Should You Be Taking BCAAs?
For several years now, BCAAs have been a hot topic amongst athletes, strength coaches, and fitness professionals. In that time, BCAA supplementation has become a mainstream practice for amateur and professional athletes alike. There are a variety of claims associated with BCAAs including increased lean muscle mass, improved recovery time, and increased strength.
There are 22 standard amino acids and these amino acids are necessary for nearly every biological process in your body. Among those, 9 are considered to be essential amino acids. Essential amino acids can’t be manufactured by the human body so they must be obtained from food sources. Among the essential amino acids, only 3 are considered to be BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Unlike the other essential amino acids, BCAAs are oxidized in muscle tissue and not the liver. Research has found that exercise increases BCAA oxidation, likely as part of energy expenditure and as substrates for the Krebs cycle. Knowing that BCAAs are oxidized during exercise, further research has been conducted to see the effects of supplementation.
BCAA supplementation likely improves recovery time by diminishing the amount of damage caused during exercise. This is especially useful for athletes who are in the middle of high volume training cycles. The protein sparing effects of BCAAs can allow us to train harder and more frequently while allowing for greater recovery and adaptation.
How much should I take?
In the research I’ve cited for this article, subjects supplemented as little as 3 grams a day and as much as 50 grams a day with positive results. To my knowledge, there isn’t a standardized protocol for BCAA supplementation like there is with protein intake. Many factors will affect how much you need. Your goals, body mass, age, gender, training experience, and sport are amongst the variables to consider. Experiment and see what works best for you.
When do I take BCAAs?
In my experience, it depends on the form of BCAA you are taking as well as the type and length of training session. The general consensus is that liquid BCAA will absorb faster than the pill form. In my opinion, pills might be better before and during workouts while liquid forms might be better suited for supplementing during and after workouts. Much of the research surrounding leucine has shown that a post-workout liquid meal composed of carbohydrates, protein and BCAAs is effective for recovery.
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3. Coombes, JS, and LR McNaughton. “Effects of Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Serum Creatine Kinase and Lactate Dehydrogenase after Prolonged Exercise.” The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness (2000).
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