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BCAA Supplements

About BCAA Supplements

The term BCAA is short for branched amino acid, which are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are 3 of the 9 essential amino acids. They are called essential because it is essential that we obtain them from our diet, as they can not be synthesized by the body and play vital roles in human health. If we don’t consume enough of the 9 essential amino acids, then eventually, as our muscle and tissue stores are depleted, we become unwell. This, however, usually takes many months, and depends on the amount we have in storage. And the largest storage area for the essential amino acids, including the BCAAs, is muscle tissue.  


BCAA supplementation is often used during exercise (referred to as an intra-workout). Interestingly, muscle protein synthesis (or muscle building) is decreased during strenuous exercise, while protein breakdown actually increases. This is called a catabolic state, and part of the reason is due to the increases in stress hormones, like cortisol, that occur during this time.



Bodybuilders might be wondering, if weight lifting is catabolic, how the heck do muscles grow and get big? It is only once re-feeding with quality protein (or essential amino acids) occurs after exercise that an anabolic or muscle-building environment is created. And of course, if heavy weight lifting was undertaken and muscle micro-tears occur, then the muscle will tend to be rebuilt larger, which the body's way of trying to minimise muscle damage in the future. It is because BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthesis—via mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)—that they are believed to create a more anabolic environment during exercise, thus reducing skeletal muscle protein breakdown.


BCAAs are naturally contained within the protein structure of whey protein, and constitute approximately 15-20% of the amino acids found within. This is one of the reasons that whey protein is so useful to support muscle mass and prevent muscle loss. Leucine, one of the three BCAAs found in BCAA supplements, has also been demonstrated to stimulate fatty acid oxidation (fat-burning) and glucose uptake by the cell.



This means that leucine may also improve stamina and improve the rate at which fat stores are used for energy. BCAA supplements also help to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, perhaps due to their ability to stimulate muscle healing. The Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry reported in 2013 that BCAA supplementation could reduce creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, which are both markers of muscle tissue damage and general metabolic disruption.


BCAA supplements are best taken immediately before exercise, or towards the first half of your session. Alternatively, they can be sipped on throughout the day, preferably between meals, or with a low protein meal.