When you’re reading up on protein supplements and other additions to your diet to help with your workout, you may have stumbled upon mentions of BCAAs.
You may have noticed how manufacturers tend to brag about how their supplements contain large quantities of these BCAAs, with the understanding that athletes want these BCAAs in the first place.
After all, many in the industry already realize the various BCAA benefits.
But if you don’t, that’s okay, because you’re on the right web page. When you’re done with this article, you should be among those in the know about the critical role of BCAAs for athletes and gym goers.
What are BCAAs and What Do BCAAs Do?
BCAAs stand for branched-chain amino acids, which include 3 essential amino acids in particular. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The term “branched-chain” in the BCAA name is due to their unique molecular structure with chains having branches off to one side.
What’s of more importance to people like us who work out is the fact that your body cannot make these particular amino acids. That’s why they’re called “essential”.
You need them in your diet, or else you won’t have them in your body at all. And if your diet doesn’t give you enough BCAAs, you better get them from supplements.
You have 20 different amino acids in the proteins in your body, and 9 of them are essential(1) because your body can’t produce them on its own.
The BCAAs as a group make up about 35 to 40 percent of all your essential amino acids and about 14 to 18 percent found in the muscles.
How BCAAs Work:
Unlike other amino acids, the BCAAs aren’t broken down in the liver. Instead, they’re broken down mostly in the muscle.
It’s for this reason that experts believe BCAAs are involved in producing energy for you to use when you’re working out.
Your body can use the BCAAs as building blocks for protein, and by now you should know that protein is the raw material your muscles need to rebuild.
That’s why many people take protein supplements, and why they pay special attention to BCAA levels.
BCAAs also reduce the serotonin production in your brain. This, in turn, reduces your feelings of tiredness when you work out. BCAAs also be part of regulation your blood sugar levels.
They preserve sugar stores in your muscles and liver, and they also stimulate your cells to absorb sugar from your bloodstream.
Leucine, in particular, is critical especially in how it affects your ability to build muscle proteins. On the other hand, isoleucine and valine are more important for energy production and for regulating blood sugar levels.
What Are the Benefits of BCAAs?
So do BCAAs work? Yes, it does work to help athletes in various ways. Are BCAAs worth it?
That’s a question only you can answer, but for many the answer is clear—it’s worth it.
You only need to glance at several important benefits to be convinced:
1.BCAAs Fight Off Fatigue
What’s your most common “enemy” when you work out? It’s probably fatigue. If you get tired, then you’re done.
You can’t overstrain yourself because when you’re tired and you still continue working out, you may just injure yourself as well.
So the goal for you is to want to fight off fatigue(2) so you can last longer with your workouts.
You can do more reps and lift heavier weights, which can then lead to bigger muscles at a faster rate. That’s what BCAAs do for you.
A lot of studies show that if people take BCAA supplements, they’re less likely to get tired.
Fewer people report fatigue, and people are able to exercise for longer periods of time when on BCAA supplements.
2.BCAAs Improve Workout Performance
When you work out, you use up your amino acids. It’s been shown that your stores of BCAAs in the body are quickly used up when you work out.
So logically, if you improve your BCAA levels with supplementation, your BCAA stores should last longer.
With BCAA supplementation, researchers have found that athletes can enjoy certain benefits for their workout performance.
Some athletes enjoyed increased muscle strength and power output. Slower marathon runners were able to improve their running times.
3.Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Some studies have also indicated that BCAAs can help promote blood sugar control. However, the results of these studies have been inconsistent and inconclusive. But it’s an intriguing benefit.
Having high blood sugar levels is a natural consequence when you’re eating too much and not getting enough exercise.
When you’re sick or simply just stressed, your blood sugar goes way up as well. A high blood sugar level is also common when you’re tired or thirsty, or if you’re losing weight much too quickly.
When you do have high blood sugar, it can cause your body to lose too much fluid. You may faint or vomit, or just feel sick to your stomach.
So with BCAAs, you may just avoid all these problems.
4.BCAAs Reduce Muscle Soreness
It’s common to have sore muscles when you’re done with your workout, especially when you exercise with high intensity.
You may want to get a massage for those muscles because muscle soreness can slow down your recovery and your overall workout progress.
There have been several studies that have indicated that muscle soreness can be alleviated with BCAA supplementation.
Studies show that those who take BCAAs give ratings of up to 33% lower for their perceived level of muscle soreness.
In addition, when asked to do the same strength training exercises they did after 24 to 48 hours, the people on BCAAs were able to improve their performance by up to 20%.
Take note that this isn’t a universal benefit. It only affects some people this way. Its effects can be different depending on the person.
