We all want to have a picture-perfect diet. However, the reality is that you may not always get everything you need via your current eating habits. Of course, this is obviously one of the main reasons that people decide to add supplements to their routine- to ensure they get what they need. When you walk into your local health food or supplement store, you will encounter a variety of products, from protein powders to vitamins and somewhere in the mix, you’ll find BCAAs.
Most serious athletes have at least heard of BCAAs at some point- but many don’t really know exactly what they do. In this article, we’ll explore BCAAs and answer as many of your questions as we can. Hopefully, the information you find here will help you decide if they’re worth adding to your supplement regimen or if you should pass.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are what makes up protein and are needed by the body to rebuild muscle, as well as grow new muscle.
There are a total of 20 amino acids in the human body- 11 of which are “conditionally essential”, which means that the body can make them on its own, as long as it’s not under significant stress and has enough nutrients.
The other 9 amino acids are referred to as “essential”, which means the body doesn’t produce them and they must be obtained through diet. BCAAs are 3 of those 9: valine, isoleucine, and leucine. They’re referred to as “branched” because their molecular structure looks like a branch. These three are critical for anyone that wants to build muscle. The most important one is leucine because of its ability to stimulate muscle growth.
What do they do?
There are several reasons you might want to consider adding BCAAs to your regimen, the most common ones being:
- Improved athletic performance
- Reduction in muscle soreness
- Muscle growth
- Preservation of muscle
We’ll explore each one of these below:
Improved athletic performance
There is some research indicating that BCAAs improve athletic performance when working out under conditions such as competitive racing or excessive heat. This is likely due to how they affect central fatigue- which is the idea that your body is naturally more tired during periods of prolonged exercise. Some research shows that BCAAs reduce your level of mental fatigue and apparent exertion and improves cognitive performance.
These findings may not necessarily apply to lifting weights inside, they do prove the concept that they improve athletic performance.
Reduction in Muscle Soreness
One of the major areas where BCAAs stand out is how they affect muscle soreness and recovery. Studies have repeatedly proven that BCAAs reduce muscle soreness. Finding ways to reduce soreness after HIIT sessions is good because it means you recover faster.
When you recover quicker after workout sessions, you can work out more during the next session- which means you build more muscle in the long run.
The third thing that BCAAs are known for is stimulating muscle growth. This is primarily due to leucine, which is critical for promoting muscle protein synthesis. Basically, leucine is like a light switch that “turns on” the growth of muscle. Research shows that isolated BCAA supplements can facilitate muscle growth, assuming you consume adequate amounts of the remaining essential amino acids through the day.
This is the primary reason why it’s best to space out your protein consumption through the day. Frequent “doses” of leucine encourage higher, consistent rates of muscle protein synthesis. In addition to a BCAA supplement, you can find adequate amounts of leucine in the following whole foods:
- 9 ounces extra-firm tofu
- 4 ounces ground beef
- 5 ounces chicken breast
- 1 cup cottage cheese
Preservation of Muscle
Finally, the fourth thing that BCAAs are known for is the preservation of muscle. For many people, muscle loss is a concern. As we get older, we are susceptible to losing lean muscle tissue. Muscle wasting is also risky if you are on a diet to prepare for a bodybuilding show or if you just want to lose a few pounds to get that summer beach body back after a long winter.
Typically, the primary goal of a diet is to change your physique by losing fat, but preserving muscle. Unfortunately, when you diet, muscle loss is likely to occur. One of the ways you can prevent this is to increase your protein consumption and continue to lift weights. In addition, BCAAs can help preserve muscle mass so that when you end the diet, you have muscle left to put on display.
Do You Really Need a BCAA Supplement?
To be honest, if you’ve been eating foods that are high in protein, you’ve already been consuming BCAAs. A high quality, complete protein- such as dairy, chicken, eggs, beef, protein shakes and others- is going to contain the 9 essential amino acids. This means that it also contains the 3 BCAAs. However, when it comes to BCAAs, you’re probably used to seeing them as a separate supplement.
The typical BCAA supplement is going to contain 3 to 10 grams of BCAAs. The average serving is around 5 grams. You may also find other ingredients in these supplements, including electrolytes, creatine, and other amino acids.
In order to be sure that you’re getting the most from your BCAAs, you will want to specifically ensure that the supplement you choose contains several grams of leucine. Most of the BCAA products on the market contain about 5 grams of total BCAAs, with most of that coming from leucine.
Of course, as with any other supplement you would consider taking, you’ll want to carefully read the label before you purchase it to make sure that it contains what you’re looking for.
Which is Better: BCAAs, EAAs, or Whole Foods?
Recently, a new player came onto the supplement scene: Essential Amino Acids, also referred to as EAAs. These are products that contain the 9 essential amino acids that we mentioned earlier. In addition to an EAA supplement, you can get your amino acids from a quality protein powder supplement.
As we uncover new information, some research indicates that EAAs or protein powders may be better than BCAAs because they have a comparable amino acid profile, as well as some of the other amino acids that your body needs. However, this does not mean that you should just forget about BCAAs. There are some cases where a BCAA supplement may be the better choice. We’ll explore some of the differences between BCAAs, EAAs, and whole foods below.
BCAAs are typically easier on the body to digest than other amino acid supplements, such as EAAs, or protein products, such as whey protein. Therefore, by taking a BCAA supplement prior to working, you give your body the benefits of consuming amino acids without the risk of stomach upset if you have dietary restrictions or struggle with lactose intolerance.
