Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are one of the most popular sports nutrition products, and for good reason. However some may not be fully aware of what they are or the benefits they can bring to muscle mass and growth.
What are BCAA’s?
BCAA’s are a collective group of 3 essential amino acids – Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. These 3 amino acids, are “essential” by nature… you have to consume these in the diet, your body cannot create them by itself from other amino acids. As such, foods which are high in BCAA can be really beneficial.
Taking things a step back it’s important to recognise that Amino Acids (such as BCAA’s) bond together to form proteins. Some sources of protein may already contain a decent amount of Branched Chain Amino Acids, which can be a good assessment tool for selecting a protein supplement. The amino acid content and the amount of BCAA specifically can be a great predictor for how effective the supplement may be at supporting recovery and growth (not the be all and end all). For example, Whey Protein is high in BCAA and particularly a good source of Leucine, this combined with its great digestion speed, makes it an ideal supplement post-workout.
Now, with this is mind, how do BCAA’s help with muscle mass?
A combination of resistance training, the presence of naturally occurring hormones in the body and the presence of free amino acids, triggers a cascade of events which signals for protein synthesis. BCAA’s are very influential to stimulating this cascade of events called mTOR. Leucine in particular acts as a trigger for this cascade of events which signals for protein synthesis (or muscle growth and repair). This is why increasing your protein intake when resistance training is so important.
BCAA supplements specifically can become really important due to their free form status. Free form amino acids take almost no digestion in the stomach/intestines and can pass into the blood stream with ease. As such, they become a really valuable tool for consumption around the workout (immediately before, during or after) to help support rapid recovery and growth. This is why BCAA’s are often added to pre/intra/post workout supplements – the fast digestion prevents any gastric distress, whilst helping to bring the benefit of reducing muscle soreness and improving recovery/growth.
How can I introduce BCAAs to support muscle growth?
BCAA’s can be incorporated in a number of ways to support muscle growth. If you currently use a pre-workout and post-workout supplement to optimise muscle growth – I would suggest using either an Intra-Workout formula which contains BCAAs – such as ENDURE, or using a dedicated BCAA supplement, such as Instant BCAA.
Alternatively, if you prefer not to supplement during your workout, you can introduce BCAA’s to your pre or post workout shake. Research suggests that combining BCAA’s (in particular Leucine) with protein, post workout, provides additional benefits to protein synthesis when compared to protein alone. Products such as AFTERMATH and INFORMED WHEY both contain added Leucine for this very reason. Additional BCAAs/Leucine becomes increasingly important if you use a protein sources which may be lower in BCAA’s (for example, Egg White Proteins).
As suggested earlier – pre-workout can also be a great time to supplement with BCAA’s to support muscle growth and recovery. You can either look for a pre-workout supplement which contains a good serving of BCAAs, such as Complete Pre-Workout ADVANCED or you can simply choose to use a dedicated BCAA supplement, such as Instant BCAA.
It may also be beneficial to consume BCAA’s throughout the day. Recovery and growth doesn’t just happen in and around the gym…. It’s happening around the clock. As such, with the improved digestion of BCAAs, it can be beneficial to add a serving of BCAA’s throughout the day. Products like Instant BCAA are available in refreshing flavours, so can make an enjoyable drink between meals, without making you feel too full.
What is the optimal dose to achieve results?
BCAA’s are best used in the 5-10g range per serving. Some may go higher, and use up to 20g – however 5-10g makes it much more manageable to consume within a pre/intra/post workout shake or at multiple timings around the workout.
BCAA’s can make a great addition to your supplement arsenal, particularly around the workout in helping to support muscle growth by stimulating mTOR (protein synthesis). As such, adding 5-10g of BCAA to your pre/intra/post workout shake will help to support recovery and muscle growth. This can be from formulations containing BCAA’s or a dedicated BCAA supplement.