What is BCAA?
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) from a purely chemical perspective refer to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The benefits of BCAA are immense, in this article, we will discuss each of the components in detail. They are essential, meaning we must get them in our diet as our body does not produce them.
From these amino acids, you are most likely to have heard of leucine, considering it is the only one that has products named after it. This is quite simply because leucine is considered the primary BCAA and plays a key role in muscle protein synthesis: the process by which your body builds up muscle.
Benefits of BCAA:
- The primary benefit of BCAA is that they work to increase or prevent the loss of muscle mass. Understanding muscle mass is simpler than people tend to estimate. As long as the rate of protein synthesis (build up) is greater than the rate of protein breakdown, there will be an increase in muscle mass. We already know that leucine works to increase the level of protein synthesis, which will result in quicker muscle recovery and therefore muscle growth. The reason for it being quicker is that leucine is already a broken down form of an amino acid, as opposed to any other dietary form of protein which would have to be broken down into amino acids and so on. This means one less reaction required to take place in the body, and hence quicker protein synthesis.
- BCAA also works by reducing the rate of protein breakdown, therefore improving muscle mass from both ends. They reduce the rate of breakdown by, in simple terms, reducing the activity of the components involved in the breakdown of protein. The dual ability, that is, to increase the rate of protein synthesis and reduce the rate of protein breakdown is why BCAAs are considered as one of the foundations of muscle mass buildings.
- Another massive benefit of BCAAs is that they are known to increase workout intensity. They do this by inhibiting the uptake of tryptophan (which leads to the production of serotonin) to the brain. Serotonin levels usually tend to rise during exercise, which increases the perception of fatigue. By reducing this, there is a much higher likelihood of you feeling less tired during and after workouts, resulting in the ability to lift more and last longer. Many studies have also been taken place on trained and untrained individuals, both reporting relatively lower levels of soreness and muscle fatigue when taking BCAAs.
- A benefit that many tend to overlook is that BCAAs are also known to improve hormonal balance in the body. More specifically, studies have shown that BCAAs increase the testosterone while decreasing the cortisol levels in the body. Testosterone, being an anabolic hormone, stimulates protein synthesis and muscle gain. Cortisol, a catabolic hormone, works mainly to increase glucose in the blood. It does this by flooding the system with free amino acids, produced by breaking down muscle protein. Increase in testosterone and decrease in cortisol (within reasonable amounts) is another way of how BCAAs improve muscle mass and performance.
When and how much BCAA should you take?
BCAAs can be taken at any particular time, most commonly used before, during and immediately after workouts. This cannot be said about other supplement products and this flexibility means that there is increased choice and convenience for the user. Despite the range, based on the usage of frequent BCAA users, the best time to take BCAA would be anytime from 30 minutes before your workout to 30 minutes after.
The specific amount of how much to take will vary with the goals in mind, but several different sources recommend about 15‐20 grams of BCAA for athletes daily. This naturally is difficult to consume purely from food sources and can safely and easily be supplemented through BCAA tablets and/or powdered form.
Many users use 5g of supplement before and 5g after their workouts. Taking BCAAs during cardio is also a common practice as cardio can burn muscle alongside fat, which is prevented by the BCAA.
Can BCAA help you lose weight?
Many people who are following a weight loss regime would be unable to take up the required amount of BCAA through their regular diet. BCAA supplementation can be extremely beneficial for them as it will maintain muscle mass, keep muscular energy levels and build muscle while burning fat.
One of the biggest problems with weight loss calorie-restricted programs is that you tend to lose muscle mass in the process. The reason muscle loss occurs is simple. When you’re eating less, your body will often use muscle for the energy it needs. This is where BCAA comes in and acts as more than a compensating factor by providing the energy and prevents muscles from being broken down.
Another way BCAA helps in weight loss is that the increased muscle mass improves your body’s metabolism which is massively helpful in the quick digestion of food. So BCAAs can help in the reduction of fat, the ideal way to lose weight. However, they are not limited to this as one must remember with a steady diet and BCAA supplement it is more than possible to gain weight in the form of lean muscle. This is why BCAA is considered the ideal supplement, no matter what your goal is. We can all benefit from a little more muscle mass and a little less fat.