Benefits of Branch Chain Amino Acids (What are BCAA's)?

The research being done on BCAA’s and amino acids at large have become more and more common in recent years, and for good reason. Its popularity has exploded in the bodybuilding industry for its claimed benefits for muscle growth and repair, and its now being discussed as a supplement that may be able to provide health benefits outside the scope of big muscles.

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    While dieting should always be a number one priority, both for building muscle, and for maintaining or improving ones general health, supplementation can be a great tool in doubling down on certain aspects of health and fitness.

    Most notably, BCAA’s happen to be one of those supplements.

    In this article, you’ll not only learn what BCAA’s are if you aren’t informed of them already, but you’ll become educated on the vast benefits of this supplement. In addition, you’ll get a glimpse into the scientific world of amino acids and protein, along with getting to find out the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.

    So, are you ready to learn?! If so, let’s get right into it! First – What are BCAA’s?

    What are BCAA’s?

    Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA’s for short, are a chemical structure of sorts that is comprised of a group of amino acids. They are also more commonly known to be a popular, readily available supplement that comes in the form of both a powder and a capsule.

    BCAA’s are essential nutrients that are found mostly in protein-rich foods and they play a key role in supporting muscle growth and metabolism, among other things.

    In order to understand this more clearly, we’re going to need to dive deeper into the world of amino acids. To begin, it’s worth noting that amino acids are the building blocks of protein; a macronutrient necessary for muscle growth and overall bodily function.

    There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are deemed essential. These nine essential amino acids are more commonly known in the supplement industry as EAA’s. Of the nine essential amino acids, there are three that make up what we now know as branched-chain amino acids.

    BCAA’s comprise of three essential amino acids:

    – Leucine
    – Isoleucine
    – Valine

    These three essential amino acids are what gives the supplement at large all the benefit. More specifically, Leucine seems to provide the largest physiological benefit. In other words, for those take take BCAA’s to stimulate muscle growth, leucine is the amino acid to thank! Through a process called protein synthesis, protein molecules are created; a nutrient responsible for all cellular growth and function.

    To evade all of the scientific jargon, this is what is needed for muscle growth and repair.

    So BCAA’s are great for building muscle and repairing it, great. But what else does it do? That can’t be the only reason people consume it, right? Right. The benefits of BCAA’s are vast, and can’t all be covered in this article.

    However, in what’s to follow, you’ll learn the top benefits of branched-chain amino acids, the differences between BCAA’s and protein, and we’ll even answer some of the most common questions surrounding this topic.

    Up next, the benefits of supplementing with BCAA’s!

    The Benefits of Supplementing with BCAA’s

    As mentioned, the benefits of BCAA’s are vast, and they aren’t just limited to muscle building. Whether you’re a bodybuilder or athlete supplementing with BCAA’s to promote recovery and athletic performance, or you’re an average Joe seeking new avenues to improve your general health, or even if you’re someone that suffers with liver complications, branched-chain amino acids may be of some benefit to you.

    While more research certainly needs to be done on this subject, and though evidence isn’t yet totally conclusive, studies suggest that BCAA’s may help the following:

    – Promote muscle growth
    – Repair muscle tissue
    – Reduce onset muscle soreness
    – Prevent intra-exercise fatigue
    – Boost appetite
    – May improve brain function
    – May ease symptoms in ill patients
    – May be helpful for those with diabetes

    Results from BCAA’s are likely to vary, and there is certainly an evident spectrum when referring to the level of effectiveness BCAA’s elicit when it comes to the aforementioned benefits.

    Nonetheless, BCAA’s can and likely will be beneficial for you to some degree, whether you’re a bodybuilder, athlete, avid gym goer, average joe, and ill patient. To learn about these benefits in more detail, continue reading!

    Stimulates Muscle Growth (via Protein Synthesis)

    As if it isn’t a broken record, probably the most popular uses of supplementing with BCAA’s is an increase in muscle growth. Because of the aforementioned essential amino acid, leucine, the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis occurs. To be timely in the description, this is the process that essentially makes muscle.

    In the research that’s been done, though minimal, evidence suggests that consuming BCAA’s post-workout provides a greater improvement in muscle development than those who don’t supplement with it.

    Supplementing with anything isn’t going to provide you with a magic pill-like effect. However, if you’re looking for an edge or 5-10% improvement, taking BCAA’s may be just what you need.

    Reduces Muscle Breakdown

    Remember when we were discussing muscle protein synthesis? Well, when we workout, our muscles continuously get broken down and need to be rebuilt through synthesis.

    When those that are malnourished, or even for those that are known to overtrain, muscle breakdown may be more prevalent. While it’s not encouraged to end up in any of these two scenarios, supplementing with BCAA’s may be able to mediate these problems, and at the very least lesson its negative effects.

