BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acid. These amino acids are critical to the development of protein found inside human muscle, but they’re also essential components that your body can’t create on its own. You’re limited to the amino acids that you consume through your diet, and there are now some great supplements that make it even easier to get what you need to support an active lifestyle.
Why Use BCAAs?
There are many reasons that you might start taking a BCAA supplement, including:
- Workout Fuel – Branched-chain amino acids feed your muscles glycogen during intense workouts. This is the fuel that your muscles primarily burn to sustain exercise, so taking a BCAA supplement ensures that your muscles have an accessible source of energy.
- Protein Synthesis – This refers to the process of muscle breaking down during intense workouts and then reabsorbing into the muscle. Many people take BCAAs because they are believed to increase the amount of protein that is reabsorbed, enhancing muscle gains. Some research has proven that BCAAs alone aren’t as effective at this as once believed, but there are other reasons to take BCAA supplements. You may get some minor muscle gains while enjoying the other benefits of BCAA supplementation.
- Faster Recovery – There is some research backing up the use of BCAA supplements to limit exercise-induced muscle damage, allowing your body to recover faster after an intense workout. A high-quality supplement that contains leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids will help you push your muscles with greater intensity while taking less downtime between workouts.
- Fat Loss – The amino acid leucine is believed to help with increased fat loss when a low-carb, high-protein diet is followed. To maximize benefits, you should combine foods rich in amino acids with a high-quality supplement that contains leucine.
- Mental Energy – Tryptophan is the amino acid that causes you to crash out in a chair after eating a large holiday meal, and BCAAs are believed to fight against it to promote energy and mental clarity. While more research is needed to prove this with certainty, it’s common for BCAA supplement users to report improved mental focus after consumption.
- Physical Energy – Many BCAA supplements contain caffeine, so they can pump up your energy before a workout or to prevent that dreaded mid-day slump. For instance, Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy powder contains 100 mg of caffeine per serving. For comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine.
How to Use BCAAs
You can buy BCAA supplements in powder or pre-mixed form. The powders simply mix into water, and you will find a growing list of flavors available from leading brands like Optimum Nutrition and ENGN.
Large tubs of powder are the most affordable options, but you can also buy single-serving packets that easily pour into a bottle of water without a scooper. If you really want convenience, look for pre-mixed BCAA supplements that come in drink-sized bottles, but this will cost a bit more.
Selecting the Best BCAA Supplements
When selecting a BCAA powder, look at the ratio between leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids. Leucine is the most beneficial of the three, so it’s represented by the first number in the ratio. A ratio of 2:1:1 is commonly recommended for muscle gain, but some supplements will take the leucine concentration much higher. For most people, twice the leucine is more than adequate.