What are BCAAs – Do They Actually Work?

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are bcaa worth it

On Liveforlifts, I want to keep it real with my readers at all times. So, therefore, I wanted to make this post about BCAAs, because I got a lot of questions about whether they are worth it or not. 

The global market for supplements is huge. It’s predicted to hit 45 billion by 2022. But with each supplement sold comes the many benefits it promised to deliver. Some supplements actually do hold true to their promises whereas others simply take advantage of the misinformed.  

One very popular supplement, branched-chain amino acids (or BCAA’s), has grown into a multi-million dollar industry based on the concept that they create an anabolic environment for muscle growth. 

Take a look at any popular supplement company’s website and you’ll very likely find a sales page of them preaching the many benefits of BCAA’s and why you should buy theirs.

So if all these supplement company’s sell and praise them, could they be lying, or not telling you the whole truth?

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What are BCAAs

BCAA stands for ‘Branched-chain amino acids and a bcaa supplement contains 3 essential amino acids.

Amino acids are the building block of protein and are necessary for building muscle and recovery. They potentially stimulate the synthesis of protein in your muscles and suppress the breakdown of muscle protein.

There are 20 amino acids in total, and your body is capable of making 11 of them on its own.

Which means that there are 9 amino acids that your body can’t produce on their own and in order to get them you need to eat the right kinds of foods. When a certain type of food contains all 9 amino acids it’s a complete protein.

BCAA supplements contain these 3 amino acids:

  1. Leucine
  2. Isoleucine
  3. Valine

 

How does BCAA work

Bcaas are used a lot in the fitness industry as they are claimed to increase muscle mass, enhance exercise performance, and help with recovery, but this is only partially true.

In order to build muscle, you need to get in all the 9 essential amino acids as they are the building blocks of protein. Now, bcaa only contains 3 essential amino acids.

One of the 3 essential amino acids that BCAA contains is leucine. Leucine activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which is the process of making muscle.

BCAAs help restore levels of tryptophan in your brain, a chemical that converts to serotonin and causes fatigue during exercise.

Research has shown that the 3 essential amino acids that bcaas contain could be partially more effective at increasing protein synthesis. You could say that you can consider these 3 amino acids more important, but you get the same amino acids as you would when you eat eggs or chicken.

The theory behind bcaas is that when you increase the intake of the 3 essential amino acids that will lead to better muscle gain.

You should always try and look after your nutrition before looking at supplementation. Leucine is found in many foods, for example, one cup of cottage cheese, a scoop of whey protein or 85g of chicken breast will serve up two to three grams of leucine.

 

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Why BCAA'S May Not ''Work''

You see, using only BCAAs without having a well-rounded, nutritious diet, packed with protein is NOT going to do much.

‘Look at it like this, taking BCAAs while not getting in enough protein is like ‘flipping the light switch without having electricity’.

When you take a bcaa you’re only getting 3 of the 9 essential amino acids, and for optimal muscle growth, you need all 9 amino acids. Therefore taking a bcaa supplement without a high protein, whole food diet is not going to be beneficial for muscle gain!  

There is also research that backs this. There have been multiple studies that compare whey protein to bcaas. They show the results of the effectiveness of muscle growth with only taking bcaa and only taking whey protein.

study from 2008, confirms that both whey and bcaa contribute to muscle protein anabolism. What they found is really interesting. And I quote ‘recent evidence suggests that leucine does not provide any additional benefit on muscle protein anabolism when sufficient amount of protein is ingested’. Though this is related to the elderly.

As mentioned leucine is one of the 3 amino acids in bcaa, but when you don’t have a diet high in complete protein this amino acid doesn’t get activated.

Therefore, given that, when compared to free amino acid supplements, ingestion of whey protein is an inexpensive approach to improve muscle protein metabolism, whey protein supplementation, especially if combined with resistance exercise.

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Potential Benefits of BCAAs

  • BCAAs build muscle – This topic has been discussed, they only work as an add on to your high complete protein diet.
  • Limit or prevent fatigue – BCAAs help restore levels of tryptophan in your brain, a chemical that converts to serotonin and causes fatigue during exercise.
  • Could potentially burn fat – Combining BCAA Leucine with glutamine, has been shown to help overweight subjects on a hypocaloric diet.

BCAA Before or After a Workout

 For muscle recovery and to prevent fatigue, is it better to take a bcaa before or after your workout?

