Updated: Mar 9, 2022
If you're starting in your fitness journey, you may have heard of BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) which is the combination of 3 different essential amino acids: L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine. BCAAs are given their name because they have branched-structure which is found in high protein foods. BCAAs are burned during high-intensity training and at the end of long-distance events due to particularly L-Leucine, which helps increase work capacity and due to their protein aspect, they help with muscle building. How they work is they help your body preserve glycogen, which is the main form of fuel used by muscles.
So what are their benefits?
BCAAs have been found to increase muscle growth due to their ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, however, should not be taken instead of protein-rich foods or whey protein as these kinds of foods contain all nine of the amino acids rather than just the 3 present in BCAAs. By increasing your muscle growth, you can help your body become leaner as your body will therefore burn more calories due to the increase of muscle on your body in addition to being helpful for those looking to start bodybuilding, requiring the maintaining of muscle mass while become more
After exercise, particularly new or strenuous exercises, you may experience soreness. BCAAs can help with the soreness as well due to their ability to decrease muscle damage. There have been studies suggesting that this could be due to the BCAAs decreasing protein breakdown that occurs while exercising. In the same idea, since BCAAs are used during exercise, your BCAAs in your blood decrease resulting in your brain releasing a chemical causing fatigue. BCAAs can help your mental focus by decreasing your fatigue effect from low BCAAs during exercise.
The reason why BCAAs are loved is the fact that it helps your body sustain muscle and help them safeguard, meaning you're likely to get more out of your workouts. They help as an energy source, meaning you can perform better during your workouts, build your muscles, and stay lean, with the benefit of protecting your muscles from soreness.
To ensure you're getting a quality BCAAs, ensure there is a higher ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine. My favorite BCAA is by Kaged Muscle as they have a 2:1:1 ratio and are vegan and non-allergenic source so I never worry about the potentially dangerous or questionable ingredients included in their mix.
So when should you be consuming your BCAAs?
If you're using your BCAAs to optimize performance and muscle growth, you should be drinking them before your workouts as a form of pre-workout. It has also been shown to give athletes an extra boost in their workout when drinking it throughout the workout. In fact, for those with an endomorphic body type, drinking your BCAAs throughout the workout may be the best period to do so. BCAAs can also be used post-workout to further improve muscle protein synthesis. For those looking to build their muscles, taking BCAAs prior to working out may be the best period to reduce muscle breakdown throughout the exercise if you're doing so in a fasted state, however otherwise post-workout may be the best option.
In the end, BCAAs have great benefits for the body, and when you should be taking them depends entirely on your goals, timing, your consumption, and the duration of your workouts as well.