There is a lot of conflicting information about BCAA supplements in the fitness industry. This post will teach you everything you need to know about BCAA Supplements.
BCAAs are perhaps one of the most overlooked supplements. This is mostly due to lack of knowledge and misinformation.
This is really unfortunate because BCAAs rank up there among other proven supplements like whey and creatine.
If used the right way and for its intended purpose, this can prove to be a valuable item in your quest for achieving your dream physique.
By the time you reach the end of this post, you will have all the knowledge you need regarding BCAAs.
What Are They?
Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs as they’re often called, are three very important amino acids. This includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
These three are among the nine amino acids that are considered essential. By essential, this means they need to be acquired through food or supplementation since your body does not produce them as is the case with non-essential amino acids (comprising of 11 of the 20 AAs).
Of course, this raises the question of what are amino acids. Simply put, they are the building blocks that make up the protein molecule, which in turn is what the muscles are made up of.
This is why a high-protein diet is recommended in just about every bodybuilding circle. Certain proteins, such as those found in meat and dairy, are especially high in BCAAs and other essential amino acids.
What Makes BCAAs so Special Over the Other Amino Acids?
So why do BCAAs deserve special attention over the remaining 17 amino acids?
Well, all amino acids are important, but some serve more beneficial functions than others, especially with respects to muscle retention and gains.
BCAAs happen to be at the forefront when it comes to lean muscle development.
For starters, roughly a third of your muscles comprise of BCAAs. Also, unlike other amino acids, which are transported to the liver after being digested, BCAAs are shuttled straight to the muscles where they are used by muscle fibers for aiding in tissue repair and rebuilding.
BCAAs also play a vital role in protein synthesis and keeping the body in a positive nitrogen balance, both of which are pivotal for muscle repair and recovery following a grueling workout. This equals muscle growth activation, or at the very least, muscle retention.
Who Should Take BCAAs?
There are a lot of discussions regarding the necessity of BCAAs. Since they’re available in most foods and whey powders, why are they necessary at all?
Not everyone needs to supplement with BCAAs. They’re primarily recommended for people trying to lose fat while holding onto every bit of muscle.
It’s common knowledge that fat loss is accompanied by some muscle loss due to the calorie deficit. Taking a serving of BCAAs about 30 minutes prior to exercise provides the body with the three essential aminos needed to keep the body in a state of protein synthesis.
This is crucial because when you work out on an empty stomach (which I recommend you should be doing when training for fat loss), your body is going to break down the protein in your muscles for energy. BCAAs can help reduce the rate of protein breakdown.
Why Not Just Eat More Protein?
Since protein from sources like red meat and whey contain BCAAs, why not just consume protein before working out?
There are two reasons this is not optimal...
First, if you consume protein, which contains calories, then you are no longer training on an empty stomach.
BCAA supplements aren’t completely calorie-free, but the amount is negligible, usually around 10 or 20 calories per serving. If you have calories in your system when training, then the body is going to turn to them for fuel instead of targeting your fat stores.
Second, BCAAs in supplement form are far more bioavailable than the ones from food or protein powder. In the latter, the BCAAs are bonded to other amino acids and require a lengthy breakdown process in the digestive system.
BCAA supplements contain just the three essential amino acids and are rapidly absorbed without undergoing a drawn out digestion process.
It's All About Timing
BCAAs aren’t a supplement that you take at your earliest convenience. The best time is to take the supplement is about half an hour before starting your workout.
Taking an additional serving immediately after workout is also a good idea since studies show that BCAAs help alleviate muscle soreness.
The serving taken before workout, aside from preventing muscle catabolism, also increases energy output to help you train to your limit. Some BCAA products, such as Revolt, also contain caffeine or other similar ingredients for an even more pronounced energy surge.
Aside from taking a serving before and after, you can even take it right in the middle of a workout. This is only recommended if the workout exceeds one hour.
Training, though, shouldn’t normally exceed 60 minutes. The only exception to this rule is if you perform cardio immediately following strength training, or if you’re training for endurance and performance rather than transforming your body.
Some people may think that a dosage before, during, and after workout is a bit of an overkill. However, if you are training with full intensity, then your body will be needing all the nutrients and amino acids it can get.
To Cycle or Not to Cycle?
There is also the question of cycling BCAAs. Remember, BCAAs are just amino acids; just as you don’t need to cycle whey protein intake, it’s not necessary to cycle BCAAs.
The supplement, after all, does contain a multitude of benefits that may prove to be helpful if taken continuously. However, if you do choose to cycle the supplement, take it when you begin your fat loss phase and go off it when on a muscle building plan.
BCAA on Rest Days
There is also the question of whether you should take BCAAs every day or only on your workout days. There really is no right or wrong answer here. Taking them every day certainly won’t hurt.
Here’s a good rule to follow: if you’re in a fat loss phase, then take a serving before and after workout on training days.
As far as your rest days are concerned, take a serving first thing in the morning if you’re fasting or consuming fewer calories than normal.
The addition of the BCAAs in your system after bed rise helps with muscle repair and is especially helpful given that your body just underwent an eight hour fast and is depleted of glycogen.
