BCAA is short for Branched Chain Amino Acids. Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and BCAA are three of those building blocks. The branched chain part refers to the structure of the amino acids. The three BCAAs are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. BCAAs are all essential amino acids meaning we need to get them from our diet. Dietary sources of BCAA include meats, fish and eggs, however, supplementation has become popular in recent years.
One of the reasons for supplementing is that they are broken down and used during exercise (especially leucine). When you’re in a carb depleted state (after waking and long periods of exercise) the muscle uses BCAA with other substates to form alanine which then goes to the liver to be converted into glucose (carbs – energy), if the branched-chain aminos are not available in the blood, the breakdown of protein and therefore muscle happens to get these BCAAs.
BCAA can also be used by the muscles for fuel during exercise and may help you avoid mental fatigue, this is becuase Tryptophan (another amino acid which is used in the process of making serotonin – sleep hormones) and BCAA compete for entry into the brain, if you can reduce the amount of trytophan entering the brain by intaking branched-chain aminos this can have a positive effect on your mental fatigue (which plays a huge role in your performance).
- The uptake increases during exercise
- During exercise we are in a catabolic (breaking down) state
- We need at least 5g of Leucine to stimualte muscle protein synthesis
- We need more than just 3 amino acids for muscle protein synthesis
- Muscle Protein Synthesis is an anabolic (building up) process which cannot take place until catabolic activites (exercise) finish
- 2:1:1 ratio is ideal
- 6-15g taken before exercise may improve recovery by lessening the amount of muscle breakdown during exercise
What does the research say:
The research is very mixed and there’s alot out there. The consensus I have gathered from reading many different research papers is that having adequate protein in your diet is more important for buidling lean muscle (and toning up) than supplementing with BCAA. However, for recovery (less muscle break down during exercise) and performance (less fatigue and a supply in the blood without having to break down muscle) this supplement can be helpful! And better performance = better results! Theres no harmful side effects associated with BCAA so if your budget can afford you it then go for it, just be wary of the brand you buy as not all of them are worth the money! And I’d reccomend ensuring your daily protein intake is adequate first, as is your daily nutrition before investing in any supplement.
Which BCAA Do I Reccomend?
I use Xtend by Scivation and mix 1 scoop into a shaker full of water and consume during my workout. The reason being is that in my opinion they are the best! They contain 7g of BCAA per scoop and follow the 2:1:1 ratio. They not only taste amazing but they also contain electrolytes which are lost during sweating. Sciavation also have done their own research into their products rather than riding off the back of general BCAA research (not all supplements are the same quality!) I notice a difference in my fatigue levels with and without BCAA.
I really hope this blog helps you in some way. If you have any questions or would like pointing in the direction of some of the research, leave a comment or send me a DM on Instagram. I’d be happy to help.