Branched-chain amino acids or BCAA are quickly becoming one of the most popular supplements in the fields of sports and bodybuilding, and for very good reason.
In a moment we will look at some of the benefits that BCAA offer so you can determine whether or not they’re right for you (they really are!) but let’s start off by examining what these amino acids are.
What are BCAA?
Essential amino acids are those that the human body is incapable of synthesizing from other sources, so it is essential that we source them from food or supplements.
BCAA are an example of essential amino acids because the three BCAA – L-leucine, L-valine, and L-isoleucine – cannot be made in the body. This means that we can only hope to reap the benefits they offer by, well, eating them!
These three amino acids are found in many protein sources such as chicken and whey protein powder, but it is important to use them in their refined form to get the greatest bang for our BCAA buck.
BCAA supplements typically come manufactured as a powder or in capsule form, meaning that they can easily be taken with water. Products containing BCAA usually come in a ratio of 2:1:1 or occasionally 3:1:1, both in favor of L-leucine.
When purchasing a BCAA supplement you should always ensure that this ratio is met because L-leucine is the most instrumental amino acid when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
What are the Benefits of BCAA?
Now it’s time to look at the main benefits of branched-chain amino acids, starting with the most obvious:
Enhanced Recovery and Muscular Development
BCAA, and especially L-leucine play a pivotal role in initiating protein synthesis, essentially flipping a switch within the body to start repairing muscle tissues and even generating brand new satellite cells that will eventually be used to form new muscle.
A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed how muscle damage resulting from heavy squatting can be reduced by supplementing with BCAA.
Not only do BCAA help to stimulate protein synthesis but they also help to bolster the immune system by affecting cytokine production. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling run down towards the end of an intense training cycle then you’ll definitely want to consider using BCAA next time around to help strengthen your immunity.
Protection Against Degenerative Disease
Another interesting benefit that isn’t directly linked to bodybuilding but is well worth exploring is that of long-term retention of lean muscle mass.
BCAA are highly popular for bodybuilders and athletes who are undergoing a strict dieting phase to lose a lot of fat because of how well they protect against muscle catabolism.
If you can be protected against losing muscle while still in the prime of your life then it makes sense that BCAA may also be beneficial in the context of degenerative muscle wasting diseases associated with old age.
Even individuals who have never lifted a weight in their life could stand to benefit from using BCAA, especially during later life.
As if the argument for BCAA couldn’t get any stronger, they can also help you shed those pesky pounds!
In 2011 the Journal of Nutrition published a study which looked at obesity in middle-aged adults, and there was a clear correlation between those who used BCAA and reductions in body fat levels.
The researchers concluded by stating that “[…] higher dietary BCAA intake is associated with lower prevalence of overweight status/obesity among apparently healthy middle-aged adults from East Asian and Western countries.”
It really can’t get any clearer than that!
Furthermore, if you combine this with a sound nutritional plan and frequent training you’ve got yourself a foolproof recipe for getting ripped!
Summing it All Up
There is clear scientific evidence to show how BCAA supplementation results in more muscle mass and less body fat; this is why you should be taking it!
The threshold for protein synthesis stimulation seems to be around 3g of L-leucine, which means that you’ll need to take around 5g of a standard BCAA supplement with a 2:1:1 ratio to reap the greatest benefits.
The best times to use BCAA appear to be between meals and during your workouts as this is when absorption rates will be at their highest.
If you’ve been finding that your recovery from workouts is a little lackluster, you’ve been feeling run down, or you just can’t seem to make the progress you want, BCAA could be exactly what the doctor ordered!