Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) not produced by the human body.
Since the body can only obtain BCAAs through adequate nutrition, a daily sufficient BCAA intake should be a staple in every athlete and bodybuilder's diet. Their endurance-enhancing, anti-catabolic properties make them useful when you're trying to maintain muscle mass in periods of fasting, extreme dieting, or aerobic sporting competitions.
BCAA diet vs. supplements
Everybody needs BCAAs in his or her diet. You can achieve that with a proper nutrition regimen. A balanced meal plan should be your main foundation and no supplement use is going to make up for bad or ill-informed eating habits. However, there are certain times when supplementation is beneficial and more convenient than whole foods.
Amino acids in supplements are easily digested, and provide immediate support. Whether you're an amateur or professional athlete, consuming a sufficient amount of BCAAs can improve your physical performance.
Countless studies evaluated the role and benefits of BCAAs in the human body, demonstrating its effect on immunity, mainting muscle mass, weight loss, and more.
If you're feeling a little under the weather, there's no hiding the fact that your athletic performance will suffer. The American Society for Nutrition investigated the essentiality of BCAAs to the immune system. Supplementing amino acids help boost immune function in post-surgical patients. BCAAs also helped shorten their recovery period.
Gaining or maintaining muscle mass while under extreme conditions (extreme dieting or exercising) is a concern for most athletes. In a study published in the journal, Current Therapeutic Research, 16 healthy male athletes were divided into two groups. Both engaged in a hypertrophic resistance exercise regimen for up to 10 weeks and given a whey supplement or combination of whey, glutamine, and BCAAs. Both groups followed a specialized protein diet. At week 10, the combination-supplement group had gained significantly more muscle mass and experienced improved exercise performance compared to the whey group. Even by week five, the second group already gained a significant amount of fat-free mass.
There's a strong correlation between muscle mass and fat loss. It's really simple: the bigger your muscle mass, the more fat you'll burn when at rest. The same whey vs. whey/glutamine/BCAAs study showed improved muscle mass with BCAA supplementation. The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition went a step further and, in a similar study, measured the percentage of body fat lost.
Two groups, consisting of 36 male athletes with at least two years of resistance training experience, were supplemented with either BCAAs, protein, or a carbohydrate sports drink. The BCAA group not only had better protein synthesis, but a greater decrease in body fat percentage after eight weeks.
For athletes and bodybuilders
It is no secret that after resistance training, or any strenuous physical activity, muscle catabolism is activated. Supplementing with BCAAs before and after exercise has beneficial effects on reducing muscle breakdown and promoting protein synthesis. Furthermore, supplementation was found to be useful for muscle recovery following exercise.
Finally, BCAA supplementation was linked to a rise in leptin, the hormone that regulates satiety levels. This is mainly beneficial for weight loss purposes.
Recommended dosageYou can take BCAAs any time during the day but recommended intake is before, during, and after exercise. They are also useful anytime you are between meals or first thing in the morning - especially if you might not get any food digested anytime soon.
The dosage is body weight dependent:
- Under 150 lbs: 3g to 9g per day
- Over 150 lbs: 5g to 15g per day
With powder, you have more dosage control and can adjust the dose according to your personal needs. Also, powder amino acids can be easily mixed with smoothies and other beverages.
At least 30% of a BCAA supplements' content should consist of the amino acid leucine.
An upper limit for these amino acids is set at 35g per day.
Click on our leucine category if you would like to see products that contain only L-leucine.
Should I take BCAAs when Bulking?
There's not a whole lot of argument on BCAAs when it comes to dieting and endurance sport. For these cases, they work, and if you can afford them, take what you can as directed.
The bigger question is whether or not you should take them while bulking.
While there are definitely potential benefits of doing so, we feel that this is an unnecessary and cost-ineffective step. By the very definition of "bulking", you should be eating big and consistently. Your body should constantly be receiving protein via your meals and protein supplements, the aminos therein will metabolize throughout the day.
With a proper bulking diet taken into consideration, we don't feel it is responsible to recommend BCAAs to most bulkers. Save your money and go buy some steak and eggs or whey protein. Or save your BCAAs for your next diet cycle.
Two notable exceptions are:
- You have a massive budget and don't care - you want to keep BCAAs in your bloodstream at all costs
- You cannot work out with food in your stomach at all. In that case, take BCAA before, during, and just after your workout.
These points can be argued all day long, but we are PricePlow, and we're not going to recommend anything you don't need. Save your money, eat quality protein-based foods, and don't worry too much about this during a bulk.
BCAAs are deemed safe for most of the population. The exception is for individuals who suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease), branched-chain ketoaciduria, and chronic alcoholism.
Food sources that are rich in protein are usually the best BCAA sources, including chicken breast, lean beef, tuna, and peanuts.
|Food Source||Serving Size (raw)||Food Source||Grams of Protein (total)|
|Chicken breast||6 oz.||36g||6.6g|
|Lean beef||6 oz.||36g||6.2g|
|Peanuts, roasted||6 oz.||12g||6.8g|
|Whole egg||1 egg||6.3g||1.3g|
BCAA metabolism during exercise was first established through animal studies. Researchers from the department of nutrition and food science at Ochanomizu University in Japan observed that rats in a fasted or intense-exercise state had elevated BCAA metabolism rates compared to rats in a rested state.
These early rat-based studies triggered the curiosity of sports scientists regarding human BCAA intake and supplementation, and the crossover has been extremely successful.
Our preferred BCAA product is Scivation Xtend. It has a good amount of leucine (in a 2:1:1 leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio), electrolytes, B vitamins, zero carbohydrates - and tastes phenomenal. Blue raspberry and watermelon are house favorites.
- John T. Brosnan, Margaret E. Brosnan; The Journal of Nutrition, "Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Enzyme and Substrate Regulation;" December 2013
- USDA National Nutritient Database for Stanadard Reference
- Kobayashi R., et. al.; Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology; "Hepatic branched-chain alpha-keto acid dehydrogenase complex in female rats: activation by exercise and starvation;" June 1999
- Choi S., et. al.; Amino Acids; "Oral branched-chain amino acid supplements that reduce brain serotonin during exercise in rats also lower brain catecholamines;" November 2013
- Phillip C. Calder; The Journal of Nutrition; "Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Immunity;" January 2006
- Carlon M. Colker; Current Therapeutic Research; "Effects of supplemental protein on body composition and muscular strength in healthy athletic male adults;" November 1999
- Jim Stoppani, et. al.; Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; "Consuming a supplement containing branched-chain amino acids during a resistance-training program increases lean mass, muscle strength and fat loss;" July 2009
- Yoshiharu Shimomura, et. al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise;" June 2004
- Yoshiharu Shimomura, et. al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle;" February 2006
- Mi-Jeong Lee , Susan K. Fried; Endocrinology and Metabolism; "Integration of hormonal and nutrient signals that regulate leptin synthesis and secretion;" June 2009
- Mero A., Sports Medicine; "Leucine supplementation and intensive training;" June 1999
- Elango R., et. al.; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; "Determination of the tolerable upper intake level of leucine in acute dietary studies in young men;" October 2012