Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are very popular within the fitness industry. They are often taken as a standalone powder, or tablet, whilst they are also a key ingredient in many pre-workout formulas.
BCAAs are considered the perfect supplement for people looking to put on mass, but more so people who are looking to cut down and shred some body fat whilst maintaining as much muscle as possible.
How Do BCAAs Work?
When you are cutting calories, your body will be in a catabolic state. This means that your body will be breaking down tissue (fat, some muscle etc.) rather than making it (which is known as being anabolic).
Muscle loss will occur when cutting since your body opts to use the amino acids which would have otherwise been utilised for protein synthesis (to build muscle) as an energy source.
It is generally important to understand how this building muscle business works…
To build muscle, your body’s rate of protein synthesis must be greater than the rate of protein breakdown. When it is the other way round, muscle loss occurs, and when they are equal your muscle mass remains the same.
So how do we get around this?…
✓ BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthesis
BCAAs (such as leucine) stimulate protein synthesis more than regular dietary protein because they have already been broken down into the necessary amino acids that your body requires to carry out the reaction. Therefore the rate of protein synthesis increases, in addition to the amount of protein synthesis any one particular cell can carry out. This is a prominent explanation for how BCAAs can help maximise muscle recovery. Muscle repair = more muscle growth!
✓ BCAAs reduce the amount of protein breakdown
This occurs by reducing the number of bases that are released which signal to break down protein. If you consider this in addition to our previous point, and the general formula for building muscle, it is easier to understand how BCAAs increase protein synthesis and reduce protein breakdown, which, in turn, leads to more muscle being built.
What Are The Other Benefits Of BCAAs?
If all that on building more muscle wasn’t enough to convince you. They also have several other benefits which will help you with your fitness goals.
✓ BCAA supplements can help to reduce tiredness, which can significantly boost your workout. This is one of the key reasons which they are recommended to take before your workout – and the main reason it is included in pre-workouts such as MYPRE.
They do this by inhibiting the production of serotonin, which often rises during exercise. Serotonin increases the ‘perception of fatigue’ which means you will tire more during your workouts. If you haven’t already worked it out, BCAAs will prevent this from occurring, giving you more energy. Therefore you can work out for longer, push harder and lift even more weight!
✓ Furthermore, they have been shown to reduce muscle soreness, meaning you can push even harder the days following intense exercise.
Are They Suitable For Me?
As previously mentioned, BCAAs are great for those looking to increase mass, as well as those looking to lose fat. Anyone can take BCAAs – and they will benefit you in different ways.
As individuals age, creating the optimum muscle building environment within your body can be harder to accomplish. BCAAs are a great way for those over the age of 35 to boost the amount of muscle they can build. Even younger lifters who want that extra edge would benefit from these amino acids, especially leucine – having been shown to increase protein synthesis by up to 145%.
BCAAs are also excellent for people following specific diets, or eating schedules such as Intermittent Fasting.
For example, BCAAs are incredibly beneficial to take pre-workout during a fast to fuel your muscles, giving you energy and encouraging them to grow whilst you burn fat!
Many people have argued that you can get the same benefits that BCAAs offer from other sources, such as whey protein. Whilst whey is an excellent source of fast absorbing protein, it doesn’t have the same effects as a concentrated source of BCAAs.
The amino acids in whey have to be broken down, therefore it is not as efficient as taking BCAAs alone. This isn’t to say that whey protein is bad – not by any means – but if you’re specifically seeking the properties of BCAAs directly, it will be worthwhile to have a higher dosage.
Side Effects/Safety Precautions
Whilst BCAAs are generally harmless, if you fall into one of the following categories, they might not be best for you. Use with caution, and if you do, always consult your doctor beforehand.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding – if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is not recommended to take branched-chain amino acids, since there has not been enough reliable evidence to suggest it is safe to do so.
Before Surgery – BCAAs have been shown to affect blood sugar levels, so it is not recommended to take them soon before you undergo surgery. If you do take them, ensure to stop taking them at least 2 weeks before you undergo surgery.
Otherwise – they are completely safe to consume! (1) (Although, I wouldn’t recommend consuming a whole bag in one day!…)
BCAA powder can be taken in 5g dosages, 2-4 times daily, whenever needed! Consume pre-workout, during training with some cordial (powdered form already available flavoured!), post-workout or during the day to help with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Capsules have different dosage recommendations – for example, our BCAA 1500 can be taken in pairs, 2-3 times daily. Nevertheless, dosages are usually very similar – follow guidelines and match to your lifestyle (active, very active… bodybuilder, etc.)
Take Home Message
When utilised correctly, BCAAs are an extremely powerful supplement. They will help increase your muscle mass by increasing the rate of protein synthesis, in addition to preventing muscle loss when cutting.
They deliver a good source of energy intra-workout, and are great to take beforehand, especially when training fasted!