Test tube with BCAA powder Valine Leucine Isoleucine

BCAA Supplements Guide: The Facts, Benefits and Side Effects

We think you’ll agree that if you’re interested in fitness and have spent some time training or going to the gym, you’ve probably heard of a thing called BCAA.

But what are BCAAs exactly and why are they so often talked about?

Well, it turns out that Branched-Chain Amino Acids are among the most beneficial substances when it comes to training.

These essential amino acids are very popular in the fitness industry because they help you build muscle mass and boost your recovery by increasing the rate of protein synthesis, as well as provide you with many other amazing benefits.

We’re here to answer all of the burning questions that you might have regarding BCAAs, to help you understand them better and to let you know about all of the benefits that they can provide you with.

BCAAs: What They Are and What They Do

Fitness athlete holding a BCAA bottle

What are BCAAs?

Protein is made up of amino acids.

There are essential amino acids (those that can’t be produced by your body) and non-essential ones (those that are produced by your body when on a proper diet), and they all play crucial roles.

When you ingest the majority of amino acids, they are absorbed by your intestines and are delivered straight to your liver. Your liver then decides what to do with them and where they need to be transported later.

If your body is in need of more energy – the liver will break those amino acids down for fuel rather than utilize them to repair and build your muscles and other tissues.

That’s where BCAAs come in. They tend to be spared by the liver and get direct access to your tissues like muscle fibers and the brain.

The BCAAs, short for Branched-Chain Amino Acids, are particularly important to athletes and bodybuilders because they are metabolized in the muscle, which makes them ideal for building and repairing muscles because you are basically cutting out the middleman of digestion.

For science enthusiasts, the scientific definition is that BCAA is Branched-Chain Amino Acids that have aliphatic side-chains with a branch – a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms.

There are three branched-chain amino acids, namely: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.

Leucine

Leucine directly contributes to muscle protein synthesis. It plays one of the most critical roles in muscle growth, and without it, you can’t effectively recover from exercise and stress.

Basically, it turns on the process of protein synthesis, which means it’s the most important amino acid when it comes to you getting those coveted lean muscle gains in the gym.

Another reason why Leucine is a very potent anabolic agent is that it triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas and helps drive that insulin towards your muscles, where it stimulates growth.

And finally, this amino acid also contributes to testosterone and estrogen production.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine helps your body utilize ketone bodies and fatty acids, as well as maintains your cerebral function.

It is a critical amino acid when it comes to fat mobilization and utilization in your body. It activates certain receptors, known as PPAR, that increase fat burning and inhibit fat storage in your body.

Valine

Valine is an essential amino acid providing a stimulant activity. It aids in preventing muscle breakdown because it supplies muscles with extra glucose responsible for energy production during physical activity.

It also lets you train longer because it prevents the early onset of fatigue by lowering serotonin production in your brain during intense training. This reduces the signals from the brain that the body is fatigued.

Essentially, BCAAs are the building blocks of protein that comprise almost 35 percent of all amino acids that make up your skeletal muscles.

There are 22 amino acids in total, and they are all biologically important compounds that provide benefits that are essential for proper body function, such as building tissues and producing chemicals that enable our brains to function normally.

You get them from external sources such as eggs, meat, seafood, soy, etc.

Have you ever wondered why bodybuilders love to eat eggs too much? That’s because they are getting the highest quality essential amino acids from those eggs.

However, all those extra eggs and other such sources come with extra calories; that’s why BCAA supplements are generally a better choice, especially if you want to get ripped.

What do BCAAs do?

These amino acids help your body’s cells repair themselves.

They provide an anabolic effect that promotes muscle tissue growth, as well as prevent the catabolic effect that training and stress inevitably have on muscles.

For example, when you are consuming fewer calories than your normal daily upkeep rate, in order to slim down, and you start exercising, your body enters a catabolic state. This means that rather than making new tissue, your body begins to break down such tissue as fat and muscle, instead.

Muscle loss occurs in such a state because your body begins using amino acids as an energy source, instead of utilizing it for protein synthesis.

That is why athletes and gym-goers who want to slim down without losing muscle, supplement their diets with extra branched-chain amino acids, in order to replenish the low reserves of amino acids in their bodies and prevent this catabolic effect.

Scientific data shows that added intake of these building blocks of protein before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle protein synthesis.

Five Main Benefits of BCAA

Graph from White BCAA Powder Going Up

If you have ever wondered what BCAAs do, take a look at the main benefits.

1. Improve Muscles and Strength:

This is what BCAA supplements are most renowned for. Unlike most amino acids, only a small fraction of BCAAs are metabolized by the liver – the rest enter the skeletal muscles, adipose tissue, and the brain.

They play a fundamental role in protein synthesis and as a result, provide better muscle growth and increase in strength.

Leucine is the amino acid that plays the most important role in this. It activates the complex process known as mTOR, which has the capacity to stimulate muscle protein synthesis directly.

2. Lessen Soreness and Quicken Recovery: 

BCAAs inhibit the production of serotonin, which often rises during exercise. Serotonin increases your perception of fatigue during exercise, making you feel more tired when training.

In short, BCAAs prevent this from occurring, meaning that you will be able to train longer and harder.

They also help you reduce muscle soreness during your sessions, according to this study.

3. Give You More Energy: 

Their other common use is as a source of immediate energy, especially during strenuous exercise.

As previously mentioned, Valine supplies your muscles with extra glucose responsible for energy production during physical activity, which means that the more powerful and the longer your training session is – the more BCAAs will be required to be used as fuel.

4. Help You Cut Body Fat and Becoming Toned: 

The fat loss effect that this supplement provides is indirect.

