BCAA (Branched-Chain Amino Acids): Uses & Top Benefits

Hey there, fitness fanatics! 

Let’s talk about BCAAs – the supplement that has taken the muscle-building world by storm. These bad boys are a game-changer when it comes to building muscle and protecting against catabolism. If you’re not familiar with the term, catabolism is a fancy way of saying your body is breaking down muscle tissue. 

And let’s be real, none of us want that!

As someone who takes bodybuilding seriously, I can attest that BCAAs are a critical part of my post-workout routine. When I chug down my protein shake with BCAAs, my muscles are singing with happiness. Say goodbye to muscle soreness and those annoying hunger pangs that follow a hard workout.

Now, I know there’s no such thing as a magic bullet when it comes to promoting muscle growth. But let me tell you, BCAAs come pretty darn close. Not only will they help speed up your recovery time, but they’ll also reduce muscle soreness post-workout and even accelerate fat loss. Plus, you’ll feel like a superhero during your workout and see greater results afterwards.

Listen up, serious athletes – BCAAs are a must-have in your supplement arsenal. They’re essential for muscle recovery, which is a no-brainer for anyone who pushes their body to the limit. Not to mention, they’ll improve your workout performance and reduce those pesky post-workout aches and pains.

We all want to look and feel our best, right? But achieving that perfect physique is no easy feat. It takes dedication and a commitment to living a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, hydration, exercise, sleep, and of course, supplements. And that’s where BCAAs come in. 

These Branched Chain Amino Acids promote muscle building and weight loss, making them a crucial part of any fitness enthusiast’s supplement routine.

What is BCAA?

BCAA - Branched-chain Amino Acids
Source: Canva

There are 9 amino acids which the body cannot produce and hence these are termed as essential amino acids. The body requires them from external protein sources.

Three out of these nine, Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine collectively form BCAA i.e. Branched Chain Amino Acids.

BCAA is the second most eminently used supplement for bodybuilders after whey protein. Researches show that BCAA might prove to be beneficial in some medical conditions as well, provided they are taken under supervision.

BCAA Bodybuilding: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects

Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects - BCAA
Source: Canva

People indulging into intense exercise suffer a breakdown of muscle tissues during the workout, consequently leading to muscle wasting.

The principal usage of BCAA is to:

  • Reduce muscle tissue breakdown, and
  • Promote muscle growth and augment the intensity of exercise.
  • Besides promoting muscle growth, it acts as fuel to the body.

Hence BCAA is also useful to preserve the glycogen stores of the body during workout. Enough glycogen stores prevent the breakdown of proteins for the purpose of energy.

Understand the BCAA Uses

Understand the BCAA Uses
Source: Canva

1. Increases Muscle Mass & Strength

Several studies have suggested that BCAAs can help to increase muscle mass and strength when used in conjunction with resistance training 1 

Leucine, in particular, has been shown to activate the muscle protein synthesis pathway, which leads to the production of new muscle tissue. 2

2. Reduces Muscle Soreness and Fatigue

BCAAs may also help to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue after intense exercise. 3 

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that BCAA supplementation reduced muscle soreness and damage following high-intensity exercise in trained women. 4

3. Improves Exercise Performance

BCAAs can help to improve exercise performance. BCAAs have been shown to improve endurance and exercise performance in some studies. 5

One study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that BCAA supplementation improved endurance performance and reduced fatigue in trained cyclists. 6

4. Helps to Prevent Muscle Wasting

During periods of calorie restriction, such as during a cutting phase in bodybuilding, BCAAs may help to prevent muscle wasting. 7 

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that BCAA supplementation prevented muscle loss during a calorie-restricted diet in trained men. 8

What are the BCAA Benefits:

BCAA Benefits
Source: Canva

There are various benefits of BCAA which are described below:

1. Improved Lean Muscle Gain

BCAA prevents muscle catabolism when taken during workout and hence preserves lean muscles. It also activates enzymes that promote muscle building.

Adding a small amount of BCAA with whey protein post-workout furthermore promotes lean muscle mass gain.

2. Acts as Fuel to the Body

The bond between Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are broken down by the body to produce energy.

Hence consumption of BCAA during workout provides the body with energy for the workout.

3. Restrain Muscle Wasting and Pain

Leucine present in BCAA is an anabolic factor. When calories or proteins are low in the body, it promotes the body to synthesize muscle protein.

