When I first started looking into supplements, I remember thinking “what the heck are branched-chain amino acids?” It sounded like something professional athletes would take, not anything that I would need. Boy was I wrong.

Recently, branched-chain amino acids or “BCAAs” have soared in popularity in the fitness community – and for good reason, they are one of the best supplements out there. There is more research that supports the use of BCAAs than other supplements. So what exactly are they and how do they benefit you? Let’s dive in…

What Are BCAAs?

Exercise can be brutal on the body – even for those of us who are not professional athletes. BCAAs are the building blocks that help your body heal between workouts. As the building blocks of protein, amino acids are required for growth and repair of muscle and tissue. Without amino acids, protein in the body breaks down, which results in muscle loss (boo). In total, there are 20 amino acids that the body needs, but the body only produces about half of these amino acids, meaning the other half must be obtained through food or supplements.

The body metabolizes BCAAs differently than other amino acids – BCAAs can be oxidized in the muscles during exercise for added energy. BCAA levels can also increase the availability of carbohydrates and help protect muscles from exercise-induced protein breakdown. By adding BCAAs into your diet, you can reach your goals of optimal muscle size, strength, and performance.

When to Take BCAAs

BCAAs earned their name due to their molecular structure and include essential amino acids like valine, leucine, and isoleucine. They can be taken via supplement either before, during, or after a workout to help improve performance during workouts, improve endurance, and aid in muscle recovery between workout sessions. I take my BCAAs after my morning workout in my protein shake (which helps hide the not so amazing flavor of the unflavored BCAAs I opt take – no added sugar!). Use of BCAAs during a workout is generally to help with endurance, so for those of you marathon runners or enthusiasts of long workouts, try taking them mid-workout. For those looking to increase muscle growth, post-workout is the ideal time to take your BCAAs.

BCAAs Help Prevent Fatigue & Muscle Soreness

When you exercise, your body can experience fatigue due to increases in the levels of serotonin (the hormone that regulates mood – hence the term “runner’s high”). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and signals the brain that the body is fatigued. A number of studies have shown that BCAAs can help reduce serotonin levels and assist in bypassing exercise-induced fatigue.

Apart from preventing fatigue, BCAAs also help with muscle soreness by stimulating growth and repair, and helping prevent exercise-induced muscle damage. The amino acid leucine stimulates muscle growth by triggering muscle protein synthesis (a fancy way of saying that it strings amino acids together to build stronger protein) and increases insulin levels to create a good environment for protein-synthesizing to occur – finding the right balance of nutrition, hormones and metabolic activities needed for muscle growth.

Top Benefits of BCAAs

  • BCAA metabolites are a significant indicator of lean mass in young to middle-aged adults, indicating it may support healthy fat loss.
  • Individuals who consume their daily threshold dose of amino acids with every meal have less belly fat and more muscle mass than those who do not.
  • BCAAs trigger protein synthesis (as we chatted about earlier) and help inhibit muscle breakdown.
  • BCAAs can boost performance during workouts by preventing or delaying fatigue.
  • A higher intake of BCAAs is starting to be linked to longer longevity.
  • BCAAs can reduce muscle soreness, post-workout, allowing for more intense and longer sessions in the gym.

BCAAs Do A Body Good

Now-a-days there seem to be supplements everywhere you turn, but in this vast world of supplementation, BCAAs are a smart choice. I opt for the plain, unflavored BCAAs by Optimum Nutrition to ensure that I get what I need from them without added sugar or flavoring, but there are flavored options like fruit punch, orange, and raspberry lemonade out there to let you choose what works for you.

Hooray for BCAAs!