What Are the Benefits of BCAAs? How to Best Supplement Your Workouts
Almost a quarter of all US adults say they’ve taken some type of sports nutrition supplements in the past year—which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s hit a gym in the past few months!
From creatine to fish oil to glutamine, we’re taking more supplements than ever. And making their way onto more and more gym-goers’ shelves are BCAAs, or branched chain amino acids. These powerful building blocks of protein are a helpful addition to any exercise regimen—as long as you know why and how to take them!
If you’re not sure about the major benefits of BCAAs, or how to time your supplements, here are the facts you need to know.
Benefit 1: You’ll Experience Less Muscle Soreness
Whether you’re starting a new exercise regimen or going harder at your current routine, it’s not unusual to feel a little muscle soreness.
The technical term for this is delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. The causes of DOMS are poorly understood, but our general understanding is that it happens because of tiny rips in the muscle tissue from intense exercise. As these tears repair themselves over the next day or so, you may experience tenderness or aching in the affected muscles.
However, studies have shown BCAAs to decrease muscle damage—meaning those tiny tears that happen during a workout. As a result, they can also decrease the resulting muscle soreness. In other words, your DOMS may be shorter and less severe if you’ve taken BCAAs.
Benefit 2: You’ll Have Better Muscle Growth
One of the best benefits of BCAA amino acids, especially leucine, is their ability to help regulate protein synthesis in muscle growth.
What this means is that you’ll experience better muscle growth with BCAAs than without it—with one small caveat. BCAAs are one component of what your body needs for protein synthesis, but they aren’t the only ones. Your body needs other amino acids and protein sources to build muscle as well, so when using BCAA supplements, you’ll still need to keep tabs on your overall nutrition.
Benefit 3: You’ll Reduce Your Exercise-Induced Fatigue
Exercise-induced tiredness happens for a number of reasons and depends on a few factors. Your rate and intensity of fatigue can depend on the amount of exercise you’ve done, your fitness level, your nutrition, and more.
However, one thing is standard for everyone: as our muscles use BCAAs, it triggers the brain’s production of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Researchers believe that the presence of this amino acid in the brain may be what causes our exercise fatigue.
One of the benefits of BCAA capsules, then, is that you can supplement the amino acids your blood needs! Research shows that by consuming BCAA supplements, exercisers can improve their mental focus and reduce the effects of fatigue.
Benefit 4: You’ll Burn More Fat
Amino acids in general, but especially BCAAs, are great at helping the body to burn more fat. This is particularly true when it comes to belly fat, which is often one of the more stubborn fat deposits in the body.
In one study by College of Charleston researchers, athletes were assigned to consume either BCAA supplements, a carbohydrate sports drink, or a whey protein drink. Those who took the BCAA supplements had 50% more overall body fat reduction than those who drank the whey protein drink, and 2.5 times the fat reduction of those who drank a carbohydrate sports drink.
How to Supplement Workouts With the Benefits of BCAAs
Now that you know a little more about BCAAs, how should you best supplement your workouts? Here are a few things to consider.
Timing Your BCAA Supplements
There are few studies to provide evidence on the best times to take BCAAs. However, one preliminary study found that participants saw more benefits when taking BCAAs before a workout when compared to after. Other studies have found no difference in terms of the benefits of BCAA before a workout or after.
Research is also minimal in terms of the benefits of BCAA during a workout, with one study finding that it made no difference in performance.
In essence, the timing may not matter as much as the fact of taking the supplement at all!
A review study delving into BCAA supplements’ effects on muscle damage found that frequency matters when it comes to effectiveness.
Researchers recommended taking a daily dose of 91mg per pound of body weight, meaning it’s best to take BCAAs on a regular basis, not just on workout days. Splitting your dose around your exercise may be helpful.
For a more nuanced approach to BCAA supplements, BCAA powder may be more practical than capsules in terms of measurement. Find a helpful resource for BCAA powder here.
Overall Nutrition Plan
Last but not least is something we’ve hinted at above: BCAAs are part of the full profile of essential amino acids, but they aren’t the only ones you need. You’ll want to make sure you’re consuming the full spectrum of six amino acids to help your body make protein. Whether you get these amino acids in your diet or supplement them, make sure to get them in somehow!
Experience the Benefits of BCAAs for Yourself
BCAAs offer a wealth of major benefits for anyone trying to get the most out of their workout regimen. However, don’t forget to consider your supplement timing, dosage, and overall nutrition to make sure you start to see the benefits of BCAAs working in your daily life!
For more of the diet facts you need to know, check out our other helpful guides.