Bodybuilding is now easier with BCAA powders. If you want fast results and improved aerobic endurance, understand how this supplement works and what benefits it can give to your body.
What are BCAAs
Also known as branched-chain amino acids, BCAAs are considered part of the nine essential amino acids needed by humans. There are three BCAA amino acids, namely leucine, isoleucine and valine.
As essential amino acids, they are considered proteinogenic, which means they are used by the body to form protein strands that create new cells. BCAAs also repair other organic substances, including enzymes and hormones.
BCAAs are essential because the body cannot produce them on its own -- they must be consumed via diet or ingested through supplementation.
BCAAs account for almost 35% of the essential amino acids needed to form muscle protein. In order to achieve growth, daily intake of branched-chain amino acids are needed to help maintain muscle and increase muscle mass.
Note: on this page, we discuss BCAA powders, which are usually the most cost-effective ways of getting free-form branched chain amino acids. If you want to see all BCAA products, see our BCAA category.
BCAA powder vs BCAA pills
Recently, supplement companies have been producing BCAA powder supplements to help professional bodybuilders, athletes, and health enthusiasts meet their required branched-chain amino acid daily intake.
Most BCAA blends taste great and mix well with juice and milk.
There are several advantages of powdered BCAA compared to pills.
- Powders are cheaper - Companies don't have to use machines to press the amino acids into pill form.
- No additional ingredients - To press any type of compound into pill form, fillers are required to give it the proper consistency.For bodybuilders and athletes who want clean BCAA supplements, powder is the purest form.
- Variations in preparation - Powders are mixed with juice, milk, smoothie ingredients and more -- making this form more advantageous for those who enjoy a mid-day treat. You can also mixed in other supplements, like protein isolates and pre-workouts.
- Absorbability - Powder is absorbed better in the digestive system.
If you feel like the pills/capsules would be better, read the rest of this text and then skip on over to the BCAA pills category page.
It would be hard to just lump the benefits of the BCAA together. Especially since the amino acids in this category have their own benefits.
Considered the major player of the branched-chain amino acids. Various organs in the body are targeted by leucine. The liver processes the amino acid into protein strands. In adipose and muscle tissues it forms sterols or steroid alcohols, substances that have various effects in the body.
It's the only dietary amino acid that can push the body to create proteins for muscle cell creation and repair. This means that it can help you gain muscle mass, or at least help stop the destruction of muscle cells.
One study supports its muscle protecting capabilities when test subjects supplemented with leucine showed a slowing in muscle tissue atrophy or muscle tissue loss.
Many companies use a 2:1:1 ratio for the three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). Several studies suggest that leucine alone has a large effect on the body. Still, supplements like Scivation Xtend use all three amino acids because isoleucine and valine have important benefits on their own.
Aside from muscle protein synthesis, cellular growth is also stimulated as leucine activates the mammalian target of rapamycin kinase.
This amino acid in BCAA powders has a different role. It's considered a glucogenic and ketogenic amino acid.
As a glucogenic, it helps pull energy from body stores like glycogen, pyruvate, and lactate into glucose. This can help bodybuilders and athletes maintain proper blood glucose levels to help them achieve greater energy
As a ketogenic, isoleucine can break down fatty acids into ketone bodies for energy.
These combined benefits of isoleucine shows a lot of promise in fat loss. Energy from fat produces a higher number of calories compared to glucose.
While leucine and isoleucine deal a lot with cellular growth and energy, valine plays a different role . The body needs it to help stimulate the central nervous system. It encourages healthy mental health processes.
Other benefits of BCAA powder valine is its hepatoprotective benefits. By removing excess nitrogen from the liver, valine can help repair the damage done to the body. This could benefit people who are exposed to a lot of drugs and alcoholic drinks which are known to damage kidneys and liver.
Branched-chain amino acids work as a team
Combined, BCAAs actually have more benefits than their individual components. Several studies have shown that the amount of BCAAs in the blood will help turn off the "appetite switch." This allows you to make smarter diet choices.
Considering that these are amino acids that can be found in food, most people still ask if there are any BCAA side effects. So far studies have shown that there are no known side effects of branched-chain amino acids, even at mega doses.
However, a recent study found that patients with ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) could possibly have negative reactions to the amino acids. Still, the study hasn't established the relationship of BCAAs and ALS yet and more studies have to be done to check the relationship.
To be safe, make it a standard procedure to check with your doctor every time you take new supplements. That way you can prevent prescription drug interactions and medical conditions from worsening. So far, the general consensus is that BCAAs have no known side effects, especially for healthy individuals.
- Shimomura Y, Murakami T, et. al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise;" June 2004
- Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P, et. al.; The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness; "Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion;" March 2011
- Blomstrand E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HK, et. al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise;" 2006
- Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent, et. al.; The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; "Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study;" May 2012
- Shimomura Y, Yamamoto Y, et. al.; The Journal of Nutrition; "Nutraceutical effects of branched-chain amino acids on skeletal muscle;" February 2006
- Marin Manuel and C. J. Heckman; Experimental Neurology; "Stronger is not always better: could a bodybuilding dietary supplement lead to ALS?" January 2011