Branch-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Like all amino acids, BCAAs are building blocks your body uses to make proteins. They are considered essential because, unlike non-essential amino acids, your body cannot make them. This means you need to ensure you get them from your diet in sufficient amounts.
BCAA’s are particularly beneficial when it comes to body composition and exercise performance. About 14-18% of amino acids found in your muscles are BCAA’s and they play an important role in maintaining muscle mass.
BCAA’s are mainly broken down in the muscle rather than the liver which means they are important for energy production during exercise. BCAA’s also help regulate blood sugar levels by preserving our glucose stores in the liver and muscle which makes them additionally important for maintaining performance during endurance events.
BCAA’s may also help reduce fatigue during exercise. Studies have reported up to 15% less fatigue in those participants given BCAA’s during exercise, compared to those who were given a placebo. In one study, BCAA’s helped athletes to exercise for 17% longer before reaching exhaustion, compared to the placebo group.
REDUCE MUSCLE SORENESS
If you suffer with muscle soreness during or after exercise, then BCAA’s may have particular benefits. When we exercise certain enzymes can be raised which can lead to muscle damage and in turn soreness. This can also mean recovery from exercise is compromised. BCAA’s help to lower certain enzymes like creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase which are involved in muscle damage. By doing so BCAA’s may improve recovery and reduce the amount of muscle damage. Studies have shown that those taking BCAA supplements reported up to 33% less muscle soreness compared to the placebo. This in turn can help you exercise harder for longer improving overall performance.
SUPPORT MUSCLE MASS
BCAA’s are popular among those looking to increase their muscle mass. Research shows that these amino acids particularly leucine are effective in activating enzymes responsible for building muscle. So whether you are looking to boost power, build strength or improve overall muscle mass BCAA’s play an important role. Taking BCAA’s before, during and after strength training may be particularly helpful for improving muscle mass.
KEEP YOU TRIM
As well as enhancing lean muscle it appears the BCAA’s can help prevent weight gain and boost fat loss. Various studies have shown that those consuming 15g BCAA’s from their diet daily had 30% lower risk of becoming overweight. If you need to shift a few pounds or tone up, then taking additional BCAA’s may be helpful.
HOW MUCH TO TAKE?
For general health the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations are that adults should consume a minimum of 15mg BCAA’s per pound of body weight daily. However other studies now suggest requirements may in fact be much higher – up to 65mg per pound of body weight. For women this means a minimum of 8-9g BCAA’s daily and for men 12g BCAA’s daily. If you exercise daily or undertake heavy resistance training or endurance training you may need slightly more (between 10-20g). If your diet is low in protein rich foods it is likely you would benefit from a supplement. The best time to take BCAA’s is before and / or during a workout. If you are looking to boost muscle mass, you may also benefit from taking them in the evening before bed.
The best sources are those rich in protein. These include meat, poultry and fish. For vegetarians beans, pulses, dairy and eggs are good choices. Vegan source include tofu and tempeh, nuts and seeds, quinoa and amaranth.