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What are BCCAs?
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are made up of 3 Essential Amino Acids, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential Amino Acids cannot be made by the body; therefore, they must be consumed (from food and/or supplements).
Why are these particular Amino Acids so Important?
Muscles need protein in order to grow. Despite the various types of protein, they are all composed of just 20 different amino acids. BCAAs in particular make up to 35% of your muscle tissue. To say that these are the “more important” ones when it comes to building muscle and providing performance benefits is quite an understatement.
Although you get a fair amount of BCAAs in Whey Protein, there are more benefits when taking them individually. For example, digestion is unnecessary when consumed in their free-form state. They get rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream due to their ability to simply bypass the liver and gut.
Why does this matter?
Taking a few grams of free-form BCAAs will have a much greater effect on your BCAA plasma levels than taking upwards of 30 grams of Whey Protein, which causes a more immediate impact on protein synthesis. It’s been shown that effectively stimulating protein synthesis will lead to great muscle growth, strength and recovery1
Furthermore, BCAAs and tryptophan fight for the same receptors in the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel relaxed, sleepy and weak; the absolute last things you want during a workout! Therefore, having higher concentrations of BCAAs in the brain by sipping BCAAs during your workout can help delay fatigue, which translates into an increase in mental and physical performance.2
Okay, I’m sold. What performance benefits can I expect?
Although BCAAs and their performance benefits have been studied to a great degree, which resulted in some very promising findings, these findings haven’t necessarily translated into huge gains in strength or muscle mass. In other words, they’re no miracle.
Now that your expectations have been somewhat tapered, they are actually still very beneficial. Taking them before your workout has been shown to decrease soreness and lead to a quicker recovery time.3 Also, let’s not forget the extra energy you’ll have during your workouts.
The reduced soreness, quicker recovery time and increased energy levels will help you achieve greater workouts, which will translate into greater gains in strength and muscle mass over time.
Furthermore, it seems the most beneficial thing BCAAs provide are their ability to preserve the muscle mass you already have, which is especially important if you’re on a restricted diet.
Sounds good enough, when should I take BCAAs?
I recommend taking 5 grams of Branched-chain amino acids before the workout to aid in your recovery and taking 5 grams during the workout to keep your energy levels up and increase the performance benefits.
- Falvo, M.J., et al. (2005). Effect of protein supplementation on strength, power and body composition changes in experienced resistance-trained men. Med Sci Sports Exercise. 37:Suppl 45.
- Newsholme, E. A., Acworth, I. N., & Blomstrand, E. (1987). Amino acids, brain neurotransmitters and a functional link between muscle and brain that is important in sustained exercise. Advances in Myochemistry, 1, 127-133.
- Shimomura, Y., Inaguma, A., Watanabe, S., Yamamoto, Y., Muramatsu, Y., Bajotto, G., … & Mawatari, K. (2010). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 20(3), 236.