BCAAs are considered by many athletes to be an absolute miracle cure when it comes to muscle protection , regeneration and the effective building of muscle mass . But what is it really about the BCAA myth? In this article I will try to give you short and simple answers to the most frequently asked questions.
I have divided the article into sections based on the following questions:
One click takes you directly to the section that interests you most.
After reading this, you will know enough about BCAAs to be able to decide for yourself whether and, if so, how it makes sense to take BCAA and what benefits you can expect from it.
What are BCAAs?
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. A particularly important subgroup of these amino acids are the so-called BCAAs. These are the essential (= vital) amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three amino acids play a particularly important role in the human body.
Essential amino acids cannot be produced by the body itself and must therefore be supplied in sufficient quantities from the outside. In addition, these are the only amino acids that are not processed in the liver. They can be implemented directly in the muscle tissue, where they have a positive effect in various ways. This is why they are so popular with athletes.
How and where BCAAs work in your body
Because of their branched molecular structure, these amino acids, unlike most others, are not very soluble in water. At the same time, they are therefore also used very differently. They play a direct and decisive role in processes in the muscles and are absolutely necessary for building up most of the body’s own proteins. This includes muscles but also hormones and enzymes. BCAAs are also significantly involved in the transport of energy and nitrogen between the muscles and the liver.
These special amino acids also play an important role in various metabolic processes in the brain. If a deficiency is corrected by supplying sufficient BCAAs, a sustainable increase in mental performance and an improvement in the state of mind can be achieved.
What BCAAs bring you for your training
BCAAs are the most common isolated amino acids consumed by athletes. This is due to the various advantages that this amino acid combination brings with it for athletic performance, muscle building and muscle maintenance. In the following I would like to briefly and simplified , go into what I believe to be the most important advantages and most common reasons for taking it for athletes.
1) Energy directly available for the muscle
Due to their special structure, the BCAAs are a very quickly available source of energy for your muscles during training. They are converted into the amino acid alanine for energy production. In contrast to the production of energy from other amino acids, no ammonia is released. As a result, this type of energy production from amino acids does not burden your liver. The available BCAAs are therefore used preferentially by the muscles.
2) Sufficient BCAAs promote muscle building
The BCAAs play a crucial role in the production of muscle proteins. This probably happens mainly through the interaction between leucine and the so-called mTOR gene, which is crucial for muscle building. These create optimal conditions for effective muscle building with hypertrophy training .
The positive effect has already been proven in several studies. The effect does not seem to be entirely due to the leucine, which is why it makes sense to take a BCAA mixture.
3) Fat burning is (apparently) stimulated
According to some studies, an increased intake of BCAAs should also have a positive effect on fat burning.
However, I do not know of any study that clearly demonstrated a direct effect. The studies I know could only establish a statistical relationship between body weight and the amount of BCAAs ingested through food. However, this can also be related to the fact that leaner people often eat more healthily than overweight people. A healthier diet is usually associated with a higher proportion of amino acids.
So if you are looking for a fat burner , then you are not necessarily at the best address with these amino acids. Which does not mean that BCAA intake to support your diet cannot be useful. But I’ll come back to that later.
4) The breakdown of protein in the muscles is inhibited.
In the vast majority of cases, losing weight is not just about weight loss. If you lose weight, you probably want to define your muscles in order to look as sporty and slim as possible. So you want to lose fat and get muscle. That is also the reason why losing weight without exercise does not make very good sense.
Due to its anti-catabolic effect, BCAA intake can be very useful here. Especially in reduction diets and definition phases, many (strength) athletes therefore consume BCAAs before training in order to achieve a certain level of muscle protection despite the calorie deficit and to extend their strength endurance during training.
Incidentally, an increased BCAA intake is also particularly useful in old age. There doesn’t even have to be a diet involved, because the breakdown of muscles is the order of the day in older people who don’t actively work against it. This also includes a sufficient intake of proteins in order not to suffer a protein deficiency .
What you should consider when taking BCAA
We have now clarified that taking BCAAs makes sense in principle and can bring you some advantages for your training.
But when is it really useful to take it?
What is a reasonable amount?
And which preparation is right for you?
Is it even necessary that you take an expensive BCAA supplement in order to benefit from the advantages of the valuable amino acids?
When does it make sense for you to take BCAA?
