No doubt you’ve come across these four letters and been curious – especially if you’re getting serious about elevating your weightlifting game to the next level. But what are BCAAs, and are these essential amino acids essential to your sporting performance?
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are essential amino acids. To be specific they are leucine, isoleucine and valine, which make up more than one-third of your body’s muscle protein. They’re essential in a very literal way as you need to get them from your food because your body doesn’t make them on its own. When it comes to working out and gains, BCAAs can help to preserve your muscle glycogen stores, which play a big role in fighting protein breakdown, which occurs when you exercise. In doing so, BCAAs can help you work out harder for longer.
How do BCAAs work?
BCAAs provide your skeletal muscles with fuel when you work out. You can get BCAAs from dietary sources, but utilizing BCAA supplements will contribute to keeping your glycogen stores intact. Glycogen is kind of like the petrol that your muscles run on when you’re hard at work lifting weights or performing cardio training.
Thinking of it in terms of fuel, stocking up on BCAAs is a way of knowing you have a solid source of energy as you push yourself harder. When you don’t have these stores, your body will break down your muscle protein for fuel instead. So in that sense BCAAs are as much about protecting and maintaining your muscles as it is about providing you the endurance to build bigger ones.
BCAA supplements work effectively mid-training session because they are quickly absorbed by your body, meaning that they readily increase the levels of BCAA in your blood and are taken into your muscles when you need them.
For BCAA supplements to be most effective, you should take them alongside whey protein. The BCAA recommended dosage for men is 15-20 grams per day when performing strenuous exercise. This would come under several servings of 5 grams. For women with a serious workout schedule, take up to 12 grams a day, splitting your servings into 4-5 serves in a day.
Benefits of drinking BCAAs during your workout
i. Increase Energy
BCAAs provide an awesome source of fuel that helps to prevent your glycogen stores from depleting too much when you’re in the middle of an intense training session. These amino acids provide you with a steady supply of fuel that will give you that extra push when you really need it.
ii. Improve Strength
By keeping fatigue at bay, BCAAs also help to lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone, which can get in the way of your testosterone and also contribute to the breaking down of your muscles, which is the last thing you want when you’re working on improving your strength. By ironing out that little hindrance, you should indirectly see your strength improve.
iii. Lower Fatigue
During a grueling workout, your body will release the neurotransmitter serotonin, which tells your brain that your body has had enough and needs to stop exercising. Valine, one of the three BCAAs in your supplement, steps in and fights it out with tryptophan, another amino acid that causes the release of serotonin. So by taking BCAA, you stop your body from fatiguing so fast, meaning you can workout for harder and longer.
iv. Fight DOMS
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a problem when you’re trying to overcome a tricky plateau. Research has found that by supplementing BCAAs it can help to decrease DOMS and the damage inflicted on your muscles by exercise. It’s worth noting that other research has proven that pre-workout BCAA supplementation is more effective than post-workout for decreasing DOMS and exercise-induced muscle damage.
v. Preserve Muscle Mass
When you’re putting in the hours at the gym and lifting hard, there’s nothing more disheartening that loosing that precious muscle mass you’ve worked so hard on. However, pre- and mid-workout BCAA supplementation can help to preserve your muscle mass. This is because your body will be provided with another top source of energy so that it won’t need to cut into your precious glycogen stores.
Take home message
Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine are three branched chain amino acids that play a very important role in your body’s muscle protein synthesis and recovery. Intra-workout BCAA supplements (the kind you take in the middle of a workout) help you to recover and keep going. They keep fatigue at bay, allow you to work longer, get more reps in, improve your strength and counter the damage done to your muscles by strenuous workouts.