It has to do with the muscle mass that you gain, because as everyone knows, the more muscle that you have, the more calories you have to consume in order to keep that muscle.

Consequently, gaining lean muscle with the help of these branched-chain amino acids will help you burn more calories during the day.

They also function as a potent appetite suppressant for some people, helping them eat less when trying to shred fat.

5. Boost your Immune System:

According to this research, branched-chain amino acids also help boost your immune system.

Your body uses glutamine, another form of amino acid, as cellular energy for the immune system. During an intense workout, your levels of glutamine are depleted, which can severely hamper the effectiveness of your immune system.

BCAAs help protect the body’s glutamine storage levels and prevent your immune system from dropping.

Finally, numerous other benefits that are currently being extensively studied, such as help with anorexia, improved brain function, etc. – all of which make this supplement a great investment.

Now that you know the benefits, if you want to find out which are the current best BCAA supplements on the market – check out our top list at Best BCAA Supplements.

The Side Effects of BCAA Supplements

BCAA side effects are minimal to none, and this supplement is completely safe to use for a healthy adult.

However, as with all supplementation, you should read the label directions carefully and only use them at the recommended dosage.

Currently, there haven’t been any research studies done on BCAA supplementation that found a side effect that is worth mentioning. Every side effect observed is associated with some sort of pre-existing condition that the person already has.

Do not take these supplements if you have any of these conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Ketoaciduria
  • Problems with Low Blood Pressure
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Before or After Surgery

Finally, while completely safe to use up to six months, prolonged use of more than three is not recommended, as they will impact your coordination abilities and require your body to have more rest than usual.

How and When to Take Them

One serving of BCAA powder in spoon

If you’ve ever wondered when to take BCAA, we’ve got you covered. If you want to know whether to take them before or after a workout, you have to know a couple of things first.

How Much:

There are many discussions about this topic, but it all depends on the intensity of your training. You also need to know how much BCAA per day you need to take.

The widely acceptable option is that this supplement can be taken in 5g dosages, 2-4 times per day, whenever needed. You can always take more, but read the label cautiously and follow the recommended dosage.

When to take the Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs):

For a more specialized effect, we will cover every conceivable option.

• Before Workout

Taking this supplement before a workout can be great if you want to train fasted. It will prevent muscle degeneration and provide you with enough energy.

• After Workout:

Take it post-training to speed the replacement of BCAA’s in the muscles when they need them the most and aid in muscle recovery and repair.

• During the Workout:

According to this study, athletes who took a carbohydrate and BCAA drink during workout significantly changed their exercise performance.

So if you have a long and grueling training routine, you might want to take this supplement during training.

• Before Bed:

It is well known that sleep is your body’s repair time. This means that if you are sore after workouts, you should definitely take BCAA supplements to aid in recovery. You will notice a significant improvement.

Finally, for maximum effect most serious bodybuilders and athletes advocate taking this supplement before, during and after a workout, with an added dose before bed, to improve recovery significantly.

Can Women Take This Supplement Too?

Fit Woman Holding Shaker with BCAA

That’s an absolute yes! The benefits of BCAA are simply too many to ignore and overlook.

The biggest misconception is that if women take this supplement, they become too muscular and bulky. That is simply not true because branched-chain amino acids don’t contain testosterone, so they will not bulk you up.

Women who are serious about their workouts and want to have a great body should consider taking this supplement as well. Most figure, bikini and fitness models include this supplement into their diets.

It gives them a significant boost of energy and increases their performance, as well as aids in their muscles recovery and gives their bodies that coveted toned look.

It’s also perfectly safe to take because there are no scientifically proven side-effects unless you have the pre-existing conditions mentioned earlier in this article.

Note: Branched-Chain Amino Acids Are Not a Magic Pill

It is important to figure out what your training goals are and what you want to achieve with your workouts before you include these supplements into your diet.

If you don’t have a proper diet and exercise plan, these supplements won’t do anything to help you, because they aren’t a magic pill that you just pop and suddenly grow muscle – you still have to train.

Think of them as a helping hand – they help you recover better and reduce muscle soreness after a training session. They provide you with more energy and boost your muscle growth and strength while indirectly helping you to get lean.

But everything is ultimately up to you. If you use these supplements and train hard, all while keeping a proper and healthy diet – they will be of immense help in achieving your training goals, whether they are building more lean muscle, boosting your endurance and performance or shredding fat and getting ripped.

 Why Take BCAA Powder – Answered

Consider all of the BCAAs advantages. They are extremely beneficial when coupled with regular exercise and the vast majority of bodybuilders and serious athletes around the world swear by them.

BCAA supplements give you a substantial edge in your workouts and recoveries, helping you attain your fitness goals faster.

However, getting a sufficient amount of these amino acids throughout your day can be quite difficult because you have to eat an inordinate amount of protein for that. This will significantly increase your calorie intake in carbs and fats, which is amazing if you want to be a bodybuilder, but not that great if you want to look very lean.

That’s why supplementing your diet with this substance can be an amazing alternative.

If you take BCAA powder, you won’t have to eat a massive amount of calories to get the necessary benefits, and you can focus on sculpting your lean physique without having to add extra cardio sessions to your workouts.

 Conclusion

 So do BCAAs work? The science is in – and it loudly says yes.

We hope that we have provided you with enough information to see the benefits of this wonderful supplement. There is a good reason for its success in the workout industry and if you want to attain your training goals faster; you need to consider using it.

We use it, our friends do, professional bodybuilders and athletes do, and we could not recommend it highly enough.

What are your thoughts on BCAAs and all of their benefits? If you fancy yourself well-informed on the subject, feel free to share your ideas with us and our other readers in the comments below!

Stay strong and train hard!