The Basics: Branched Chain Amino Acids

BCAA’s are a very well-known and popular category of supplements, right next to pre workout and whey protein. For that reason, we thought we’d provide a basic breakdown of one of the biggest supplements on the market.

Ask anyone who sells or takes BCAAs and they’ll probably tell you things that will lead you to believe they’re pretty much a gift from the heavens. But are they really the miracle supplement we’re made to believe they are? Let’s explore.

What are they?

The typical BCAA supplement consists of three key essential amino acids; Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine. These are essential, meaning that they are not created in the body in normal day to day digestion, so we have to get these from food or supplementation.

Valine – An essential amino acid that helps to prevent catabolism (the breakdown of muscle) by adding extra glucose to the muscles for energy. Valine is also used to remove excess nitrogen in the body and transport it when needed.

Leucine – The amino acid that carries the role of muscle building. Leucine is a bit different from the other two in terms of research because most studies are done on leucine by itself instead of in a BCAA mixture. Metabolizes into HMB which although is weaker for protein synthesis, it is great for preserving lean mass.

Isoleucine – Another essential amino acid that helps with blood clotting in injuries, and assists with muscle repair. It may also help by boosting energy and stamina.

What do they do?

BCAAs are pretty cool because of the fact that they can be taken any time around working out to see benefits, but the most common or popular way of using them is during your workout since you will most likely have a pre/post workout, for before and after the gym. The key idea behind taking this supplement is to be able to work out for longer periods of time, without your body breaking down too much muscle for energy.

Should you take them?

Something to keep in mind about your branched chains is that they are amino acids, and these are the building blocks of proteins. So, a lot of protein supplements will already have these different aminos. Be sure to double check this because more is not always better.

If you are someone who is eating plenty of food, has a whey protein shake before and after exercise, and doesn’t exercise for any longer than an hour, then BCAAs are probably not going to be for you.

But, on the other hand if you are someone who trains while in a fasted state, this is almost a must. Since when you train in a fasted state, you burn through the glucose in your muscles fairly quickly, which is when the amino acids help your body transfer glucose to muscles where it is needed.

Another demographic that could benefit from BCAAs are people who don’t take whey protein, or who are eating in a caloric deficit to lose weight. The caloric deficit will mean that your body will be looking for energy wherever it can by breaking down what it needs. So, the BCAAs should help keep your body from breaking down muscle.

Are there any side effects?

As a rule, most people who supplement with Branched Chain supplements don’t see or feel any side effects, but some may experience some nausea, headache and some pain. If you experience any of these, you should stop taking it.

Something to remember, Branched Chains are like any other supplement, they are used to either help a deficiency or get you that extra edge for performance.

If your base nutrition isn’t where it should be, then focus more on food first then start trying these out. There are plenty of brands to choose from, Black Diamond has an extensive range here.

Bottom line, BCAA supplements are simple. It’s a ratio of three essential amino acids, that really just help the body from breaking down its own muscle for energy while in a fasted stated, or if you are in a caloric deficit for the day.

While some argue that they promote muscle growth, or have the same benefits as protein, these are things that have not been researched to much if any extent. Like most supplements, take the hype with a grain of salt. They can promise to do many things, but there will always be some sort of bias, so stay educated and do your research.

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