If you are an athlete, focus on staying active, or strive to maintain a healthy physique, there is a good chance you have heard of branch-chained amino acids (BCAAs). Touted for helping in energy production, minimizing muscle soreness, weight loss, and even fighting fatigue, BCAA supplementation is getting a lot of attention.
The question remains: is BCAA supplementation legit? Does it really work, and is it better than getting the same essential amino acids from foods? In today’s post, we’ll give you a breakdown and differentiate the facts from the hype.
What are the branch-chained amino acids?
The BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
These three essential amino acids are dubbed as “branch-chained” because of their unique molecular structure, which has a branched-chain on one side.
There are both essential and non-essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are made by the body, so they are present whether you take them in when you eat or not. On the other hand, essential amino acids, like BCAAs, are not produced by the body; they have to come from the food you eat.
The Role of BCAAs in the Body
The human body contains a major pool of amino acids that it utilizes for different processes, such as muscle regeneration and glucose breakdown. BCAAs represent approximately 35 to 40% of all the essential amino acids that are available in this pool.
The research isn’t wholly conclusive, but here are the various roles BCAAs are believed to play within our bodies:
- playing an important role in the production of energy
- acting as primary building blocks for protein and muscle development
- possibly regulating blood sugar levels by signaling cells to use sugar available in the blood
- potentially reducing fatigue by affecting serotonin production
With all of this responsibility, it is easy to assume that BCAA supplementation would be a good idea if you work out a lot, are interested in building a lot of muscle, or need more energy while you exercise.
What foods contain BCAAs?
If you eat a healthy diet, a daily intake of BCAA’s should not be a challenge.
Some foods that contain BCAAs in high concentrations include:
- Meat, such as poultry or fish
- Tofu or tempeh
- Lentils, beans, or quinoa
- Cheese and milk
How much BCAA should you be getting?
Recently, researchers have suggested that adults may need as much as 144mg per kilogram of body weight daily of all three essential BCAAs combined. Healthline offers recommendations based on modern research as 12 grams of BCAAs per day for men and 9 grams of BCAAs per day for women at minimum. Those who are especially active or athletic may need higher amounts of BCAAs.
BCAA Supplementation Research
Of course, getting BCAAs naturally from the food you eat would be preferred, but what if you do not eat a diet that is rich in BCAAs? In this case, BCAA supplementation seems like a viable option.
Here’s a look at some of the published research regarding BCAA supplementation…
Increasing Muscle Mass
One of the most popular reasons people take BCAA supplements is to support their development of muscle. One study published by Sports Medicine did show that leucine supplementation could help with lean muscle mass production. Still, it was also stated that more research was needed to develop a definitive conclusion. Getting BCAAs from soy or whey protein could be just as effective.
Enhancing Weight Loss Efforts
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition stated that weightlifters who were taking 14g of BCAAs daily lost one percent more body fat than a second group that was given 28g of protein. It was also noted that the group taking BCAA supplements gained as much as 4.4 pounds of lean muscle mass.
Reducing Muscle Soreness After Exercise
Bouncing back after a workout can be tough because of sore muscles. Still, research does point to the possibility that BCAA supplementation could help. Several studies have been done in which individuals were given BCAA supplements and then asked to rate how sore they felt.
In one particular study, those given BCAAs had soreness levels much lower than the participants who had taken only a placebo.
Takeaway Points to Remember
BCAA supplements can potentially offer a range of benefits, particularly when it comes to things like encouraging muscle growth and supporting the performance and endurance of the body.
Keep in mind, however, that BCAAs are naturally present in protein-rich food choices and in quality protein supplements. Supplementation might be a good option if you suspect you’re not getting enough BCAAs through your regular diet.