Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have become one of the most commonly known amino acids.
You see them listed on almost every pre-workout drink and a protein shake, but do you ever wonder if they actually help?
Many people are under the impression that BCAAs are useful because they provide you with energy — which is true.
But are these three essential amino acids good for pre-workout or as a post-workout recovery supplement? Let’s get to know more about them.
What Are BCAAs?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids.
These are essential amino acids, meaning that they are not produced by the body and must be obtained through food or supplements.
BCAAs are found in high concentrations in the muscles and the central nervous system. They include:
Leucine – is the most abundant amino acid in muscles. It is also responsible for the regulation of metabolism.
Isoleucine – is a precursor to glucose.
Valine – is a precursor to energy in muscles.
How Does Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) Work?
The body uses amino acids (AA) for building and repairing muscles affected by muscle protein breakdown.
While the body can synthesize some AA, there are nine essential amino acids that must be obtained from food.
These are called essential amino acids.
These include leucine, isoleucine, valine, and phenylalanine, along with tryptophan, tyrosine, and histidine.
The body has the ability to break down AA into smaller pieces, called peptides.
BCAA is known to be metabolized to form two important peptides: Carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3).
AAs are metabolized in the liver and kidneys, and they are also taken up by the muscles.
So, during exercise, muscles take up more amino acids than usual to help decrease muscle fatigue and build muscle by enhancing muscle protein synthesis.
This is because they use them to build new proteins and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
Do BCAA Supplements Give You Energy?
BCAA supplements can increase your energy levels because they break down into ammonia and carbon dioxide (CO2).
However, it does not provide or improve energy levels as glucose would.
These are known to increase the energy within the body. This also happens with glucose, which is the energy source in the body.
This is why BCAA powders are often used in pre-workouts and whey protein supplements.
Generally, BCAA supplements are used for recovery and pre-workout in two forms:
In liquid form: This is used in pre-workout drinks, along with other essential amino acids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes.
In powder form: This is taken with water before or after a workout.
While BCAA’s are often referred to as “the energy molecule,” they’re actually not the same thing as “energy.”
Energy is defined as the ability to do work, while ATP is a chemical that is used to store and transfer energy. Both of these molecules play a role in energy, but they are not the same thing.
Are BCAAs Good for Pre-Workout?
While BCAAs are energy-providing amino acids, they are not the best choice for pre-workout.
There are a few reasons for this:
BCAA supplements are hydrophilic, meaning they dissolve in water. Water, however, is absorbed in our intestines. For this reason, BCAA supplements in liquid form are not absorbed easily.
BCAA supplements are metabolized more quickly than other amino acids, so they are not the best for performance.
BCAA supplements are used in the muscle and central nervous system, so there is already plenty of it in the body.
BCAAs are better used as a post-workout amino due to their ability to be recovered and rehydrated into muscles faster than other amino acids.
The Effects of BCAA Supplements on Your Body
BCAA supplements affect and interact with your body, especially your muscle chemical structure in numerous ways.
Improve muscle protein synthesis
BCAAs’ number one goal is to reduce muscle breakdown and improve muscle protein synthesis.
Due to prolonged exercise, you break down amino acids in your muscles. This is normal, but too much breakdown can result in muscle wasting.
BCAAs help prevent too much muscle protein breakdown by balancing the scale with enhanced muscle protein synthesis.
This is also what contributes to building muscle in your workout regimen.
BCAAs can help improve brain function
Exercise can improve brain function and reduce risks for cognitive diseases, and BCAAs play a part in this by improving brain function.
BCAAs reduce recovery times
Exercise causes damage to your muscles, which triggers an inflammatory response.
BCAAs respond to this muscle damage to help reduce the inflammatory response and speed up your recovery times.
In the same way, taking BCAA supplements boost muscle protein synthesis to reduce muscle soreness and exercise fatigue.
This list is not exhaustive, as there are many other ways that taking BCAA supplements help the body function properly.
The Problem with Most BCAA Products
The biggest problem with BCAA supplements is that they don’t come in a pure form.
They usually come as a combination amino acid supplement — meaning they are not taken in their pure form.
BCAA supplements are commonly found as a combination of amino acids because it is cheaper to produce and easier to sell.
If you are taking a BCAA supplement, make sure you are taking it in its pure form.
The best BCAA supplements come in a pure form and are taken with protein, such as whey protein powder.
How to Increase your Branched-Chain Amino Acid Levels Naturally
Consuming protein-rich foods is a more natural way of increasing your BCAA intake than taking BCAA supplements.
BCAA are branched-chain amino acids that can be found in foods like fish, meat, and dairy products.
This is one of the reasons why these foods are also well-known to help build muscle tissue, as well as keep your brain functioning at its best.
Many people believe that they should eat a lot of protein to build muscle, but eating too much protein can actually cause muscle loss.
When you consume excess protein, it is broken down into ammonia, which can then be converted into urea and excreted from the body.
Other ways to get BCAA include:
Taking a supplement with a ratio of 1:1:1 – i.e., one serving of whey isolate (which is made up of BCAAs), casein (which is made up of other non-branching amino acids), and leucine (the only BCAA found in whey isolate)
Consuming whey protein powder
Examples of foods rich in BCAA include:
Beans and other legumes
Nuts and seeds
Lean cuts of beef
Proofreading your food labels is a great way to find out the amount of BCAAs in various foods you’re eating.
If your goal is to increase muscle mass or lose weight, then it is crucial that you consume the complete protein count recommended.
National Library of Medicine’s research suggests that in order to get the most out of your exercise for muscle protein creation with resistance exercise, your daily protein intake should be equivalent to 1.6 g/kg/day and up to 2.2 g/kg/day.
Also, always remember that you do not use BCAA powder or other common supplements to replace your meals.
It is essential that you stick to a healthy diet and then use supplements to augment your gains.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, BCAAs are pretty great. They can help you recover faster, improve brain function, and improve the overall quality of life.
BCCAAs are commonly found as a combination of amino acids and as a pre-or post-workout supplement.
BCAA is a useful amino acid for muscle growth and recovery, but it does not give you energy.
While it does break down into carbon dioxide and ammonia (NH3), it does not provide you with energy as glucose does.
BCAAs are often used as a pre-workout amino.
They are metabolized much quicker than other amino acids, so they do not help much with performance.
So, while BCAAs are great for muscle growth and recovery, they are not so great for pre-workout.
If you want amino acids that help with pre-workout, try a non-essential amino acid like L-Citrulline.
If you want to get the most out of your BCAA supplement, make sure you are taking it in its pure form.
With all of the benefits of BCAAs, it’s no wonder they’re so popular.
BCAA supplements are helpful for just about anyone who exercises, whether that’s to maintain health or to improve athletic performance.
Additionally, ensure you are eating enough protein, then supplement it by taking BCAAs.
You will get lots of BCAAs from natural food sources simply by eating a balanced diet.
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