BCAAs supplements are some of the more popular sports and muscle building supplements available to buy.
They have been shown to improve muscle protein synthesis, aid muscle recovery and can help increase muscle growth. But can they really up to their own hype?
We are going to look at what actual benefits BCAAs offer, whether they are completely safe to use and finally will reveal which BCAA supplement is best.
What are Branched Chain Amino Acids?
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids, and they are part of group of essential amino acids that your body is unable to make on its own.
It therefore imperative that you get these amino acids through your diet and through supplementation.
The BCAAs usually discussed are:
Leucine is one of the better amino acids for promoting muscle protein synthesis, and as it activates a compound within your muscle called mTOR (Mammalian Target Of Rapamycin) you are better able to manufacture muscle proteins.
There are various reasons why Isoleucine is beneficial for your training.
It helps your body to recover from intense training sessions by building new muscle tissue, and can also help you train for longer as it is a good energy source that can also regulate your blood sugar levels.
This BCAA helps to stimulate your central nervous system, which allows you to train at a higher intensity.
It can also help keep you more focussed during workouts, and when combined with the other 2 BCAAs mentioned already can help give your muscles energy, and can prevent protein breakdown.
Getting BCAAs Through Diet
As your body does not produce the above mentioned BCAAs you will either need to use supplements or eat foods rich in these amino acids.
These amino acids are often found in protein rich foods, and can also be found in whey protein and other protein supplements.
The best sources are animal sources, but you may be able to get enough BCAAs through a plant-based diet by consuming legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Foods that are rich in BCAAs include:
- Pumpkin seeds
You may not need to use supplements if your diet is already rich in protein, however if you find yourself lethargic or experience lengthy DOMS post-workout then a BCAA supplement maybe a good idea.
Other reasons why you may want to supplement include:
- We don’t absorb everything we eat
- Eating quality protein sources can prove to be expensive
- Not all animal products are produced ethically
Benefits of BCAA Supplementation
There are numerous benefits you can experience through BCAA supplementation. These benefits include:
Increased Protein Synthesis
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, while protein is the building blocks of muscle.
It therefore makes sense that increasing your intake of amino acids like Leucine will increase your ability to build muscle.
Leucine can also increase the amount of insulin within your body, which in turn helps build muscle tissue.
Finally, Leucine can increase growth hormone production. Obviously the more growth hormone present within your body, the more muscle you are able to build.
Helps Stop Muscle Breakdown
When you exercise your body produces cortisol, which causes muscle breakdown and can stop testosterone production.
BCAAs can help to inhibit cortisol production, therefore preventing those issues.
There have been studies that have shown how BCAAs can prevent muscle breakdown .
Combats Workout Fatigue
When we workout we do not want to feel too relaxed, otherwise we are not going to be 100%.
Tryptophan causes your body to produce serotonin, which is a chemical that produces this calmness.
The BCAA Valine can stop reduce the amount of tryptophan produced, therefore helping to reduce fatigue.
BCAAs can also increase your overall energy levels, therefore ensuring you are able to workout at maximum intensity .
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is something many of us will experience after an intense workout session.
It occurs when your muscle fibres are torn during the workout. A process that is essential for muscle repair and subsequent growth.
It has been shown that supplementing with BCAAs can help minimise the pain experienced .
During exercise your body will turn to your muscle as an energy source, which is not ideal. Especially if you are desperately trying to build muscle.
BCCA supplementation will redirect the breakdown towards your fat reserves, helping to maintain those hard-earned muscle gains.
Who Needs to Use BCAAs?
If you are not getting enough BCAAs into your system through diet alone then you may want to try supplementation.
Others that may benefit include:
- Those who are undergoing a ‘cut’ and want to maintain muscle mass
- Those that don’t recover well after a workout
- Those who suffer from severe DOMS
- Those who lack energy
- Those who struggle to get adequate protein in their diet
- Those looking to step up their workouts
- Those looking to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously (body recomposition)
When and How to Take BCAAs
The minimum effective dosage for BCAAs is 5 grams daily, but you can increase this dosage up to 10 grams daily.
If you are currently eating a protein-rich diet (like you should be) then consuming more than 5 grams is not recommended. You are literally just throwing your money down the toilet.
For those undertaking fasted training, perhaps while undergoing a cut then it is recommended that you stick to 10 grams daily. This is to enable the Leucine found in the supplement to prevent muscle loss.
The best time to consume your BCAA supplement is around the same time as your workout, so either before, during or after you workout.
You may also want to mix your BCAAs with a protein shake to increase your anabolic response to protein.
Potential Side Effects of BCAAs
While the average adult is perfectly safe to use BCAA supplements, there are some who should avoid their use. These include those who suffer from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as motor neurone disease) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It has been shown that there is a risk of lung failure and death in those who suffer from both of these illnesses.
Those who suffer from Branched-chain Ketoaciduria (Acid Reflux and Heartburn) and those who suffer from chronic alcoholism are recommended to avoid BCAAs too.
The biggest worry is that BCAAs could potentially cause an increased risk of developing cancer.
Although research  is in its infancy, there are those who believe that the activation of the mTORC1 pathway causes cancer cells to grow.
What to Look For When Choosing a Quality BCAA Supplement
You can buy BCAAs in various forms; tablets, capsules and in powder form.
Before buying it is important that you choose the one that best fits your needs and lifestyle.
The most popular option is to buy BCAAs in powder form so that it can be mixed in with your whey protein shakes. There are even protein powders with BCAAs already mixed.
One issue you may find with powders is the taste. Sometimes the taste is horrible, but this can be overcome by mixing with something flavoured like squash for example.
There are also flavoured BCAAs available, but the issue with these is that they are often full of sweeteners and harmful chemicals like Aspartame and Sucralose.
Sweeteners like Stevia, Monk Fruit, Real Fruit Powder, as well as sugar alcohols like Erythritol or Xylitol can all cause digestive issues for some people. And if your BCAA powder contains them then I would recommend you consume it pre workout.
Tablets maybe an easier option, however the amino acids take longer to be released.
When choosing your BCAA supplement it is important that you read the label and know exactly what it contains.
Most supplements will have a ratio of amino acids of 2:1:1, with the Leucine dosage higher than both Isoleucine and Valine.
Sometimes you will find supplements with a higher ratio of Leucine, which is the most powerful of the three. You should never discard the benefits of the other two though, as without them the Leucine becomes useless.
I would recommend choosing a reputable brand, and never choose the cheapest option. There are plenty of brands out there who sell products that offer zero benefit.
Finally, if you have a preexisting condition, before you start taking any new supplement that you first check with your doctor that it is safe to use.
Our Top Rated BCAA Supplement
Our top rated BCAA supplement is the one sold by Battle Ready Fuel.
Unlike most BCAA supplements that only contain a ratio of 2:1:1, our recommendation has a ratio of 4:1:1. Double the dosage of most leading brands.
With the recommended 5g of BCAAs and just 20 calories per serving, this is a good option for those looking to maintain muscle mass while trying to cut body fat.
Benefits on offer include:
- Increased muscle growth
- Faster recovery from workouts
- Reduces DOMS
- Faster muscle glycogen recovery
This BCAA supplement has been tested on athletes, is suitable for both vegans and vegetarians, and comes in a fantastic Cherry Burst flavour.
A 450 g tub will cost £29.99 ($44.99), with every order coming with FREE shipping and a 60-day money back guarantee. This means that if you are not happy with your purchase for any reason then you can get a full refund.