is inundated with solutions. In fact, it can feel overwhelming. Protein, Creatine, Whey Protein, MCT supplements are just the start of the onslaught of advertising that seeks to entice us to buy. And all of that is important if you are an athlete or you are someone looking to burn some fat. But a common question I get from people who are searching for ways to obtain an athletic edge is, what is BCAA?

BCAA, this enigmatic four letter acronym, is planted all over signs and labels at every supplement store we visit.

BCAAs – Background On Amino Acids

Let’s break BCAA down into a more digestible format and then decipher why it is so important to athletic performance. BCAAs are amino acids. And amino acids are super important. If you avoid protein, you simply can’t grow any muscle. And if you can’t grow muscle, you are going to have a more difficult time burning fat.

Building muscle is actually the best way to put the body into fat burning mode. Now everyone relax for a second, I’m about to get all science up in here. Protein is made up of 20 different amino acids. Amino acids have three various groups.

These groups are located on both ends of the amino acid, and the middle. Good grief, this feels confusing, so let’s make it even more confusing. One amino group is (NH3). Carboxyl acid is another. And the C-H group is the final one. Amino acids are all structured in various ways which give uniqueness to the proteins they create.

Now, some amino acids are naturally produced by the body. And some amino acids are not produced naturally by the body. The ones that are not naturally produced by the body are known as “essential amino acids.” You’ve likely heard the term but possibly didn’t understand exactly what it means.

The reason we call them essential is that people need to get them from their diet. In other words, the body isn’t going to help. Thereby, they are essential to ingest in some form. There are eight that are essential. Let’s have a look at the list:

  • tryptophan
  • threonine
  • valine
  • isoleuceine
  • methionine
  • leucine
  • lysine
  • phenylalanine

For the average person reading that list, tryptophan is probably the most familiar. We hear this amino acid mentioned a great deal around Thanksgiving. So if you want to get those amino acids, you need to either eat them or use a supplement which contains them.

what is bcaaSo what is a BCAA? Are we ever to unravel the mystery? Yes, that’s happening now.

Branched-chain amino acids is what the acronym BCAA stands for. At this juncture, you should already realize that “is” should be “are,” but we couldn’t have known that originally so let’s not feel bad! What ARE BCAAs? Now that we have our grammars down, let’s move on.

BCAAs were first popularized by athletes who wanted to increase their performance on the field (or court, or gym). They are also important to people who want to gain lean muscle. And this makes them important to those who want to burn fat.

There are some scientific studies which claim that BCAAs do what is called “break the blood brain barrier.” The brain doesn’t allow supplements to commonly enhance it, however, many believe that BCAAs do just that. In the case of BCAAs, they are linked to increasing serotonin in the brain which would increase mental energy and stave off depression.

On a similar note, some studies show it to lower serotonin. That same linked study also notes that a BCAA supplement user can add in tyrosine to balance such potential deficit. Many of our Top 10 Best Protein Powders contain tyrosine for that very reason. I don’t think I’d get too caught up in this aspect of things, however.

BCAAs are also known as “nitrogen carriers.” In essence, they can help muscles spawn more aminos, which helps to further stimulate muscle growth. BCAAs also fire up our insulin hormone. This is an important function of BCAAs because the hormone insulin is what helps our muscles make use of carbohydrates for the purposes of energy conversion. Insulin also allows the muscles to utilize more amino acids. BCAAs are anti-catabolic and what’s known as “anabolic.” This is because they turn on the human body’s protein synthesis switch.

Catabolism, which is the action of muscles breaking down, is known to reduce in athletes who use BCAAs. This is mainly a component of athletes who compete in endurance sports such as long distance running where catabolism is very common.

HIIT training, such as weightlifting, can certainly prompt its fair share of catabolism as well. In both cases, these athletes are recommended to ingest BCAA supplementation. The reduction of catabolism is essential to anyone who wants to gain muscle. Catabolism is literally the enemy of muscle growth and muscle maintenance. The supplementation of BCAAs would provide an essential platform for any athlete. This is why BCAAs are so popular.

Where Can You Buy BCAAs

Now that we’ve removed the enigma from BCAAs, let’s talk about how you’d go about obtaining them. BCAA supplements are found in supplement stores such as GNC. You can also use Amazon to find standard BCAA supplements…BUT, the best way to make sure you’re getting enough BCAAs (especially if you’re looking to build muscle) is by utilizing a high quality protein powder.

Our Top 10 Best Protein Powders all contain BCAAs, plus many other amazing ingredients that can help you burn fat and gain muscle.

In fact, our #1 ranked protein powder naturally contains over 6 grams of BCAAs in every serving due to its use of an extremely high quality, ultra pure whey protein hydrolysate blend.

I’d definitely make sure to review any BCAAs before you purchase them. Look for user reviews. BodyBuilding.com has lots of reviews and of course, we have our protein drink reviews. There is a ton of information out there to help you along.

But don’t just blindly purchase them and hope for the best. We live in a day and age where the free exchange of information is crucial. It can save you a lot of money and a lot of wasted time. Supplementation is essential, particularly as we age and our bodies decide to not cooperate with our goals.


Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.