That’s assuming, of course, that you’re getting eight hours of sleep, which you should be getting. Alternatively, you can also take the serving before bed as this provides your body with the much needed aminos throughout the night. It’s when you’re sleeping, after all, that a lot of the muscle repairs take place.
However, for certain days, such as your cheat days or rest days during a muscle building phase, taking a serving may not be necessary.
Also, besides the serving prior to workout, all other servings should preferably be taken with a meal and ideally one that contains a carb source.
The presence of carbohydrates boosts insulin, which helps drive more of the BCAAs into your muscles. Of course, this isn’t an absolute must; if you’re on a low carb diet, then don’t worry about it. Leucine is known to provide a slight insulin boost on its own anyways.
What About Dosage?
For first time users, start with just 2-3 grams to allow your stomach to adjust. From there, increase the dosage by a gram or two every two to three days, or until you reach the dosage listed on the bottle.
Each dose should contain 5g to 10g of BCAAs. The lower end of the dosage is recommended if you weigh below 150lbs, with the higher end if you weigh over that figure.
BCAAs for Women
At one point, BCAA use was mostly limited to bodybuilders preparing to lose fat in preparation for a competition. Since then, the supplement has become more commonplace and is used by many from the weekend gym rat to the professional athlete.
More women are beginning to take it as well, though many are still on the fences about BCAAs due to misconceptions about what they actually do.
Some women I talk to fear that supplementing with BCAAs will make them bulky. First of all, BCAAs are not synthetic steroids. Yes, studies do show that usage increases testosterone, though by no means will women develop an Incredible Hulk-like physique.
If that were the case, most men who use it will be strutting around looking like Arnold in his bodybuilding heyday.
Women who aspire to strip body fat off their frame have every reason to supplement with BCAAs. This will help them retain muscle, which in turn, helps keep metabolism up.
There are BCAA supplements geared specifically towards women. Usually, these come with fancy packaging and a pink container to appeal to a female demographic. This is all gimmick and hype.
In most instances, the formula is identical to what you can find in a typical BCAA product. Some BCAA supplements marketed towards women may also claim to use ratios that are optimal for a female diet.
The normal ratio is about 2:1:1 for leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Some brands contain 3:1:1 or even 4:1:1.
Revolt actual has a 5:1:1 ratio for maximum benefits..
Regardless, the ratios apply for both men and women..
Taking BCAAs with Glutamine
If you’re really serious about your training, then consider stacking your BCAA with glutamine. The latter is a non-essential amino acid. Even though it’s produced naturally by your body, you can always use more glutamine especially before and after a workout.
Studies show that glutamine regulates healthy immune system functioning. This is a huge deal because strenuous exercise taxes the body and puts it under stress.
This can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness. If you catch a case of the common cold or flu, then that is going to lead to missed days in the gym.
Furthermore, this study shows that subjects who took a BCAA and glutamine supplement along with whey experienced greater increases in lean muscle mass, fat loss, and strength gains compared to a group that took whey alone.
If you are a serious athlete and train to failure upwards of five to six days a week, then a BCAA and glutamine stack is highly recommended..
I included glutamine in my new BCAA product Revolt to provide the benefits of taking them together..
BCAAs for Vegans
One of the biggest drawbacks of a vegan diet is the lack of viable protein source. Vegetarians have some leeway since they can get adequate protein from dairy, fish, and eggs.
For the most purest vegans, however, they are faced with a dilemma. They can’t even consume whey since it’s derived from milk. Sure, sources like nuts, legumes, and soy contain ample protein, but they are often missing some of the key essential amino acids.
Even the ones that these sources do contain may not be fully digested by the body due to having a lower bioavailability.
This is where BCAA supplementation can come in extremely handy as it provides the essential aminos that vegans would otherwise be deficient in from an animal-free diet.
Vegans may also want to consider taking an amino acid supplement on top of a BCAA product to acquire the other essential amino acids.
Other Reasons to Take BCAAs (Besides for Muscle Retention)
Recent scientific studies suggest that there are other reasons that warrant taking a BCAA supplement besides as a workout aid.
Some people are beginning to use them for improving concentration and reducing brain fog. The kind that occurs when prepping for hours on end for an exam.
This study shows that BCAAs improved short-term memory and offset fatigue of competitors in a 32-hour offshore sailing race. This isn’t to say that you should take BCAAs solely as a nootropic, but the research does suggest the positive effects of BCAAs on the brain.
Some doctors also prescribe BCAAs to patients to help counteract certain conditions like Lou Gehrig’s disease and cognitive decline caused by liver disease.
This doesn’t mean, though, that you should automatically take BCAAs if you have any of the aforementioned conditions. Always consult with your doctor first to determine if BCAAs should be incorporated as part of a bigger treatment plan.
Trying to Lose Fat? Then Make BCAAs a Part of Your Stack
All the talk about BCAAs and how they fit into the greater mold of amino acids can seem a bit confusing.
If so, just remember that leucine, isoleucine, and valine make up the BCAA bond that your muscles need for protein synthesis.
While there are dozens of BCAA products on the market, Revolt is among the few BCAA supplements that contain the optimal ratio..
Its side serving of caffeine also prepares you for the intense training session ahead.
With Revolt, you’ll maintain muscle while kissing unsightly body fat goodbye.