While supplements like omega-3s and probiotics are booming in the organic market, BCAAs aren’t talked about as much. This needs to change, because their benefits are numerous. BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are a powerhouse set of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and they’re naturally found in animal products like meat and cheese as well as vegetable proteins like legumes, tofu, and nuts. If you’re a frequent exerciser, though, you may want to increase your uptake with a BCAAs supplement. Here are 5 scientifically-backed reasons why you need BCAAs in your life and 3 tips on what to look for and how to take them.
1. BCAAs help build and repair muscle
Exercise is stressful on the body – naturally, whenever we exercise, some muscle cells are damaged. Afterwards, the body tries to rebuild muscle even better than before. This is where a BCAA supplement comes in. As Richard Wilcock, certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Flagship Fitness, explains, when the body recovers from a workout, if it “has a steady supply of its BCAA building blocks, then it can do this very quickly, reducing repair time and consequently reducing the amount of muscle pain and fatigue felt.” According to Wilcock, a BCAA supplement is particularly helpful when you’re trying to build muscle with resistance training, which “uses this repair response to improve strength and muscle mass and definition.”
2. BCAAs help you recover from tough workouts faster
A challenging workout is awesome until the next day hits and you can hardly walk up the stairs, or worse, it takes you a week to recover from one hard day. This is where you can literally feel the effect of a BCAA supplement's ability to help with muscle repair. You’re less tired and less sore than you would be without it. As Wilcock explains, “When the muscle cells are repaired quicker, the pain will be lessened and you will be fatigued for a shorter period of time.”
3. BCAAs make you feel stronger
While research suggests that BCAAs don’t do anything in the midst of your workout to allow you to push harder for longer, many people do report feeling stronger. Wilcock infers that this is because BCAAs have helped you recover quicker and you feel “closer to 100% for your next session.” If you’re trying to work out for days in a row or to become fit faster, a BCAA supplement gives you that extra boost to keep pushing on.
4. BCAAs can help with weight loss (thanks to muscle)
Much of the energy we use every day is used by the muscles, and the more muscle you have and the more active they are, the more energy you burn. As your body repairs muscles post-workout, you’re also burning energy. As Wilcock explains, a BCAA supplement can help with weight loss, “but in a roundabout way.” As he explains, using your muscles and rebuilding them “will be increasing baseline metabolism, meaning more energy is burned throughout the day.” Naturally, the more energy you use, the more likely you are to lose weight.
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5. BCAAs give you a boost in immunity
Research suggests that BCAAs are good for more than just a boost in muscle-building. They also boost your immune system. One study showed BCAA supplementation increased white blood cell production and even adjusted the response of cytokines, another cell linked to immunity.
How to Incorporate BCAAs into Your Workout
1. Look for a 2:1:1 ratio
All supplements are not created equal, and in a market where bigger is better, numbers can be misleading. As Wilcock notes, “There is a marketing hype around the ratio used for BCAAs with a higher ratio being marketed as better.” Physiologically, though, a ratio of 2:1:1 (with leucine at the top) seems to work just as well as a higher ratio, like 10:1:1.
2. Look for 10 grams or more
Chances are, supplements in the form of pills (versus powder) aren’t going to contain as much BCAAs as you actually need. Wilcock notes that successful studies have given adult women and men at least 10 grams of BCAAs. Wilcock recommends 0.2 grams of BCAAs per kilogram of bodyweight. For example, a woman weighing 60 kilograms (about 130 pounds) would take 12 grams of BCAAs before her workout.
3. Take BCAAs before your workout
Numerous studies have suggested that taking BCAAs before your workout is the best course of action to reduce fatigue and soreness. One study showed that women new to a squat program felt less tired and sore when they took a BCAA supplement before their workout than when they took a placebo.
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