Have you heard people talk about BCAAs?
BCAAs, which stands for branched-chain amino acids, are some of the most popular supplements being used today by fitness enthusiasts and athletes. But even with their popularity, there are still many people who still don’t know what BCAAs are or what they do.
If you are in the group who has heard about BCAAs and have started doing some research, it’s important to make sure that information you’re finding is incorrect because there is outdated information plus there is also something called EAAs that many people tend to confuse.
So, let’s clear up some of the myths and learn what BCAA supplements are, how they might help your performance in the gym, and even possibly help prevent muscle soreness after working out by covering some of the most common questions about BCAAs.
There are 20 amino acids, which are necessary for protein formation. Out of these 20 amino acids, 9 are considered essential, which means the body can’t make them by itself.
Within the 9 Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), there are 3 Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):
“Branched chain” refers to the chemical structure of BCAAs, which are found in protein-rich foods such as eggs, meat and dairy products. In addition to that, they are also a popular dietary supplement sold primarily in powder form but can also be found in pill form.
There are multiple benefits to taking BCAAs such as:
Increase Muscle Growth – Leucine activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS), which is the process of making muscle. (1)
Decrease Muscle Soreness – Reducing muscle breakdown: When you exercise, your muscles are subjected to a lot of stress. They need to repair themselves after this stress so they can be ready to handle future workouts. BCAAs increase the rate at which protein is synthesized into muscle tissue so that your muscles can repair themselves faster and better. This can results in increased muscle mass, strength, and endurance during exercise.(2)
Reduce Exercise Fatigue – When we’re exercising, we’ve all probably wished at some point we could have lifted a little more or run for longer without having gotten so tired.
Our muscles use BCAAs during exercise, causing levels in your blood to decrease. When blood levels of BCAAs decline, levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in your brain increase. In your brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a brain chemical that is thought to contribute to the development of fatigue during exercise. There have been studies that show participants who supplemented with BCAAs improved mental focus during exercise. There hasn’t been much proof that BCAAs keep us from getting physically tired, but they can help with mental focus and fatigue which can have a big impact on a workout.(3, 4)
Before Workouts – to supply the muscles an energy source for the workout and to blunt fatigue. This goes back to the idea that higher levels of BCAAs help limit the entry of tryptophan into your brain. Your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin, which may contribute to exercise fatigue.(5)
After Workouts – to drive muscle protein synthesis (MPS). (6)
With Meals – if your meals don’t contain a large enough protein source you could take BCAAs to bump up your leucine content for greater MPS.(7)
BCAA’s are a great source of protein that helps to give your body extra endurance, strength and recovery. In the fitness community and for active people in general BCAA’s are popular, especially with long training regimens or intense workouts. They are great, especially for bodybuilders, cross trainers, and weightlifters.
Hopefully, this helps answer some of your questions on BCAAs. You may have also heard of EAAs and are wondering what the difference is and whether you should be taking BCAAs or EAAs. Next week I’ll be diving into that topic a bit further so make sure to check back.