5.BCAAs Increase Muscle Mass
Many people who go to the gym want to gain bigger muscles. It’s a popular fitness goal because bigger muscles look good, and they increase strength. This leads to improved athletic performance and most likely a better social life too.
BCAAs help with increased muscle growth by activating the enzymes that are responsible for building muscles.
The studies confirm that BCAAs help with getting bigger muscles, and they’re especially effective when you have higher levels of leucine compared to the isoleucine and valine levels.
Still, protein is still the most important part of your supplementation when it comes to building muscles. But you can get 2 birds with 1 stone by making sure that your protein supplement comes with adequate BCAA levels.
6.BCAAs Improve Your Breathing
What happens when you work too hard or run too quickly for too long? If you’re not a costumed superhero, you end up gasping for breath. You need more oxygen to function.
The nice thing about BCAAs is that they can increase your average oxygen intake by as much as 19%. You’re able to get more oxygen into your lungs.
BCAAs also improve your body’s ability to receive and process oxygen even at higher rates.
Finally, BCAAs also lower the CO2 levels in your blood. This usually rises when you’re working out hard, so the supplement can balance things out nicely.
7.BCAAs Reduces Your Feelings of Pain
When your brain thinks that you’ve just undergone something stressful, it reacts by sending out a neurotransmitter and stress hormone called norepinephrine(3).
The hormone fights off the stress by increasing the blood flow to your muscles, triggering the release of sugar (glucose) in your blood, and increasing your heart rate.
Norepinephrine is responsible for speeding up your reaction time and it also boosts your alertness. With this hormone, you’re less concentrated on any pain you may be feeling.
One study showed that BCAAs increase Norepinephrine levels in rats. This is a hopeful sign that it may have the same effect with humans.
8.BCAAs Prevent Muscle Wasting
It’s normal when your body constantly breaks down and rebuilds your muscle proteins.
You just want to make sure that muscle protein synthesis is greater than your muscle protein breakdown. That’s to maintain and develop your muscles.
When you fail at this and your protein breakdown is greater than your protein synthesis, it’s called muscle wasting.
It’s a common symptom of malnutrition, as your body doesn’t rake enough protein for your muscles to feed on for rebuilding.
You also see it when you fast, or if you have cancer or a chronic infection. But it’s also a common symptom of just getting older.
It’s for this reason why you need protein supplementation. You also need BCAA supplementation because you need to make sure you’re maintaining your BCAA levels in your body.
But the BCAAs help also by slowing down the body’s process of muscle protein breakdown.
This effect is rather noticeable when taken by the elderly or by people with conditions such as cancer.
With BCAAs, muscle wasting can at least be inhibited somewhat.
Top Food Sources
Like protein, BCAAs don’t have to come solely from supplements.
These supplements are to make sure that you have enough BCAAs.
But you can also get BCAAs from your food. In fact, there’s a long list of food items which can offer BCAAs.
However, some food items contain more BCAAs than others.
If you’re concentrating on getting enough BCAAs, then you better get the following BCAA foods with your meals:
- Fish, poultry, and meat. Each 3-ounce serving gives you about 3 to 4.5 grams of BCAAs.
- Lentils and beans. A cup offers about 2.5 to 3 grams.
- Milk. It’s not just good for your bones. It also offers 2g of BCAAs.
- Tempeh and tofu. These are vegetarian staples, which can provide 0.9 to 2.3g per 3-ounce serving.
- Cheese. Each ounce provides 1.4g.
- Eggs. A large egg gives you 1.3g.
- Quinoa. A cup offers 1g.
- Pumpkin seeds. Each ounce has 1g.
- Nuts. Depending on the nuts you’re snacking on, each ounce of nuts provides about 0.7 to 1 gram of BCAAs.
If you already have lots of protein in your diet, then in all likelihood you’re getting enough BCAAs.
But if you’re not getting enough protein, then you need to make sure you’re getting your BCAAs along with your protein.
You also need more BCAAs if you’re an athlete because you use up your BCAAs with your exercise efforts.
The proper BCAA dosage for you depends on your physique, your gender, and your fitness goals.
The old thinking (circa 1985) was that you need at least 15 mg of BCAA per day or each pound you weigh. So if you weigh 180 pounds, it means you need at least 2.7g of BCAAs per day.
Now after several decades of new research on the topic, experts believe that you need around 65mg per day for each pound you weigh. Now a man who weighs 180 pounds needs at least 11.7g of BCAAs a day.
As a general rule, men need about 12g of BCAAs each day. For women, this drops to just 9g per day. For most people, about 5 to 12g of BCAAs should be enough.