What Are BCAAs and What Do They Do?
The world of fitness and nutrition is full of intimidating abbreviations and bits of jargon that can be confusing for beginners and advanced fitness enthusiasts alike.
This is especially true when you start talking about supplements.
The unfortunate thing is that these complex-sounding names and scientific terms can make totally natural and highly beneficial substances seem unattainable, suspicious, or even harmful. This misunderstanding of supplements and health terms means that you could be missing out on some very helpful supplements that could take your fitness goals to the next level.
A prime example of this is BCAAs or branch chain amino acids. Largely thanks to their mysterious name and the huge amount of misinformation surrounding them, these extremely useful supplements aren't always used as effectively as they could be.
So what are BCAAs and what do they do?
What Does BCAA Stand For?
BCAAs stands for “Branched-Chain Amino Acids.” Just knowing the full name of BCAAs tells us quite a bit about what those supplement bottles contain: amino acids. Less mysterious already, right?
Specifically, this group of amino acids includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three “proteinogenic” BCAAs account for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins and are among the nine essential amino acids for humans.
Like all amino acids, BCAAs provide your body with the raw materials needed to accomplish a host of different vital processes.
But what makes BCAAs so special? Again, it's all in the name.
The “branched-chain” structure of these amino acids allows them to be used in a unique way. We’ll dive more into that particular subject later, though. For now, it's important to know that all three BCAAs are essential substances, meaning that your body is incapable of making these particular amino acids on its own.
Instead, they must come from your diet or supplements. BCAAs can be found in most protein-rich foods like eggs and meats, but sometimes diet alone is not enough for serious athletes or anyone undergoing a rigorous training routine. Again, more on that later.
The Benefits of BCAAs
Now that you understand what BCAAs actually are, it’s time to learn about what they actually do and how they benefit your body.
Largely because of their unique branched-chain structure, these amino acids are metabolized directly in your muscles. This is a highly unusual benefit; most amino acids are metabolized in your liver instead. While this may seem like a minor distinction, it has a major impact on the usefulness of these particular amino acids.
Specifically, BCAAs have been shown to enhance muscular endurance and athletic performance by reducing serotonin levels, which contribute heavily towards fatigue during exercise.
Some recent studies have also demonstrated that BCAAs may increase blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity, which would also contribute towards preventing fatigue. Because they are used directly by your muscles, BCAAs also have the ability to reduce muscle soreness and help damaged muscle fibers repair themselves more rapidly.
This increased recovery time allows you to get back in the gym more quickly and contributes to muscle growth. Which is a pretty big deal! In fact, BCAAs are routinely used in the treatment of many chronic conditions that cause muscle loss or weakness.
While all of the BCAA benefits are still being studied and testing, many health and fitness experts recognize BCAAs as a powerful tool for improving the quality of your workouts and improving your body composition.
How and When to Use BCAAs
If you end up choosing to use BCAA supplements in your fitness routine, it’s also important to know how to use them effectively and correctly. Interestingly, the muscle-building and muscle-protecting effects of BCAAs tend to be most noticeable when your dietary protein levels are low.
Of course, this does include situations in which you have a low-protein diet…but more importantly, this would also refer to times in which you're exercising on an empty stomach.
Fasted training – particularly of the weightlifting variety – does have numerous benefits. However, it could also increase the risk of “catabolism,” or the breakdown of muscle as fuel for your body during exercise. This is especially prevalent during dieting for weight loss.
BCAAs reduce the rate of protein breakdown and minimize catabolism of your muscles. This allows you both to fuel your workouts more efficiently and hold on to your hard-earned muscles. For this reason, it's best to take your BCAAs before you hit the gym.
For long-duration strength workouts – lasting an hour or more – you should also consume BCAAs at some point during your session to increase the endurance-boosting effects and benefits you receive.
It’s also important to note that some of the most promising studies into BCAAs have also combined the supplement with glutamine. Taking BCAAs and glutamine together seems to boost the performance-enhancing and muscle-building effects of both supplements.
Naked BCAAs are the highest pharmaceutical grade, fastest dissolving, and rapidly absorbed Branch Chain Amino Acids available. This premium supplement contains a 2:1:1 Ratio of L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine, and no artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors or other additives.