Well, BCAAs are commonly consumed 15 minutes before a workout to help prevent fatigue, this is usually recommended by the supplement company. BCAAs are often consumed while training to prevent fatigue. In fact, many BCAA supplement labels suggest taking it during workouts as well to sustain performance.

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What Are The Best BCAA Supplements

In the current supplement market, the supply is huge. It is predicted to hit 45 billion by 2022. So is every bcaa supplement the same or are there any noticeable differences?

If your diet is on point and you want to enhance your workout and recovery then here is my list of best bcaa supplements!

Cellucor Alpha

The Cellucor Alpha amino is a well-known product that has been designed to help accelerate recovery and muscle growth. Each scoop of Alpha Amino provides a total of 12.8 grams, of which 5 grams are branched-chain amino acids. Not as much as our top pick, but still a substantial amount.

XTEND BCAA

Chances are that you’ve come across this product since it’s well-known amongst athletes. It’s often consumed during workouts by athletes to help them stay hydrated, pumped, and on top of their game.

  • It holds 7 grams of BCAAs per serving.
  • Comes in several flavors.
  • Focuses on improving muscle recovery.

Kaged Muscle BCAA

Not all bcaas are vegan friendly, but the one from Kaged muscle is! Their BCAAs are processed through fermentation to extract amino acids that taste BETTER, mix easier, and are of a much higher quality.

With zero sugar and 5 grams of recovery and strength-building BCAAs, this is the ultimate sports drink powder in a delicious Watermelon Ice flavor.

How Much Bcaa to Take?

I would recommend a bcaa product with 5-8 grams of leucine throughout your workout with 1-1.5 liters of water, As leucine prolongs muscle protein synthesis after training and after meals, it can be effective for people to consume leucine 90 minutes after breakfast or lunch also, particularly where muscle gain is the goal. If you are taking bcaa for weight loss you can instead take it 30-45 minutes before a meal.”

The total amount per day needs a little bit of calculation. Studies have shown that a minimum BCAA intake of 200 mg per kg of body weight (91 mg per pound) for longer than ten days can be effective for reducing exercise-induced muscle damage. 

To find out how many grams per day you should take, you first need to know how many grams 91 mg is…

91 mg equals 0.091 grams, you multiply that with your total body weight in kgs and that is your daily intake of bcaas.

Foods High in BCAAs

This is a list with bcaa foods. This means foods that contain all 3 amino acids. Creating a well balanced diet allows you to get in all your amino acids without supplementing!

Note: below foods are complete proteins, which means they contain all 9 amino acids, but these bcaa foods are high in 

Chicken: Per 170g; 36g protein, 6.6g BCAAs, 2.9g leucine, 1.8g isoleucine, 1.9g valine

Eggs: Per egg; 6.3g protein, 1.3g BCAAs, 0.54g leucine, 0.3g isoleucine, 0.4g valine

Cottage cheese: Per half- cup: 12 protein, 4.7g BCAAs, 1.7g leucine, 1g isoleucine, 1g valine

Tinned tuna: Per 170g; 33g protein, 5.6g BCAAs, 2.5g leucine, 1.5g isoleucine, 1.6g valine

Wild salmon: Per 170g; 34g protein, 5.9g BCAAs, 2.7g leucine, 1.5g isoleucine, 1.7g valine

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Conclusion: Are BCAAs worth it?

Bcaas have become very popular over recent years, and for a good reason!

There is a lot of controversies because boldly stating that taking a bcaa supplement is going to build your muscle faster is not true.

You can only benefit from bcaas when your diet is on point. You know that bcaas contains 3 essential amino acids, but you need all 9 to build muscle and recover. 

Taking a bcaa supplement on top of a high protein diet is the only way the supplement could work from a muscle-building perspective.

But what about recovery and fatigue?

One of the 3 amino acids in a bcaa supplement is Leucine. Leucine prolongs muscle protein synthesis after training and after meals.

BCAAs help restore levels of tryptophan in your brain, a chemical that converts to serotonin and causes fatigue during exercise.

My final thought is when you consume enough complete protein BCAAs could be beneficial for more endurance and fatigue during your workout. If you’re looking for muscle gain, then no, I suggest sticking with whey protein as your go-to supplement.

Vincent Sorel

Vincent Sorel

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