A BCAA supplement is more affordable when it comes to isolating valine, leucine, and isoleucine than a whey protein or EAA supplement. Therefore, if you are on a budget and trying to stock up on your supplements, a BCAA product may be the better option when compared to some of the others. You may not realize it, but the cost difference is definitely something to consider when you are debating on the supplements to include in your stack.
There are some people who think BCAAs taste better than EAA products due to the appetizing flavor profiles available. Additionally, most of the time, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to get your hands on a BCAA supplement than an EAA supplement- and there are so many more options to choose from.
Who Benefits from Taking a BCAA supplement?
No matter what the companies would like to make you believe, there is no supplement you will find that is required for everyone. These products are only as good as the context in which they are used. However- though it may not be a necessity, there are several people who may benefit from using a BCAA supplement. We’ll look at three of those below:
Anyone in a Caloric Deficit
If you were to ever find yourself trying to lose weight and creating a caloric deficit for yourself, a BCAA supplement can give you fuel to support your workout performance as well as retain muscle mass you already have. It’s important to note that when you’re trying to lose weight, you must be mindful of the calories you are consuming. Many times, supplements contain additional calories that could be detrimental to your fat loss. A BCAA supplement doesn’t contain many calories- which means they should not be too damaging to your diet.
Anyone Who Isn’t Getting Adequate Protein
Even if you are dedicated to prepping your meals, it’s not always easy to get the nutrition you need. Protein can be a challenge, especially if you don’t have time for a home-cooked meal or you are heavier and have higher nutritional needs.
If your protein consumption isn’t where it needs to be, adding a BCAA supplement can help with maintaining your current muscle as well as building new muscle by giving you the amino acids that your body requires.
Anyone Following a Vegetarian/Vegan Lifestyle
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, great! However, you need to understand that the quality of the proteins you are consuming may not be ideal. In most cases, plant-based proteins are incomplete, meaning they are lacking in at least 1 of the 9 essential amino acids. Plus, the body does not absorb them as well as it does animal-based proteins. Therefore, a BCAA supplement can improve the overall quality of the protein content in your diet, which makes it easier to achieve your physique goals.
Who Does Not Benefit from Taking a BCAA supplement?
On the other hand, if you are consuming adequate protein throughout the day, especially from high-quality sources, a BCAA supplement may not be as beneficial. You can obtain the BCAAs you need from protein sources including steak, fish, and chicken. Therefore, taking a BCAA supplement would be redundant.
Even if most of your protein consumption is from lower-quality sources, such as plant proteins, as long as you have some animal proteins in the mix and a high protein consumption in general, you are likely getting the amino acids you need. This means that a BCAA supplement is not likely to give you a lot of additional benefit.
3 Best BCAA Supplements
Now that you’ve learned more about BCAA supplements, if you’ve decided that this is a product you need to improve your performance in the gym and on the field, the next step is to choose a product. However, there are several options on the market, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Therefore, we are going to point out three products that you might want to keep in mind when you head to the store to pick one out.
One thing is for sure, when you take a supplement, it should not make you feel like you need to vomit. If you’re not able to handle poor textures or artificial flavors mixed in with your glass of water, XWERKS Motion is a BCAA supplement that is perfect both in terms of texture and flavor.
This BCAA supplement contains 3 grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. In addition, XWERKS has included electrolytes: sodium, calcium, and magnesium to help ensure you’re reaching all of your goals both during and following your workout.
Of course, you must keep in mind that this product is a little more expensive compared to some of the others- but the quality is worth it. Plus, since it tastes better, you are more likely to take it every day, which means it will be more effective.
Jacked Factory BCAA Powder
A good quality BCAA supplement will contain the amino acids you need without any unneeded additives. When you buy a BCAA supplement, you should be buying exactly what you’re looking for instead of spending your hard-earned money on additives that increase the cost or add additional calories for no reason. This is what makes Jacked Factory BCAA Powder a great option.
This supplement also contains leucine, isoleucine and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio. That is, 3,000 milligrams of leucine, and 1,500 milligrams each of valine and isoleucine. It is available in three flavor options: unflavored, Fruit Punch, and Blue Raspberry, which are created with artificial and natural flavoring.
If you’re looking for a good quality BCAA supplement, this one is worth considering.
Transparent Labs BCAA with Glutamine
If one of your top priorities is hypertrophy, it’s perfectly fine to choose a supplement that does more than one thing. Transparent Labs BCAA supplement not only brings the amino acids, but also can give you some help with your performance in the gym. This supplement also contains 5,000 milligrams of glutamine, which can help improve your recovery during your muscle building workouts.
It’s important to note that this BCAA supplement is free of artificial preservatives and is gluten-free and non-GMO. Each container offers 30 servings with amino acids as well as the glutamine and 1,535 milligrams of Vitamin C.
You will find that all of the products from Transparent Labs are straightforward and appealing for those who prefer a simple, effective product. One of the things that makes this one so much better than the others is the glutamine that is included.
As you can see, in the right situation, a BCAA supplement can be a great addition to any athlete’s routine. If you want to make sure you improve your athletic performance, reduce your risk of muscle soreness, and increase hypertrophy, you may find that it’s worth considering this supplement.
Of course, it’s very important to understand that there is no product on the market that is magically going to make you gain muscle. You have to put in the work too. Additionally, you will learn that some people will benefit more than others from BCAA supplementation, so make sure that you are in a position that you will benefit from them before spending your money.
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