This phenomenon helps in preventing muscle wasting. It also reduces pain induced by muscle rupture during workout.

4. Supports Weight Loss

Various studies show the contribution of BCAA consumption to weight loss, provided that it is accompanied by a proper diet and recommended amount of protein intake.

Researches prove that BCAA supplements taken in addition to a low-calorie high protein diet have resulted in approximately 1- 2 kg of additional weight loss. BCAA prevents weight gain as well as supports 0.6% more fat loss.

5. Beneficial against Medical Conditions like Diabetes

Leucine and Iso-Leucine help to increase insulin production. But there are limited researches about BCAA versus insulin health.

Some researches show an increase in insulin secretion, however, some show rise in blood sugar levels on incorporating BCAA. Hence, diabetics need to consult a health expert before taking BCAA as it might be beneficial in controlled conditions for diabetics.

BCAA might also reduce liver-related complications. The amino acids present in BCAA are extremely favorable for the liver.

Studies show that in some cases, BCAA has not contributed to significant improvement in survival rates after liver diseases. However, in some cases, it has effectively shown to reduce muscle fatigue and improve liver function.

There are other medical conditions as well, where BCAA might prove to be beneficial. But it is extremely essential to have such supplements under supervision with any medical condition.

6. Good for Hair and Skin

BCAA is one of the main constituents of the potassium-ion channel in human hair follicles. They have been found to enhance hair growth and possibly repair damaged hair follicles.

Skin collagen metabolism aberrations persuaded by ultraviolet rays are the major reason behind premature aging. Even one-time exposure to ultraviolet radiation decreases pro-collagen mRNA expression in the dermis, whereas prolonged exposure leads to wrinkle formation.

This is well known that amino acids regulate protein metabolism. Various studies show that the combination of BCAA and glutamine is extremely beneficial for rejuvenating protein synthesis in skin impaired by UV irradiation. This leads to an overall improvement in the quality of the skin.

Possible BCAA Side Effects – What You Need to Know

Possible BCAA Side Effects
Source: Canva

BCAA is mostly safe when consumed orally. Although people with any medical history should avoid consuming it without expert guidance as it might aggravate their condition.

BCAA is certainly one of the principal supplements for people who exercise regularly. It supports weight loss, bodybuilding as well as prevents muscle fatigue.

Although one should always be specific so you need to make a note of these side effects as well:

1. Digestive Issues

Some people may experience digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea after taking BCAA supplements. One study found that taking high doses of BCAAs (up to 200 mg/kg body weight) can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people. 9

2. Insulin Resistance

There is some evidence that high doses of BCAAs may increase insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. One study found that taking BCAAs for six weeks increased insulin resistance in healthy individuals. 10 

However, the doses used in this study were much higher than those typically used in supplements.

3. Liver Damage

There is some concern that long-term use of BCAAs may cause liver damage. One study found that rats fed a high-protein diet containing BCAAs had higher levels of liver enzymes, which can be a sign of liver damage. 11

However, more research is needed to determine if this effect also occurs in humans.

4. Allergic Reactions

In rare cases, people may experience allergic reactions to BCAA supplements. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include hives, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing. One case report described a woman who experienced an allergic reaction after taking a BCAA supplement. 12

Food Naturally Rich in BCAA

Food Naturally Rich in BCAA
Source: Canva

Almost all protein foods are rich in BCAA. Sources of BCAA include:

Food With High Amount of BCAA %% BCAAs in Protein
Whey Protein Isolate26%
Chicken Breast21%
Tuna21%
Salmon21%
Eggs18%
Greek Yogurt16%
Cottage Cheese15%
Milk15%
Cheddar Cheese14%
Soybeans19%
Chickpeas18%
Lentils18%

Whey, casein, and soy protein supplements are also rich in BCAA. For people not indulging into a regular workout, dietary sources of BCAA are enough. Intake of BCAA supplement is not a requisite for them.

But for a person performing regular exercises either for bodybuilding or weight loss, it is beneficial to have BCAA supplements.

BCAA Dosage and Consumption – Recommended by Experts

BCAA Dosage and Consumption
Source: Canva

To get the most out of BCAA supplements, it’s important to take the right amount. For sedentary folks, you’ll want to aim for at least 14 milligrams of leucine per kilogram of body weight per day. But if you’re really hitting it hard at the gym, you’ll need more like 45 milligrams of leucine per kilogram of body weight per day.

