One of the supplements I’m taking is a BCAA (Branched-chain amino acid).
Why am I taking this? A number of science-backed ways which I’ll go through below. Anecdotally, they make me lift heavier, suppress my appetite and, when used as intra workout, are giving me more energy while training = better results.
But if you’ve never heard of BCAA’s or don’t know your leucine from your isoleucine, allow me to shed some light on them and give you some pro tips on taking them. Read this article to find out the 411 on BCAAs and their many benefits for lifters and bodybuilders. So let’s get into it.
If you’ve been lifting for a while, you might have decided to cut down on your calories in order to reduce body fat. The result? A LEAN MEAN physique and a drastic reduction in fat.
The problem with dieting is that it can have a catabolic effect on your body, leading to muscle BREAKDOWN. This is something that you definitely DON’T want to happen! In fact, the leaner you get, the more likely you are to LOSE muscle mass as the body tries to hold onto as much fat as it can. When there’s not enough fat for energy, the body will start burning muscle, which is a big no-no!
Here’s the complicated scientific bit: when the body increases protein breakdown, muscle loss can occur. When protein breakdown exceeds the rate of protein synthesis, you could lose your hard-earned muscle gains. It’s all very sad but true. Thankfully, there’s something you can do about it…
Studies have shown that BCAA’s can stimulate protein synthesis, especially leucine – which can do a better job than just consuming protein on its own when dieting. As BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthesis, they also increase the cell’s capacity for protein synthesis. The result? More muscle is maintained. In fact, you might even gain more muscle when dieting – something you probably didn’t think was possible.
If you’ve ever cut calories before, you’ll know the effect it can have on your body – especially when it comes to your training. Ever feel tired? Lethargic? Like you just can’t be bothered to work out anymore? When your body goes into a catabolic state, you will have less energy in the gym – it’s as simple as that. This can lead to the breakdown of even MORE muscle, as you’ll lack the energy to complete a workout at the same level of intensity when you were eating at a calorie surplus.
The great thing about BCAA’s is that they compete with an amino acid called tryptophan. The process is rather complicated but just know this: BCAA’s can help tryptophan to be converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Once your serotonin levels rise, you’ll experience a feeling of well-being – something which can be extremely beneficial when working out. You’ll have more mental clarity and more energy, so you’ll be able to workout more intensely. Finishing that last rep or jogging that last 100 metres is made more possible.
Cutting is all about burning as much fast as possible without sacrificing muscle. And studies have shown that people who consume more BCAA’s have less body fat and a better body composition.
In a study of over 4,000 people, it was found that those who had a higher BCAA intake were less likely to become overweight compared with those who had a lower BCAA intake. Branched-chain amino acids are made up of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, but researchers believe it’s the leucine that helps to accelerate leanness, increase fat oxidation, and boost energy expenditure.
If you are trying to beat the bulge and decrease body fat, using a BCAA supplement for several weeks could help you realise your body transformation goals. In fact, you could notice results in as little as a few weeks.
In a separate study, a group of people took 6 grams of BCAA’s for 3 weeks, which was followed by a period of high-intensity resistance training. The results were surprising. It was found that the group had lower cortisol levels and higher testosterone than the placebo group (who didn’t consume any BCAA’s whatsoever). But that’s not all. The control group also showed fewer signs of inflammation, suggesting that they responded to the high-intensity resistance training more effectively.
If you want a more INTENSE workout where you can boost your testosterone levels in the process, BCAA’s could provide you with a huge return on your investment. Studies have also shown that BCAA’s can improve strength even if you were eating at a calorie surplus. Get this: a diet rich in BCAAs increased leg press strength by a 13.5 kg in one study!
It’s not just us who are raving about BCAAs. Sarah Currie, personal trainer and RD for Physical Equilibrium LLC in New York City said BCAAs are “essential” and that we “must get them in our diet” because our bodies don’t produce them.
“As long as you’re getting enough macronutrients—such as proteins, fat and carbohydrates—lean body mass, or muscle, will be spared.”
So you’ve heard the benefits of BCAA’s, but how can you get more of them in your diet? And when’s the best time to take them?
+ Amino acids can be sourced from various foods, such as eggs and lean meats, or are available in supplements. They can also be found in various protein powders. There has been much discussion as to whether you will need to consume a BCAA supplement if there are branch-chained amino acids already present in your whey protein. The simple answer is yes: taking a BCCA supplement can improve workout intensity and preserve muscle mass!
+ If you want to gain strength and energy at the gym, it’s best to take your BCAA’s before or during your workout. You can also want to take a dose about 30 minutes after your workout in order to decrease muscle soreness after a strenuous training session. Remember – this is just a guide and always refer to the instructions of the brand you choose.
+ Taking BCAA’s before a workout might help you to reach a new personal best. I find they also make me want to spend more time training. Studies have also shown that taking BCAA’s can help to curb your appetite – preventing you from snacking in-between meals when you are on a diet. This is particularly useful if you are trying to eliminate body fat.
+ The amount of BCAA’s you take in one dose will usually depend on your weight. For example, if you weigh under 150 lbs, you should take around 3 – 10 grams. If you weigh over 150 lbs, you should take 5 – 15 grams. Again, this will depend on the brand you choose – always check the directions of use.
+ Remember you should only take BCAA’s for up to 6 months at a time, especially when there could be side-effects with long-term use. These include fatigue and loss of coordination. If you are in doubt as to whether you should take branch-chained amino acids, speak to your gym instructor or consult your doctor. (You should always consult a doctor or physician before taking supplements, just in case).
Did you know that before they became popular in bodybuilding and fitness, BCAA’s were used to treat conditions of the brain that resulted from liver disease? Or that BCAAs were given to cancer patients and the elderly? These amino acids are still given to patients in order to improve their concentration, improve fatigue, reduce muscle breakdown and improve performance during exercise.
While I’ve only been taking BCAA’s for around 6 months now, I’ve fallen head over heels with them. They give you a boost during workouts, repair muscle faster and can be used throughout the day to suppress your appetite. With the vast amount of amazing flavours available, BCAA’s not only have great health and training benefits, but they are also a tasty addition to any bodybuilding or body shaping diet.