Drew Defrancesco, Dietetic Intern with Memorial Hermann | Rockets Sports Medicine Institute
Brett Singer MS,RD,CSSD,LD Sports Dietitian with Memorial Hermann | Rockets Sports Medicine Institute
BCAAs have taken the supplement world by storm. If you’re curious about what the research says on their effectiveness in muscle building, when to take them and what to take them with, then this blog is for you!
What are Branched-Chain Amino Acids (also known as BCAAs)?
Protein is an important component in the human body that helps build and repair damaged muscle. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids which can be divided into two groups, essential and non essential. Non essential amino acids can be made in the body, but essential amino acids need to be obtained from outside of the body through dietary sources. BCAA’s are a subgroup of amino acids and are composed of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA’s can be found in dietary protein sources including any meat, dairy, and legumes.
How do BCAA’s Work?
Unlike other essential amino acids, the branched-chain amino acids bypass the liver and are absorbed straight into the bloodstream. This availability is said to give BCAA’s an advantage in that they become readily available after protein consumption more than other essential amino acids. This ready availability has proposed that BCAA supplementation increases muscle building, aids in physical activity, and promotes recovery.
What are the potential benefits and considerations of BCAA’s?
There are several proposed benefits of BCAA supplementation including reduced muscle soreness following strength training, increased muscle mass and strength, and improved endurance exercise performance.
One of the main proposed benefits of BCAA supplementation is reduced muscle soreness following exercise. Athletes could supplement with BCAAs for approximately 1 week prior to muscle damaging exercise, such as resistance training, to then reduce perceived soreness. While there is some evidence to support this, it should be noted that when BCAA supplementation is consumed with a diet consisting of adequate protein, 1.2 g/kg or even greater, taking BCAA’s is not likely to enhance recovery (VanDusseldorp et al., 2018).
While supplementing with BCAA’s can enhance muscle protein synthesis in comparison to a placebo, the response is much lower in comparison to a complete protein such as meat, dairy, or whey (Jackman et al., 2017).
There have also been suggestions that supplementing with BCAA’s may enhance endurance exercise performance. Supplementing with BCAA’s prior to a long distance workout has shown results by increasing the time it takes an athlete to reach exhaustion (AbuMoh’d et al., 2020). However, in studies where this has been shown, BCAA’s were consumed in comparison to a placebo. When adequate carbohydrate is ingested during endurance exercise, there does not appear to be added benefits to BCAA supplementation.
What's the proper dosing of BCAA’s?
Proper BCAA dosing has not reached a general consensus and can depend on when and how it will be utilized. Many studies have used a wide range of dosages as well as different times throughout a daily period. Some studies have shown to use around 16-20g of BCAA supplementation per day for at least one week when leading up muscle damaging exercise when utilized for soreness. Studies have also based dosing on body size.
Supplement Market and Price?
BCAA’s have taken the supplement industry by storm. While there has shown to be possible positive results from BCAA supplementation, the amount that is needed to be taken to get these results is much higher than the serving size dose of most BCAA supplements. Also, if one is to factor in the cost of these supplements, the money that would need to be spent would exceed the benefit for general public use. Most BCAA supplement powders and pills contain around 2-7g per BCAA serving size, while the dosing needed to aid athletic performance or enhance muscle recovery is at least three times that amount. BCAA’s have been seen to be added to energy drink supplements. Most of the energy drinks that promote BCAA supplementation only contain 1g per container. In the context of energy drinks, any added BCAA supplementation would not aid in physical activity with the current research. Ultimately, when thinking about supplementing BCAA’s, consider how much the product costs and how much of the supplement you are getting in each serving size.
In athletic performance remember to choose the right supplements. Many supplements, including BCAA’s, are not third party tested and can result in a violation with sport competition if they contain a banned substance. Consumers should choose a third party tested supplement such as those which are NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport certified.
BCAA supplementation has been very popular for quite some time. While there are several proposed benefits related to their use, there does not appear to be strong evidence in support of the use of BCAA supplementation, particularly when adequate protein is being consumed.
ATH carries Biosteel products in our facilities, which are NSF certified for sport and considered the number one product in pro sports. In any ATH location, you can purchase protein powders, hydration mixes, BCAAs & more.
AbuMoh’d, M. F., Matalqah, L., & Al-Abdulla, Z. (2020). Effects of oral branched‐chain amino acids (bcaas) intake on muscular and central fatigue during an incremental exercise. Journal of Human Kinetics, 72(1), 69–78.
Holeček, M. (2018). Branched-chain amino acids in health and disease: Metabolism, alterations in blood plasma, and as supplements. Nutrition & Metabolism, 15(1).
Jackman, S. R., Witard, O. C., Philp, A., Wallis, G. A., Baar, K., & Tipton, K. D. (2017). Branched-chain amino acid ingestion stimulates muscle myofibrillar protein synthesis following resistance exercise in humans. Frontiers in Physiology, 8.
Tipton, K. D. (2017). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation To Support Muscle Anabolism Following Exercise. Sports Science Exchange, 28(169), 1–6.
VanDusseldorp, T., Escobar, K., Johnson, K., Stratton, M., Moriarty, T., Cole, N.,
McCormick, J., Kerksick, C., Vaughan, R., Dokladny, K., Kravitz, L., & Mermier, C. (2018). Effect of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on recovery following acute eccentric exercise. Nutrients, 10(10), 1389.