How Do Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Work?

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs are essential amino acids that your body does not produce naturally. Not to be confused with protein, BCAAs consist of 3 specific amino acid – leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Who should take BCAAs?

BCAAs is a common bodybuilding supplement, but people suffering from amino acids deficiency can also benefit.

What does BCAAs do to your mind?

When you supplement with BCAAs, l-tryptophan activity in the brain is reduced, thus delaying mental fatigue.

When should you take BCAAs?

You can take your BCAAs as a pre-workout supplement.

What is the proper dosage of BCAAs?

2:1:1 ratio is the most common despite new supplements are now offering BCAAs in a higher ratio of 7:1:1. The 2:1:1 ratio refers to 50% leucine, 25% isoleucine and 25% valine and the ideal quantity according to online reviews should be 7 grams per serving.

Who could benefit the most from BCAAs?

BCAAs can increase the performance of athletes and bodybuilders while boosting protein synthesis and muscle recovery, and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) felt in muscles several hours after energetic exercises.

Dieters or sports competitors aiming at lean muscle gains are interestingly the ones who may benefit the greatest. This is so because during a diet, alongside fat loss, muscle loss is hard to avoid.

However, a study found that people supplementing with BCAAs can lose weight without wasting their muscles and performance. So, from one point of view, it could be that even if you are an amateur sportsman or a normal person just following a strict diet to lose weight and keep fit, you may not end up becoming a weak person because of lack of food if you choose to supplement with BCAAs, which will keep your muscles.

To reap of any benefit, supplementing with BCAAs requires consistency

It goes without saying that just taking BCAAs won’t bring you the expected gains. No pain no gain! Turns out, while supplementing on BCAAs, you would need to exercise consistently.

Three studies were carried out and three perspectives were revealed.

Study 1 – No success

Study 1 shows that BCAAs was unsuccessful for non-resistance trained rookies who were training four times per week with three sets of 10 repetitions. BCAAs did not increase their strength or muscles despite taking 9 grams of BCAAs daily during eight consecutive weeks.

Study 2 – No success

In that study, athletic participants had been performing squats three times per week and they were taking 6 grams of BCAAs after training. It was reported that there was no noticeable difference between those who have taken BCAAs and those in the placebo groups.

Study 3 – Successful!

Here, it was concluded that BCAAs help with greater performance and recovery effects when it was taken daily before a workout for 10 days.

Now, let us interpret all three studies.

For study 1, it seems that participants were not taking BCAAs every day and they were not training intensively.

For study 2, participants did not take BCAAs for a long enough time and they did not take enough BCAAs (only 3 times per week).

For study 3, consistency with a duration of training (10 days), the timing for taking BCAAs (before workout), and the right dosage of BCAAs (7 grams) can help your body to take the desired effects (lean muscles and increased performance). A quite similar study carried with female participants is available here, where again the same conclusion can be derived.

So does that mean that consuming more amino acids will reap you more of the benefits?

No! BCAAs are indeed the literal building blocks of your muscles but the dosage as seen above does matter. Just like any other nutrients, if you consume more amino acids than what your body requires, it can cause health problems such as fatigue and loss of coordination which can be dangerous especially for drivers. Excess amino acids can also cause gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, increased risk of gout (buildup of uric acid in the body, leading to joint inflammation).

Will consuming too many amino acids make you gain weight?

According to Ajinomoto who is one of the world’s famous amino acid producers, amino acids contain four calories per gram which is the same amount of calories as 1 gram of glucose. Taking amino acids as supplements – say 5 grams per day will bring you 20 calories, and you are unlikely to gain weight from such a small amount of amino acids.

What foods contain a balanced intake of amino acids?

You should eat staple foods such as bread or rice with a balance of foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and soy. It is good to note that organ foods contain the highest amount of amino acids. The typical essential amino acids profile in 100g of beef liver is as follows:

Amino acids in food vs. amino acids in supplements

Taken as food, amino acids will take time to ingest and absorb whereas amino acids in supplements are directly absorbed, and so are absorbed quicker. Once absorbed, amino acids function in your body the same way without regard to their source.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this post on BCAAs. For more information and tips, remember to share your comments below.

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