In this post, we will aim to answer all of your questions on branched-chain amino acids. We will focus on essential, but have another resource that we encourage you to read on nonessential amino acids. We will also recommend great supplement options if you are looking for quality products.
What are amino acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 in total, of which 9 are “essential” acids. The combination amino acids form different proteins in the human body, and when your body digests protein you get amino acids. A “complete” protein is one that has the 9 essential amino acids.
What are essential amino acids supplements?
It’s important to know that “essential” amino acids are the ones your body can neither store or create. Remember that sentence because everything we talk about from here on out hinges on that fact.
A normal, healthy body with proper nutrition can make the 11 non-essential amino acids on-demand. So, the 9 that we can’t store or make are very important to have readily available. The most important time our bodies needs those 9 “essential” amino acids is during or after physical exercise. One could also consume them before exercise to have them available, with a caveat being you must use them before your body disposes of them.
Knowing that, an essential amino acid supplement (EAA) is a powder or pill that contains the 9 essential amino acids. If you buy these, try to find supplements that contain 20-30% leucine. This brings us into a more specialized form of essential amino acid supplement, the BCAA.
There are 20 total amino acids that make up all protein in the human body. When your body digests protein, you’re left with amino acids. Nine of those are essential amino acids form a complete protein. Non-essential amino acids are those that can be produced by your body on-demand. The name itself is a bit of a misnomer. These are still important and support things like tissue repair, growth, immune function, and hormone synthesis. Find our resource on non-essential amino acids here
3 of the essential amino acids are branched chain, or BCAAs, which simply refers to their chemical structure and means nothing to us. What’s important to know is that these 3 play potentially the largest role in muscle growth and repair. These amino acid supplements typically contain 2-parts Leucine, 1-part Isoleucine, and 1-part Valine. Usually around 5grams.
In closing about essential amino acid supplements, be aware that anything other than some combination of the 9 essential amino acids is extra. You may or may not want or need it. And you could be paying extra for it. Beware of putting crap in your body.
What do BCAA’s supplements do?
There’s a lot of science and studies behind what BCAA’s do and why. You’re giving your body the essential amino acids from breaking down protein without breaking it down or digesting it first. This is pretty neat because you cant store or make them, so you’re force feeding them when you need them most without delay. This leads to
- Reduced ammonia build-up which means less lactic acid build-up and fatigue
- Reduced muscle damage and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
- Reduced free-fatty acids means less tryptophan entering the brain (more energy.)
- Reduced chance of muscle catabolism (eating your own muscle)
- Increased muscle protein synthesis (get bigger faster).
Standard disclaimer about real food vs supplements
I would always advise that the best way to meet your macronutrient and nutrition needs is through the consumption of real, whole, clean foods. Whey protein is good, but certainly not better than a healthy, balanced meal that fits your macros. Essential amino acids may be one of the few places where you can’t get exactly what you need through real food on-demand and at the proper time, which leads us into our next topic.
Ideal scenarios for when BCAA’s beat out real food
Here are a few scenarios of important note for BCAA’s where they really do their job.
- You’re leaning out hard and doing fasted cardio. You wake up for a morning run at 5 AM before work. You won’t get any real food in your stomach until after your run. Consequently, this is also when your body is most ready for more nutrition and most susceptible to muscle catabolism (eating your own muscle). You can either pound some BCAA’s before your run with caffeine for the added benefits they bring, or immediately after your run.
- You’re using intermittent fasting to manage your diet, decrease insulin resistance, and lose weight while retaining muscle and working out. You get off work at 5 PM and are ready to hit the gym. You’re feeling tired and hungry and your muscles are on fire, but your fast doesn’t end until after your workout. You also want the benefit of fasted exercise, but you want a decent workout and you don’t want to eat your own muscle. The answer is an essential amino acid supplement. It will break your fast, and it can cause a small insulin response, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Plus, you’re going to be breaking your fast after your workout.
- You’re looking to maximize your gains and your gym time. You’re pushing it hard and taking your muscles to exhaustion every workout session. You want to grow and you want a cheap supplement to help. BCAAs are a jack of all trades in this department.
Do you take BCAA’s before or after workout?
Should you take BCAAs before or after work out? During is the best answer in my opinion, but this depends on several factors like if you’re fasted going into the exercise, what your goals are, and how concerned you may be with breaking your fast (you should look at the bigger picture). You can take them immediately before your workout as long as you work out right after so your body doesn’t just dispose of them. Remember that you can’t store them.https://myshakercup.com/creatine-muscle-building
Personally, I take them with my intra-workout drink so my body gets them as I need them along with my creatine, dextrose, caffeine, and whatever else I throw in my drink that day.
If you have no other choice you can take them after your exercise, but this is when you should be eating some form of protein with dextrose and creatine. The real time for BCAAs is to have them available during your exercise to reap the rewards. Find My Top Recommended BCAA Supplement Here
BCAA after cardio
You’re better served taking them before, especially if you’re fasted. That being said, if you’re super concerned with breaking your fast (even though the benefits outweigh the cons), then take them immediately after. If you aren’t fasted and have been eating properly, you’re still better served taking them before you exercise but it doesn’t matter as much.
Benefits of drinking BCAA during workout
Benefits of BCAA's:No risk of disposing of the amino acids before you can use them is a big one. Plus, you’re giving your body what it needs on-demand between those big sets. Let’s not forget that by taking them with a proper drink containing dextrose and creatine, we’ve got a beautiful glycogen supply for on-demand energy and our body soaks it all up so much better.
- reduced fatigue and increased energy
- Reduced change of muscle catabolism
- Reduced glucose levels
- Reduced lactic acid build-up.
3) BCAA before or after work out
Should you take amino acids before or after work out? This depends on factors like if you’re fasted going into the work-out and what your goals are. If all you care about is maximum growth, take them during your workout or just before with your intra-workout drink or pre-workout drink. If you insist on not breaking your fast (which seems short-sighted to me), then take them immediately after. But the insulin response is so small it’s on the level of black coffee, and you’ll burn through the calories very quickly during exercise and get to the fat you want. The benefit is you won’t eat your muscle during exercise.
When should I take BCAA’s?
The Ideal time to take BCAAs and why timing is important is pretty simple. Your body can’t store those BCAA’s so you need them available during and after exercise.
Are BCAAs necessary?
At the heart of it all, BCAAs are food and nutrition. Just like protein they contain 4 calories per gram. In that sense they are necessary, but you should be getting most of what you need from real food sources. They can be very beneficial in the circumstances listed above for competitive athletes or those that work hard and want to push an edge.
Who will benefit most from BCAAs
Athletes who are striving to push a competitive edge will get the most benefit alongside people who are fasting/dieting while exercising to lose fat and want to maintain their muscle mass for physique.
BCAA benefits and risks
Amino benefits include decreased fatigue and decreased muscle catabolism which will translate into better sets and more overall growth. Muscle wasting has been helped by supplementing BCAA's.
BCAA negative side effects are largely nonexistent. Arginine can exacerbate asthma or allergy symptoms. Too many acids can make your kidneys work harder to maintain pH (drink plenty of water), and any unused amino acids will be processed out.