For isoleucine, shoot for 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, and for valine, aim for 17-20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.

When it comes to actually consuming BCAA powder, it’s important to factor in your individual needs and how much you’re getting from your diet. And if you’re wondering when the best time is to take BCAA, it’s during your workout.

But perhaps the most important thing to consider is the ratio of amino acids. The ideal ratio is 2:1:1, which means double the amount of leucine compared to isoleucine and valine. Keep that in mind when choosing your BCAA supplement.

Conclusion

BCAA
Source: Canva

BCAA is now considered an indispensable supplement for people performing high-intensity training and workouts.

Various in-depth studies have been performed on the BCAA benefits and its side-effects, in which BCAA has emerged and proven itself as a key ingredient in building muscle, lowering muscle fatigue and mitigating muscle soreness.

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What are BCAA amino acids used for?

BCAAs stimulate the building of protein in muscle and possibly reduce muscle breakdown. The “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. BCAAs are used for reduced brain function in people with advanced liver disease and for a movement disorder often caused by antipsychotic drugs.

Is BCAA good to take everyday?

While you don’t need BCAAs at every meal, it is important to take them daily. This ensures you’re getting all the nutrients you need so your body can function at its best. Branched-chain amino acids are most commonly found in protein-rich foods like milk, meat, and eggs.

What is the primary benefit of taking branched-chain amino acids?

The main benefit of BCAAs are their ability to enhance muscle growth and alleviate muscle fatigue. Studies found that supplementing with BCAAs alone does not provide an optimal muscle protein synthesis response, as all essential amino acids are required for muscle protein synthesis.

Does BCAA have side effects?

When consumed in large amounts, BCAA side effects can include fatigue, loss of coordination, nausea, headaches, and increased insulin resistance (which can lead to Type 2 diabetes). BCAAs may affect blood sugar levels, so anyone having surgery should avoid them for a period of time before and after surgery.

Are BCAAs good for your heart?

BCAA and Cardiovascular Diseases
In addition to the effects on mood, the excess consumption of BCAA supplements may be linked to an increased susceptibility to cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that the metabolism of amino acids is potentially involved in the development of heart disease.

Can I take BCAA empty stomach?

For best results, you should use branched-chain amino acids every day, not just on training days[*]. Also, BCAAs may work better taken in two divided doses each day, particularly on rest days[*]. You can take them on an empty stomach or with food.

References
  1. Katsanos CS, Kobayashi H, Sheffield-Moore M, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR. A high proportion of leucine is required for optimal stimulation of the rate of muscle protein synthesis by essential amino acids in the elderly. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006;291(2):E381-E387. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00488.2005[]
  2. Norton LE, Layman DK. Leucine regulates translation initiation of protein synthesis in skeletal muscle after exercise. J Nutr. 2006;136(2):533S-537S. doi:10.1093/jn/136.2.533S[]
  3. Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-20[]
  4. Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S, et al. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010;20(3):236-244. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.20.3.236[]
  5. Greer BK, White JP, Arguello EM, Haymes EM. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation lowers perceived exertion but does not affect performance in untrained males. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(2):539-544. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc2574[]
  6. Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, et al. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation increases the lactate threshold during an incremental exercise test in trained individuals. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009;55(1):52-58. doi:10.3177/jnsv.55.52[]
  7. Nakamura H, Takishita E. Nutrition and training for bodybuilding. J Phys Fitness Sports Med. 2015;4(2):181-189. doi:10.7600/jpfsm.4.181[]
  8. Mourier A, Bigard AX, de Kerviler E, Roger B, Legrand H, Guezennec CY. Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. Int J Sports Med. 1997;18(1):47-55.[]
  9. Ra, S. G., et al. (1999). Effect of BCAA supplement timing on exercise-induced muscle soreness and damage: A pilot placebo-controlled double-blind study. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 39(4), 316-322. PMID: 10697961[]
  10. Newman, J. C., et al. (2016). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation promotes insulin resistance in mice fed a high-fat diet. Journal of Nutrition, 146(12), 2535-2540. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.238331[]
  11. Yudai, T., et al. (2015). The effect of a high-protein diet containing L-leucine and BCAAs on the liver of rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 61(5), 417-424. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.61.417[]
  12. Ji, Y., et al. (2020). Allergic reaction to branched-chain amino acid supplements: A case report. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 8(6), 2196-2197. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2020.03.033[]
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