Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Branched-Chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids.
People have used branched chain amino acids for medicine to treat:
– amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease)
– brain conditions due to liver disease (chronic hepatic encephalopathy, latent hepatic encephalopathy)
– a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia
– a genetic disease called McArdle’s disease
– a disease called spinocerebellar degeneration
– poor appetite in elderly kidney failure patients
– cancer patients
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are also used to help slow muscle wasting in people who are confined to bed.
Some people use branched chain amino acids to prevent fatigue and improve concentration.
Athletes use branched chain amino acids to improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during intense exercise. And this is where they become particularly useful. “Loading” BCAAs can postpone exercise fatigue within a workout session. Additionally, they can prevent muscle loss when the intensity and/or volume of your weight training workouts reaches intermediate to advanced levels.
Some coaches may believe that BCAAs are only useful when used in a fasted state, and insist that you can get the same effect by eating a high protein meal before a workout, but my experience has taught me otherwise. There is a real advantage to be gained by loading straight BCAAs pre, peri, and/or post workout. That applies to strength training workouts AND cardiovascular workouts. I have advised runners on several occasions to include BCAAs supplementation with great success. One client shattered his best performance running the Boston Marathon and agrees that BCAA supplementation made a significant difference both in training and on event day. This finding is in line with recent research.
The research has clearly and repeatedly shown that BCAAs positively affect testosterone levels, growth hormone levels, and protein synthesis (study, study, study, study, study).
Personally, I seldom workout without taking BCAAs. And BCAAs are one of the very few supplements that I recommend on a regular basis. I believe they were of critical importance in recovering from my health event of 2015. It is possible that I find them to be really helpful because of 2 main reasons:
1. My weight training workouts tend to be high volume – sixty sets in a workout is not uncommon for me.
2. I regularly hit limit lifts of 100-105% of my 1 RM. (Rep Max).
However, they should be fairly useful even by trainees on lower volume systems, and, in general, I find that most trainees get stronger, leaner, and more muscular when using BCAAs.
Which BCAAs product to get is especially important. I do not like supplements that combine BCAAs in a powder mix with a bunch of other stuff that I do not need (or want), like creatine, glutamine, beta-alanine, caffeine, etc. And I will not take a powdered BCAAs product that uses artificial sweeteners of any type, because I believe artificial sweeteners hurt your health in a variety of ways. That narrows the field of what I can recommend pretty quickly.
Question: Which BCAAs product do you recommend?
Answer: Personally, I use and recommend these BCAAs capsules from Universal Nutrition: Animal Nitro. This is one of the few supplements I took as I gained back 30 pounds of muscle in 15 months, going from 195lbs to 225lbs.
Alternatively, you can find just straight powdered BCAAs like the ones by Optimum Nutrition and BulkSupplements. The problem with straight powder, rather than capsules, is that powdered BCAAs taste terrible!! And you really need to take BCAAs with ONLY water to get the most out of them, so mixing them with something that tastes good is not ideal.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) work! If you choose to take the Animal Nitro, take 1 packet (9 capsules) at the end of your workout, while you are still at the gym. Then wait 30-60 minutes before eating (or drinking!) your post workout meal. If you workouts are especially intense or high in volume, take 1 packet before (or 15 minutes into) your workout, AND another packet at the end of your workout. Again, delay your post workout at least 30 minutes, up to 60 minutes.
The harder and more frequent you workout, the more benefit you will derive from supplementing Branched Chain Amino Acids, BCAAs.