Branched-chain amino acids are a commonly used supplement in the athletic world. They include three amino acids that have a chain branched to one side: leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are also essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and we must get them from a food source. There are also 6 other essential amino acids and 20 total amino acids that our bodies need to grow and develop. As all amino acids are imperative for our health, why are these three highlighted and recommended as an additional supplement?
BCAA’s are used to enhance muscle growth and aid in faster recovery time. They work to prevent muscle loss by reducing the amount of muscle atrophy when taken around exercise. More muscle mass means we burn more calories at rest, resulting in a better body composition with less body fat. Since BCAA’s are converted in the muscle instead of the liver, they can also support liver health by lessening its daily strain. If we would like to build and maintain lean body mass, and recover fast enough to get back into the gym daily, BCAA’s are necessary to get us there. We can find BCAA’s in supplement form, and also in animal proteins and legumes.
If we are eating a diet with a variety of high quality animal proteins, we may not need additional supplementation! Chicken, beef, tuna, salmon, tilapia and turkey contain about 6,000mg or more BCAA’s per serving compared to the average BCAA supplement which contains around 5,000mg. Multiply that by the 3 or so meals we consume daily, and we are certainly getting in those essential amino acids! BCAA’s can effectively be used to replenish our bodies in the absence of animal protein, especially right after a hard workout.
When looking for a BCAA supplement, beware of brands containing high amounts of sugars, fillers and dyes. These seem to run rampant in BCAA supplements, making them less effective by exposing our bodies to harmful chemical agents that contradict the powerful benefits of branched-chain amino acids. A good rule of thumb is avoiding products that have ingredients listed that we can’t easily identify. To keep our muscles fueled and recovering efficiently, let’s make sure to get high quality animal sources in most of our meals, and when necessary, utilize a clean BCAA supplement to keep us feeling our best, inside and outside of the gym.
- Holeček, Milan. “Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Health and Disease: Metabolism, Alterations in Blood Plasma, and as Supplements.” Nutrition & Metabolism, BioMed Central, 3 May 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934885/.
- Link, Rachael. “The Essential Amino Acids That Enhance Muscles & Athletic Performance.” Dr. Axe, 6 June 2019, https://draxe.com/nutrition/supplements/bcaa/.