Oh, acronyms. People in the health and fitness world really seem to love them. One buzz-phrase known as BCAA--short for branched chain amino acids--is hugely popular among powerlifters, body builders, CrossFitters, and many other fitness enthusiasts. Thousands of people buy BCAA supplements every year, a considerable nod to the ever-growing market of nutritional and sports-enhancing supplementation.
Of course, we welcome a bit of healthy skepticism when it comes to supplements and whether you should add any to a clean and balanced diet. When it comes to purchasing BCAAs (and making sure your money is well-spent), it's worth doing a little investigating first.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are a group of amino acids called leucine, isoleucine, and valine; these 3 amino acids are considered "essential," in that they cannot be produced by the body. These organic compounds are often referred to as the building blocks of many of the tissues within our bodies, especially muscle tissue. In addition to supplements, BCAAs are found naturally in foods like eggs, chicken, salmon, and beef.
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Specifically, BCAAs are Scientifically Known to Provide the Following Benefits:
- Promote lean body mass by stimulating muscle protein synthesis and fat loss
- Inhibit the breakdown of muscle cells
- Reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS...see what we mean about the acronyms?!) after intense exercise
- Contribute to muscle energy production mid-workout
- Improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake
- Research also suggests that a higher dietary intake of BCAAs has even been correlated with increased longevity.
Why You May Want (or Not Want) to Take BCAA Supplements
So, we can agree that BCAAs are important for health and optimal physical performance. The question then becomes: should we spend the money and effort to add more of these amino acids to our diet via supplementation? The answer, as most answers are in the health world, isn't black and white.
The Case for BCAA Supplements...
Many athletes prefer adding BCAAs to their diet, especially right before and right after a workout, because these free-form amino acids will bypass the liver and go straight into the bloodstream. This may enhance some of the above-listed benefits, especially when it comes to mid-workout performance and post-workout recovery.
BCAA supplementation may also be ideal for people who work out in a fasted state but are looking to accentuate muscle protein synthesis.
...And the Case Against Them
Critics, however, generally note that if you eat enough protein in your diet (e.g., 0.8 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day), BCAA supplementation really isn't necessary. Of course, this has implications for certain populations, including vegetarians, who may not be getting sufficient amounts of quality protein from their food.
So, the Jury's In:
- Branched chain amino acids are widely popular in the health and fitness world.
- Feel free to experiment with BCAAs, including dosage and timing.
- Look for a quality source that isn't loaded with artificial preservatives and other junk.
- Pay careful attention to your progress, recovery, and overall body appearance to see how this supplement may affect you over time.
- And if cost or convenience is a concern, go for an extra scoop of protein powder or a hard boiled egg instead.