If you’ve been in the fitness world for a while you’ve likely heard people talk about BCAAs, pre-workouts, and other supplements designed to give you energy, boost performance, and stimulate muscle growth.
And with this buzz about BCAAs comes a slurry of questions like,
What are BCAAs?
Are BCAA supplements worth it?
Should I be taking BCAAs?
We’re going to tackle these questions and more as we dive into the ABCs of BCAAs (see what I did there?).
First things First, What Are BCAAs?
BCAAs=Branched-Chain Amino Acids
What are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?
Branched-chain amino acids are a group of three essential amino acids- leucine, isoleucine, and valine- that are “burned” for energy and aid in building muscle tissue protein.
The thing about BCAAs is that your body does not manufacture them. They must be consumed.
And this leads us right to our next question.
If I Don’t Take BCAA Supplements, How Do I Consume Them?
BCAAs are naturally occurring in a high-protein diet. Yes, this means that you can get enough BCAAs to support an active life without adding in the supplement – though there may be other benefits to using a supplement depending on your goals.
Here’s a list of foods high in BCAAs. You might be surprised how many foods on this list you’re already consuming!
- Why, Milk, and Soy Proteins (Yes, including Tofu and Tempeh!)
- Beef, Poultry, Fish, and Eggs
- Chickpeas, Lentils, Corn, Beans, Pumpkin Seeds
- Whole Wheat, Brown Rice
- Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Pistachios, Cashews
If you’re looking at this list and thinking, “Gee, that’s most of the foods I eat.”
Yes. Correct. If you are eating intentionally to fuel your body for dancing, performing, and lifting, you’re likely getting all of the BCAAs you need from your diet.
So Why Do People Take BCAA Supplements?
This is where we get into the nitty-gritty.
For a long time, people believed that taking BCAA supplements before a workout was a great way to speed up muscle growth because Leucine (one of the amino acids in BCAAs) is an integral player in muscle tissue growth.
However, studies have shown that, despite common belief, athletes who use BCAAs as a pre-workout saw a decrease rather than an increase in protein synthesis.
Instead, combining BCAAs with WHEY protein creates a complete protein that has shown to increase muscle protein synthesis.
But If I Get BCAAs In My Diet, Why Add Them to My Protein?
The thing BCAAs do very well, outside of preventing D.O.M.S., is increasing your athletic performance by keeping your energy levels high.
You see, these supplements decrease the amount of Serotonin your body produces during a workout which prevents fatigue.
What does this mean?
It means you’ll be able to work out harder and longer with the immediate support of BCAAs than you would without it.
However, use this power with wisdom as this added intensity without the support of WHEY protein and a well-fueled diet can lead to a decrease in muscle protein synthesis.
So… TLDR What Should I Do?
It all depends on your goals.
If you are working tirelessly to build muscle, it may be best to get your pre-workout energy from quick energy sources like an apple, honey, or even a cup of coffee.
However, if you are eating a balanced diet and are struggling with stamina and muscle recovery during and after your workouts, BCAA supplements could be beneficial for a season.
At the end of the day, we always recommend that you try to get all of your important nutrients from whole foods. If you’re eating the protein and fiber required of the professional athlete you are, you likely don’t need to add BCAAs to your supplement regimen.
Want some more insight into your nutrition needs? Check out Body Mechanics. A fully realized personal training program designed to teach you while you train.