Whether or not someone should use BCAAs to supplement their meals and help with their gains is one of the most common questions many gym goers want to know the answer to.
Like most other answers to broad nutrition questions, the answer is going to depend on the individual. What types of exercises do you do, and what are your fitness goals?
First Off: What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids?
To understand what a BCAA is, you need to first know a little bit about molecular structure and the nature of some of these macronutrients that we eat.
It may seem scary to get in to all of the chemistry behind these compounds, but it is so simple that anyone can do it.
Think of Branched chain amino acids of little puzzle pieces that when all put together make the puzzle picture itself. Now picture the entire puzzle picture itself as another piece that goes into another bigger puzzle.
The branched chain amino acids are the smallest part of the amino acids, which make up the larger proteins that we need to build, maintain and repair our damaged tissue.
The idea behind BCAAs and their ability to help with performance is that they are broken down little pieces of these amino acids, and consuming these instead of proteins just makes the job that much easier for our digestive system.
BCAAs don’t have all the extra bonds that proteins and amino acids have, so it takes the body less time to process and thus can use it more quickly.
A good analogy here is eating a cube of sugar versus eating a piece of bread. They both give you energy but you know your body can digest that sugar cube more quickly than the bread, giving you the energy more quickly.
Branched chain amino acids are great tools when it comes to a quick recovery after a workout.
What Does The Science Say?
Studies have shown that consuming BCAAs prior to your workout can help with protein synthesis or the body’s ability to digest and use protein. BCAAs also have been found to suppress the breakdown of muscle tissue, reduce muscle damage, and also helps to delay the symptoms associated with soreness.
All of this said, there is no definitive proof that consuming BCAAs will give you additional increases in strength or mass if you are meeting your daily needs of protein. With that being said there is still reason to consider using BCAAs regularly.
BCAAs may not directly help you to increase mass but it does help with recovery. Faster recovery time means you can invest more time in the gym during that same time period which can lead you to pack on more muscle and size.
Having this source of amino acids broken down in a small form also means it is more readily available for muscles, which can promote muscle growth even more so. Also because of their small size BCAAs can be sued as a source of energy at the gym as well.
Protein has the same amount of calories per gram as does carbohydrates, yet most people don’t think of protein as a good source of energy. Kill two birds with one stone and bring a drink supplemented with BCAAs instead of your usual energy drink.
You will get the energy you need and at the same time you will provide your muscles with something that can repair them as well.
Are There Any Additional Benefits from Taking BCAAs?
BCAAs not only supply your muscles with a good supply of amino acids, but they also help to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin production during exercise is important because it is associated with that feel good feeling.
Serotonin is the molecule routinely associated with “runners high” or that good feeling you get after a long intense run that many people find almost addicting. Reduced levels of serotonin during exercise is associated with fatigue and pain which obviously causes the individual to exercise for a shorter period of time.
BCAAs are also an alternative when it comes to protein supplements. If you aren’t getting enough protein from your diet, you can take BCAAs to make up the difference. Most products contain all essential amino acids in one serving, which is another reason why you should consider using it as a dietary supplement.