It is important to me to point out at this point that BCAAs are also contained in protein-containing foods . If you basically cover your protein needs from good sources of protein, then the added value of an isolated intake of BCAAs is relatively low. If you don’t, I advise you to take care of it first.
True to the 80/20 principle, you should try to cover your protein requirements from your food as much as possible and then, if necessary, help a little with one or the other Protein Shake . All BCAAs are also contained in a decent amount in all full profile protein powders. With an average whey protein powder, BCAAs make up over 20% of the dry matter.
For an (ambitious) physically active person (especially during a diet) it can make sense to take supplementary BCAAs for various reasons:
- Enhancement of the supplied amino acids through a targeted increase in the BCAA content
- No unnecessary, additional calories from other amino acids (and other nutrients)
- No digestive problems from eating right before and after training
For these reasons, I do not consider BCAAs to be a necessary dietary supplement. However, I also take them regularly to get a little more out of my training.
When is the right time to take it?
There are various times that are particularly suitable for the intake of isolated BCAAs. You can benefit most from additional BCAAs, especially directly before and after an intensive training session. It can also be useful during training if it is a long unit. This is especially true during a very low-calorie diet.
I personally take BCAAs at the following times:
- As part of my greens shake before morning training
- In between on long runs
- Immediately after a demanding run
After strength training, I prefer to have a protein shake. That simply makes more sense from the cost / benefit ratio.
After a demanding running session, however, I don’t get along so well with it. Then stir a few grams of BCAAs with a little maltodextrin into a mineral drink and wait a while before I have my protein shake with a few extra carbohydrates.
This way I get at least a little amino acids and quickly available carbohydrates into my body right after training, until my stomach is ready to eat again. This is definitely better for my regeneration than waiting an hour with the protein intake.
Which quantity makes sense?
If you already cover your protein requirement from your diet sufficiently and with high quality, then your BCAA requirement should also be more than sufficiently covered. I cannot therefore give you a specific recommendation at this point as to how many BCAAs you should sensibly take in addition to supplements. I have not found any research on this that I could use to justify an objective recommendation.
Ultimately you will have to find out for yourself what the right dose is for you for the use cases described above.
I personally mix around ten grams of BCAAs in both my running drink and my mineral drink after the run. I add about five grams to my morning greens.
In what form should you take BCAAs? Capsules or powder?
All the advantages described above apply to both BCAAs in capsule form and BCAA powder.
They are often consumed in capsule form, as the soapy taste of the amino acids in a powder is difficult to mask and the water solubility is limited. To solve these problems some additives are needed. In addition, capsules are much easier to dose and better suited for transport and consumption on the go.
In powder form, however, the BCAAs are a lot cheaper, can be mixed in well and you don’t have to swallow a large number of capsules. That’s why I mostly use BCAA powder now.
My product recommendations for BCAAs in powder form:
My favorite is the BCAA anabol from Supplement Union. I actually always have it in two flavors (my favorites: lemon and sour apple) as well as neutral at home. The BCAAs are instantized and relatively soluble. Made exclusively in Germany, it is, in my opinion, one of the best BCAA supplements in terms of quality. The manufacturer is very transparent about its production and supply chain and regularly publishes test results from independent institutes. The tastes are all very good and the tasteless one is wonderfully suited to e.g. Mix in shakes.
My product recommendation for BCAAs in capsule form:
For my BCAA capsules I always used Olimp’s. Especially when it comes to capsules like this, I always prefer to go to a brand manufacturer. The amino acids in the Olimp Mega capsules have a maximum bioavailability and can therefore be optimally utilized. The large capsules are very practical for taking in between and on the go. The BCAAs are also available here in a natural ratio of 2: 1: 1 as pure micronized amino acids.
Your conclusion on the topic of BCAAs
BCAAs are definitely not a mandatory supplement. In fact, I consider them to be dispensable for most exercisers. However, they can be used to get a little more out of your training. However, it must be worth the additional cost to you.
Especially before and after training (especially during a diet), you should make sure that you get enough of it. You can ensure that with one or the other Protein Shake or with BCAA supplements, without putting a heavy strain on your calorie account. Sometimes the pure BCAAs just make a little more sense. However, it is not really necessary for a good training result.
There are many useful supplements and ultimately you have to decide for yourself what is important to you and where the cost / benefit ratio is still right for you.
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