Ever wondered what people at the gym are sipping away on before or after their workout? It’s most likely a BCAA supplement to help support workout performance, muscle growth, and muscle recovery. BCAAs are becoming more popular as people realise the many different benefits they have. But “What are BCAAs?” is still one of our most common questions we receive at Sportsfuel. So we’re here to tell you the what, why, and when of BCAA supplementation .
What are BCAAs?
The four letters BCAA stand for Branched Chain Amino Acids. These are three essential amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. These amino acids are “essential” because your body cannot product them on its own – you need to get them from food or workout supplements.
Why do I need BCAAs?
Amino Acids, especially BCAAs, are the building blocks of protein which builds muscle. BCAAs may also help preserve muscle glycogen stores. Glycogen provides your muscles with energy and helps to minimize muscle protein breakdown during and after exercise. What does this mean? BCAAs can help you get more from your workout and support muscle building or muscle maintenance.
BCAA’s are also extremely useful if you are in a caloric deficit for weight loss. When you are eating fewer calories than you are burning your body is at risk for muscle loss. BCAAs help preserve your muscle so that (when combined with strength training) your weight loss will be mostly fat loss.
What happens if your body doesn’t have enough BCAAs?
If your body does not have enough BCAAs in the bloodstream your glycogen levels can become depleted quicker. Since your muscles use glycogen for energy production this means you’ll have less energy to use during your workout. Exercising will deplete your glycogen levels so you may feel great at the beginning of your workout but become fatigued near the end. BCAAs help persevere glycogen stores to give your muscles a reliable energy source for your whole workout.
Having plentiful glycogen stores also helps prevent your body from breaking down muscle for energy. Remember how BCAAs are the building blocks of protein and protein builds muscle? Well your muscle tissue contains protein stores that can be broken down into amino acids and used as fuel. We want to make sure your body doesn’t do this as this will result in muscle loss (also called catabolism).
That’s why BCAA supplements are a win-win for your muscles—they help fuel and protect them. That’s a win-win for you as you’ll be able to work harder and for longer and make more gains!
How can BCAAs help my recovery?
So we now know BCAAs can help improve your workout performance and protect your muscles. Well, they can also help increase your workout recovery after you’ve left the gym. BCAAs are used by your body to support muscle protein recovery – that is repair the muscle damage caused by training to grow bigger, stronger muscles. Research suggests that leucine is the MVP of BCAAs when it comes to building and repairing muscles. That’s why you’ll usually see quality BCAA supplements with a higher ratio of leucine.
Why do I need BCAAs and Protein Powder?
I’m glad you asked. Whey protein contains naturally occurring amino acids such as BCAAs but these are peptide bound. This means that the BCAAs found in whey protein need to be broken down from protein to aminos and are not likely available for muscle fuel until they have passed the liver. BCAAs are metabolised in the skeletal system itself so can be readily available to fuel and protect your muscles. This is why we recommend adding a BCAA to your supplement stack as well as protein powder. Protein powder plays a more important role outside of training and workouts while BCAAs are the more important around your workout.
What is the best ratio of BCAAs?
Leucine plays the biggest role in muscle growth however Isoleucine and Valine are still important. Jim Stoppani recommends using the 2:1:1 ratio. He says although leucine has the most impact on muscle growth, Valine will help keep you alert and energised and Isoleucine can help maximize fat burning and reduce fat storage. By using a ratio higher than 2:1:1 for extra leucine you would not be able to receive the benefits of energy and fat loss from valine and isoleucine.
When should I take BCAAs?
BCAA supplements can be consumed before, during and after exercise. They can also be consumed during the day to keep you alert and prevent muscle loss if you’re eating at a caloric deficit. It’s recommended to take 5g of BCAAs a day which is usually one serving. Of course for the best gains you should be consuming BCAAs with a healthy diet and strength training regime.
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