1) What are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine.
BCAA supplements can be taken to boost muscle growth, enhance exercise performance, aid post-workout recovery and help with weight loss.
This trio are grouped together because they are the only three amino acids to have a chain that branches off to one side.
BCAAs are the building blocks your body uses to make proteins. They are considered essential because your body cannot make them – they have to come from your diet.
2) Evidence for effectiveness
3) Pre-workout benefits of BCAAs.
Unlike most other amino acids, BCAAs are generally broken down in the muscles rather than the liver.
They play a role in energy production during exercise, and your body can use them as building blocks for protein and muscle.
BCAAs also help reduce the fatigue you feel during your workout, thus allowing you to maximise the effectiveness of exercising.
Taking BCAA supplements can also reduce muscle soreness by lowering blood levels of the enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase.
This improves recovery and protects against muscle damage, although the results can vary based on your gender and dietary intake.
BCAA supplements have also been proven to increase muscle mass, especially if they contain more leucine than isoleucine and valine.
4) The latest science
There is a vast body of scientific research that points to BCAAs providing several benefits for athletes when taken as a pre-workout supplement.
One study reported that consuming 20 grams of BCAA dissolved in 200 ml of strawberry juice and 400 ml of water one hour before working out increased the time to exhaustion in participants.
Several other studies have found that BCAAs help your muscles feel less sore after strength training, with levels as much as 33% lower reported than participants who took a placebo.
Increased muscle mass is another proven benefit of BCAAs, with various research uncovering the positive impact they have on muscles.
However, some studies have claimed there is no evidence that consuming BCAAs as a supplement is more beneficial than getting them from your diet.
Some researchers argue that taking supplements with whole protein may be better for muscle growth than those with individual amino acids.
5) Other health benefits of BCAAs
There are numerous other health benefits of BCAAs, including their ability to help lower blood sugar levels.
Leucine and isoleucine increase insulin secretion which causes your muscles to take in more sugar from your blood, thus decreasing your blood sugar levels.
However, BCAA supplements can lead to insulin resistance if combined with a high-fat diet, which may lead to an increase in blood sugar levels.
BCAAs can also enhance fat loss and prevent weight gain, with a daily dose of 15 grams from your diet resulting in a 30% lower risk of becoming overweight or having obesity.
A reduction in the complications linked to liver failure is another benefit attributed to BCAAs, while general improvements in liver function have also been linked to them.
In cases of liver cancer, BCAA supplements may help reduce water retention and lower the risk of premature death.
It is essential to speak to your healthcare team before using any BCAA supplements for liver-related problems.
6) What to look for on the label
The point about speaking to healthcare professionals before supplementing with BCAAs applies to anyone thinking about heading down this route.
There is no official recommended dose for BCAAs, as health organisations say that a diet that is sufficient in protein-rich foods should be all you need.
These include meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, quinoa, nuts, seeds and various dairy items.
If you are still inclined towards taking BCAAs to aid your workout, the optimum time is estimated to be around one hour before you start exercising.
Many people who are trying to gain muscle take them in the morning and before bed, although there is little study evidence to determine whether this is effective.
Whenever you take BCAAs, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do not exceed the maximum listed dosage on the label.
7) Synergistic effect with other pre-workout ingredients
Taking BCAA supplements is generally safe and produces no discernible side effects when used with other pre-workout ingredients.
However, individuals with maple syrup urine disease should limit their intake of BCAAs because their bodies cannot break them down properly.
It may be the case that your pre-workout product does not contain BCAAs, but the two supplements can be taken alongside each other.
Either way, it is imperative to adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended dosage to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your workout.
Whichever way you plan to supplement with BCAAs, always speak to a healthcare professional before taking the plunge.
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