BCAAs – What are they, and how do I use them?
BCAA or Branched Chain Amino Acid supplements first became popular a couple of decades ago, before Whey Protein took their place for easy supplementation of Amino Acids. Since Whey Protein already contains a massive amount of naturally occurring BCAAs, BCAA supplements slipped off most people's radar. Due to a surge in BCAA supply in recent years these supplements are back in fashion again. If you've been wondering about them, here's a guide to teach you the ins and outs.
BCAAs are essential Amino Acids.
The BCAAs are a group of three 'essential' amino acids. Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. These amino acids must be consumed in our diet because our body needs them for survival, and can't produce them on its own. Protein foods we eat are made up of a variety of amino acids, some include good levels of the BCAAs, some don't. One of the best suppliers of BCAAs is Whey Protein.
BCAAs for muscle.
The Branched Chain Amino Acids are the kings for contributing to lean muscle support, recovery, and development. Out of these three amino acids, Leucine is considered to offer the most powerful benefits of all. You might have seen that Leucine contributes to the biggest part in BCAAs formulations normally. Usually 2:1:1, or up to 4:1:1, of Leucine versus Isoleucine, and Valine. The natural ratio of BCAAs found in muscle is a 2:1:1 ratio, this is one reason this ratio is considered best for supplement use, and widely accepted as the formula to stick to for optimum support.
Because Leucine is regarded so highly as offering the most significant muscle support benefits out of all amino acids, it's often used on its own. If you have wondered what the muscle helping supplement HMB is, it's a metabolite of Leucine. HMB is similar to Leucine, but more highly concentrated in support benefits.
BCAAs for energy.
When exercising intensely, or calorie restricted, your body may use BCAAs as a back up energy source. To do this the body may tap into and break down muscle as a reserve supply of BCAAs. Nobody wants that. To help prevent this happening many endurance exercisers, bodybuilders, and dieters are using BCAA supplements regularly. Particularly around training times, to supply a pool of BCAAs that help provide what the body needs to perform and support muscle.
As well as providing energy support, BCAAs may help contribute to muscle recovery and development. That's why they are recommended post workout when muscles need support the most.
Should I use a BCAA supplement, or just stick to Whey Protein?
We know Whey Protein contains very high levels of naturally occurring BCAAs, so if already using Whey, are separate BCAA supplements really necessary? This is a very good question. BCAA powders are 'Freeform', this means the amino acids are in a form that's available to the body fastest. BCAAs from Whey and other foods need to be 'broken apart' first, before the body can utilise them. So around times when uptake speed is most important, such as during or after exercise, then BCAA powders may have a slight speed of delivery advantage over Whey.
For general BCAA supply, during the day and evenings, Whey protein provides this need solidly. But for before, during and after training Freeform amino's may be a useful option. For a loaded Freeform BCAA supplement check out Hellcat Pre-workout
I hope this helps answer your BCAA questions, please let me know if I can help show you how to use them for yourself.