Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are a hot topic in the fitness community. BCAAs are among the most popular supplements globally, used by athletes and non-athletes. They're the go-to supplement for anyone who has tried to bulk up. Branched-chain amino acids are a great way to boost protein intake and improve athletic performance. Athletes often use them to improve strength and performance. They boost muscle recovery after an intense workout. Still, with so many options out there, it's easy to make a mistake when taking BCAAs—and that could lead to an ineffective product or, even worse: an unhealthy supplement that can harm your body.
This article has compiled a list of common mistakes and tips for maximising your BCAA benefits.
What is a BCAA supplement?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. They're a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, considered essential because your body can't produce them—you need to get them through food or BCAA supplements.
BCAAs are found in many protein-rich foods like meat and dairy products. But if you don't eat these foods regularly or enough of them, you may also need to supplement with BCAAs.
Major BCAAs Benefits
Scientific studies have found that BCAA supplements are good for your health because:
- BCAAs help reduce fatigue during and after intense exercise sessions by lowering the amount of tryptophan that enters your brain. Your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin, which contributes to feelings of exhaustion and fatigue.
- Branched-chain amino acids supplements can help you recover from intense exercise by reducing muscle soreness and decreasing protein breakdown after a session.
- Among BCAAs’ benefits is that they support lean muscle growth by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing their breakdown in resting muscles.
- Branched-chain amino acids may offer health benefits for people with diseases affecting liver function, including cirrhosis, hepatic encephalopathy, and liver cancer.
- BCAAs can provide energy for muscles when glucose levels deplete, making them especially important for endurance activities like marathons or long-distance swimming events.
- Branched-chain amino acids have been found to increase protein synthesis rates in skeletal and cardiac muscles by promoting the activation of mTOR signalling pathways, thus preserving muscle fibre size and improving physical endurance and motor coordination.
- Strenuous exercise can reduce your body's ability to fight disease. The depletion of plasma glutamine, an amino acid that fuels immune cells and is produced by muscle tissue in response to strenuous exercise, may contribute to this reduction in immunity—but supplementing with branched-chain amino acids could help increase levels within muscle tissue and thus boost overall immunity.
Five mistakes to avoid when using BCAAs
1) Reducing the Amount of Protein Consumed in Food
BCAAs contain only three essential amino acids that help build muscle. They don't contain the whole spectrum of amino acids your body needs for muscle growth, so it's important to still consume enough protein besides taking BCAAs on days when you want to add them to your diet.
2) Not Following the Recommended Ratio of BCAAs
Branched-chain amino acids are essential amino acids, so you can't make them in your body—you must get them from food or supplements. BCAAs are especially important for athletes because they help the body recover after exercise. But you could miss out on some of their benefits if you're not careful with your intake. The three main BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. When taken together in a specific ratio, these amino acids can improve protein synthesis and help you build muscle faster than taking only one at a time.
Interestingly, leucine readily converts to energy during exercise and is needed for building new muscle tissue. Also, it signals the process of building new muscle—leucine may be the most powerful activator of muscle growth among all amino acids. That is why the ideal ratio is 2:1:1 (leucine: isoleucine: valine), but many products in the market don’t have this ratio.
3) Not Taking BCAAs When Your Muscles Need Them Most
Branched-chain amino acids are essential to a workout routine, but many people need to learn when they take them. The most common is taking them at the wrong time.
BCAAs can be taken at any point in your workout—you don't need to wait until you've finished your last set to start taking them. Many people like to use BCAA-infused water or other beverages during workouts because they feel more energised and focused. BCAA blood levels peak 30 minutes after consumption, so it’s best to take them during or immediately after a workout.
Your body can better absorb and utilise the amino acids from BCAAs when working harder to repair muscle fibres during and after a challenging workout than when just sitting around.
4) Excessive or Improper Use of Protein Supplements
One of the most important things to remember when taking BCAAs is to avoid unnecessary supplements.
Branched-chain amino acids are a great addition to any workout routine. It would be best if you also were taking a multivitamin and possibly some pre-workout or other muscle-recovery supplements. But suppose you're taking BCAAs primarily, then it is best practice to avoid other supplements that already have BCAAs in them. That will help you avoid accidentally overdoing your intake of these essential amino acids, which can cause gut problems like nausea, indigestion, etc.
5) Excessive BCAAs Intake with Inadequate Exercise
Suppose you take an excess of branched-chain amino acids supplements without working out effectively or eating enough food— in that case, there's a good chance that the excess amino acids will build up in your body and cause digestive issues or other side effects like nausea or headaches.
When you're using BCAAs, you want to make sure that you're working out effectively. If you don't, your body won't be able to process the nutrients in your protein powder effectively and won't build muscle or repair itself as quickly.
When it comes to working out effectively, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind:
- Don't overdo it! Make sure that you're not pushing yourself too hard.
- Make sure that you're working out consistently and regularly.
- Remember cardio! It's vital for many reasons—helping with weight loss, controlling blood pressure levels, etc.
Branched-chain amino acids can benefit anyone who wants to build muscle, reduce muscle soreness, and stay healthy. However, there are a lot of factors that people need to bear in mind when supplementing with BCAAs. Mistakes can reduce their effectiveness and cause you to waste your time on a product that doesn't work.
Steadfast Nutrition's Active BCAA is the perfect way to avoid these common mistakes and maximise your BCAA supplementation. It has been shown to provide numerous benefits, including increased strength and power during exercise, decreased muscle soreness after workouts, improved recovery time between workouts. Our Active BCAA is made with premium ingredients and is priced affordably. It comes in a single-serving sachet, is easy to take, tastes great, and mixes well into water or your favourite drink.