Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been a popular exercise supplement among men for some time. With more women getting into the fitness game, research is looking into potential benefits BCAAs can have for the opposite gender.
But what exactly are BCAAs and how can they benefit women specifically?
Let’s find out.
What are BCAAs?
As you might have already heard, amino acids are the building blocks for protein.
There are 20 different types, 9 of which are essential and we must obtain them from the foods we eat, the other 11 our body can make on its own .
Of the 9 essential amino acids, there are 3 that have a special branched-chain chemical configuration: isoleucine, leucine, and valine.
Just like all essential amino acids, you can obtain BCAAs from high-protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
However, it’s difficult to get concentrated amounts from food alone. Because of this, BCAA supplements have become popular, whether on their own or included in higher doses in an essential amino acid (EAA) supplement .
Can Women Take BCAAs?
Although women and men differ in many things, their processing of amino acids is the same. Therefore, it is completely safe and appropriate for women to take BCAAs just as men would for their benefits.
The main thing to consider for women when taking BCAAs is their need.
BCAAs have a lot of great benefits as far as muscle growth and exercise recovery go but these are most suitable for individuals who are active. Women who are not active may not need BCAAs or notice many benefits from taking them.
Additionally, women should be wary of taking BCAA supplements, especially during pregnancy, while planning to become pregnant, or during breastfeeding as some ingredients in various supplements may not be safe during this time.
Always speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before adding a BCAA supplement into your routine, especially if you are taking any medications for a chronic condition.
If you are an active woman who wants to take advantage of BCAAs, consider the following benefits below.
Benefits of BCAA for Women
BCAAs are believed to provide numerous benefits for active individuals, especially women. Below are some of the benefits women may experience from taking BCAAs.
The biggest reason many people reach for BCAAs is because they are linked with increased muscle growth when combined with regular resistance exercise.
Specifically, research has found that the BCAA leucine activates a pathway in the body that stimulates muscle-protein synthesis, a.k.a. the act of creating new muscle tissue .
Women tend to have a more difficult time building up muscle mass compared to men because they have lower levels of testosterone. This hormone plays a large role in the process of building muscle. Men biologically have higher levels of muscle mass and higher levels of testosterone compared to women.
While BCAAs are believed to help boost muscle growth, many studies have discovered they work best when combined with the other EAAs such as those found in a typical whey protein shake compared to an isolated BCAA supplement [4, 5].
In addition to boosting muscle growth, BCAAs can help to boost post-exercise recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
Following a strenuous workout, it’s common to experience muscle soreness, also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). While the exact cause of DOMS is not completely understood, it is theorized that it is a result of tiny tears in the muscle fibers from resistance exercise .
Taking BCAAs may help to reduce the damage caused to the muscle tissue during exercise and therefore reduce the symptoms of DOMS .
Women, especially those who are new to exercise, are more likely to start a routine and then give it up when DOMS rears its ugly head. Less issue with DOMS typically means a higher likelihood of sustaining a consistent exercise routine which is required to build muscle.
Research has long regarded a high-protein diet for boosting metabolic rate and aiding in weight loss, specifically in overweight and obese individuals.
More recent studies have found that consuming a high protein diet with an emphasis on BCAAs may help to further boost fat loss and improve metabolic function and body composition .
Women tend to have a slower metabolic rate than men because of their differences in body size and composition. Men biologically have higher levels of muscle mass which equates to a faster metabolism.
Therefore, women who are hoping to improve their metabolic rate can not only boost their muscle growth with BCAAs but also potentially boost fat loss.
Leptin is an essential hormone for regulating appetite while adiponectin helps the body use fat as energy. BCAAs may also help to increase glucagon which is essential for maintaining blood sugar balance which influences hunger levels and cravings.
Increases in these hormones can help to better control weight and metabolic function.
Don't We Get BCAAs from Food?
BCAAs are present in high-protein food sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and some plant sources such as soy.
While we do obtain BCAAs naturally from protein sources in our diet, it’s difficult to consume concentrated amounts of just BCAAs unless a supplement is used.
Who Can Benefit Most From a BCAA Supplement?
Athletes and active individuals would benefit the most from taking a BCAA supplement. However, it should be noted that this is only if they are getting adequate amounts of EAAs in their diet as well.
Although BCAAs are associated with many benefits, you get the most out of them when you are taking them with adequate amounts of EAA to help with muscle building and repair.
When to Take BCAAs for Best Results?
There is much debate regarding when the best time to take BCAA supplements is. In fact, some research suggests timing of BCAA intake is less important compared to dosage and consistent usage.
Of the studies available, it appears that taking BCAAs before or after a workout showed little difference .
Therefore, it’s still unknown what time is best to take BCAA supplements. Instead of worrying about exact timing, focus on consistently taking your BCAA supplements sometime before or after exercise depending on what works best for you.
Is it OK to Drink BCAA Every Day?
Taking BCAA supplements daily is not associated with any adverse side effects or health concerns. In fact, taking amino acids daily may provide greater benefits in terms of muscle growth and recovery.
Be mindful of dosage and usage recommendations provided as excessive amounts of BCAA may cause long-term health effects.
Is BCAA Good for Belly Fat?
Because BCAAs may help to increase fat burning and support metabolic functioning, they can be beneficial for those who struggle with abdominal fat.
Although you cannot target fat loss in a specific area, working on building muscle mass can help to increase metabolism, reduce body fat composition, and improve health and appearance of belly fat.
Does BCAA Increase Testosterone in Females?
BCAA supplementation can increase testosterone levels in females as well as males.
Testosterone is an essential hormone in muscle building however, testosterone increases in females regardless in the presence of resistance training. These rises are often less than those in men and are temporary .
In summary, taking BCAAs will not lead to a significant boost in testosterone in women that would result in alterations in overall hormone balance. Instead, it functions as a way to boost muscle growth.Further Reading: BCAAs vs. Creatine: For Muscle Growth and Beyond