What Are BCAAs? Benefits & Usage

If you look around the gym, you’ll see plenty of people supplementing with BCAA drinks during, before, or after their workout. This article will give you all the information you need on this increasingly popular supplement.

What Does BCAA stand for?

BCAA stands for branch-chain amino acids. They are called this due to their structure, as each molecule contains a ‘side chain’ of a carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. There are three BCAAs, and these are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.


What are BCAAs?

BCAAS are essential nutrients the body obtains through protein based foods, or supplementation. Protein based foods high in BCAAs are meat, chicken, eggs, fish, and dairy products. BCAA supplementation is not necessarily needed if you already follow a high-protein diet. BCAA supplementation can come in pill or powder form. Powder form BCAAs can be great tasting, and come in several flavors. BCAAs consist of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.


What are the Benefits of BCAAs?

BCAAs provide several benefits to the body. These include providing a source of energy through muscle metabolism, facilitating protein synthesis, while also reducing muscle damage and helping to increase lean muscle mass, and prevent fatigue.

Several sources cite a different recommended daily intake of BCAAs, but they all fall within the same range. A study was done consisting of 8 healthy adult males with an average age of a38.5 years. The subjects drank beverages consisting of 8,000 mg, 4,000 mg, 2,000 mg, 1,000 mg, 500 mg, and 0 mg. of BCAAs.

Subjects blood samples were given within the next 2 hours to look at the change in blood plasma concentration. They found that you should get 2,000 mg or more of BCAAs 30 minutes before or during exercise because your body requires more BCAAs during exercise. Drinking a beverage containing at least 2,000 mg of BCAAs raises the BCAA concentration in your blood” (Japanese Society of Clinical Nutrition, 2005).

For the average person recommended daily intake (RDI) varies depending on individual functions. Average BCAA RDI:

Leucine – 43 mg per kg of body weight

Isoleucine – 19 mg per kg of body weight

Valine – 24 mg per kg of body weight

The amino acid RDI varies depending on physical activity levels. Larger doses of amino acids may suppress muscle protein breakdown, and over consumption results in excretion through urination. On average 20-25g/kg/meal of Amino Acids is recommended, but 40g/kg/meal is recommended for active individuals. For whole-body or lower-body, high-intensity workouts 40g/kg/meal has been shown to be beneficial. For smaller-body or upper body, low-intensity workouts 20-25g/kg/meal has been shown to be beneficial. BCAAs can be very beneficial when properly taken in the right amount.


When should you take BCAAs?

Consuming BCAAs 1-3 hours post-exercise (anabolic window) elevates protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis is greatest post-exercise. Amino acid consumption pre-exercise may not work as well. More studies are needed to find out the impact amino acid supplementation has during exercise. Post-exercise amino acid consumption is shown to work best. During a lengthy workout BCAAs can help by enhancing strength endurance and decreasing fatigue.

BCAAs can be burned as energy to replenish ATP levels, the prime energy molecule in the human body. They also inhibit Tryptophan receptors in the brain, which delays fatigue. Post-workout BCAAs aid in decreasing muscle soreness, which also results in longer training sessions and faster recovery. The consumption of Leucine and Isoleucine can lead to lean muscle by increasing fat burning and glucose tolerance ( Further research is needed to discover the effects of Valine.


Take Home Message

Should you be supplementing with BCAAs?

Overall, BCAA supplementation can lead to many benefits for a physically active individual. If you are serious about your fitness goals, and want to maximize results then BCAA supplementation is worth considering. Do your research before you decide to begin supplementing with BCAAs. Make sure to supplement properly, and do not over consume because then you are going to waste money.

BCAA supplementation should be done during hard training programs. There is still a lot of research out there that needs to be done on BCAAs. The current research shows the benefits outweigh the risks when supplementing with BCAAs. Leucine is the most beneficial of the branch chain amino acids, but it needs to be supplemented with the other amino acids to reap its full benefits. The reduction in muscle damage and fatigue can go a long way for a training program. The increase in protein synthesis, and lean muscle mass can lead to an increase in muscle hypertrophy. BCAA supplementation can lead to many benefits for the body and I would recommend supplementing with BCAAs if you aren’t already doing so.


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

11 Great Benefits of BCAAs –

Changes in BCAA blood plasma concentration after drinking a beverage containing BCAA
Source: Japanese Society of Clinical Nutrition, p1 Vol. 27, 2005 partially revised

Cory Schwarth

Cory Schwarth

Writer and expert

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