    When building muscle, it’s important to deliver the highest of quality of nutrition in order to optimize the recovery period. BCAA’s can prevent poor muscle breakdown and thus encourage muscle repair.

    Relieves Muscle Soreness & Fatigue

    If you’re going through the motions of building muscle through exercise and intensity, your muscles are likely going to become sore, and you’re likely going to find yourself fatigued at some point during your workout.

    By supplementing with BCAA’s, studies suggest that muscle soreness will decrease. In combination with the benefit mentioned above (reduces muscle breakdown), this may be an answer as to why muscle soreness is reduced.

    Additionally, for those that experience mid workout fatigue, BCAA’s may be for you as well. Push past your limits and persist without a sense of tiredness. While studies suggest this to be true, it has yet to be determined that a reduction in fatigue results in exercise performance. Nonetheless, at worst, you’ll be able to enjoy your exercise without the dread on early onset fatigue.

    Improved Workout Performance

    While there’s no particular evidence to suggest that BCAA’s are directly correlated with athletic performance or workout performance, there are strong beneficial correlations to the contrary.

    In other words, because BCAA’s have been shown to reduce workout fatigue, build muscle, and promote recovery, workout performance is likely to indirectly benefit. In addition, BCAA’s are known to be extremely efficient at being used as an energy source during exercise.

    BCAA’s should not be consumed with the primary intent of improving performance, however, it’s worth knowing that it’s encompassing benefits may indirectly result in an uptick in mid-workout performance.

    May Improve Liver Health & Brain Function

    It’s been approximated that almost 50% of individuals with liver disease, also known as cirrhosis of the liver, will develop a brain function deficiency of some kind. While severity will vary, BCAA’s have been shown to protect against such defects occurring in these less than fortunate individuals.

    In addition, BCAA supplementation may improve the health outcomes of those that suffer from liver disease, and may even offer some protection against liver cancer! Again, more research certainly needs to be done on the matter, however, it’s promising nonetheless.

    As a short summary, BCAA’s seem to be a decent alternative intervention for general health biomarkers, along with more serious circumstances involving the liver, brain, and other organs. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the benefits of BCAA in response to such situations.

    BCAA’s vs. Whey Protein Powder

    Although BCAA’s are highly controversial and the debate on whether or not it’s truly effective is never ending, it’s still a worthwhile option if you’re taking it for the right reasons.

    For those that treat it as a magic pill, then yes, it’s likely a waste of money. However, for those that understand its benefits and claims, yet also understand that more research needs to be done, than it’s likely worthwhile to at least experiment with.

    With that being said, when talking about amino acid profiles and the benefits of leucine in muscle protein synthesis, whey protein may be a better overall option. Not only does whey protein contain more leucine per gram than BCAA’s, but it also contains more essential amino acids (EAA’s) overall.

    In summary, if it’s within your budget, it may be beneficial to supplement with both. If not, maybe opt for whey protein. With that said, there’s no better protein source than the protein from real food. It must be known that supplements are just that; a means of supplementation.

    BCAA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

    In this section, we’ll be offering the answers to some of the most prevalently asked questions regarding the use of BCAA’s and its relation to general health and fitness.

    Should You Take BCAA’s Everyday?

    While more research needs to be done on the effective of supplementing with BCAA’s, in order to achieve maximum results from supplementation, daily consumption over a prolonged period of time is necessary.

    At the very least, be sure to take it during or after exercise. In short, if you’re going to invest in a BCAA supplement, taking it daily may be your best investment of time and money. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s SAFE to take everyday, the short answer is yes. However, like everything, there are exceptions.

    Are BCAA’s Safe to Take?

    Studies have shown that supplementing with BCAA’s are safe for healthy individuals at a given dosage (note that the Upper Limit of safety is so high, you likely won’t need to worry about consuming too much). To summarize, BCAA’s are generally safe for the majority of people and will not elicit any particular side effects.

    With that said, there are rare cases where individuals should not supplement with it. If you or someone you know suffers from a urine disease of any kind, be sure to consult with your doctor prior to ingestion. In short, while it’s generally safe in majority, it is recommended not to supplement with BCAA’s for some people. If you believe you’re one of these people, always consult with a medical professional prior to consumption.

    Are BCAA’s Worth It or Are They A Waste of Money?

    Unfortunately due to the lack of research done on BCAA’s, it’s hard to conclusively justify a long-term investment in a BCAA supplement. With that being said, amino acids, especially those that are essential in nature, are important for all health statuses and dietary regimens and should be sought out from whole foods.

    If you have excess in your budget, if you’re a competitor of any kind looking for an edge, or if you simply want to experiment with it on your own, BCAA’s are certainly not going to be a total waste of money. It just can’t be conclusively recommended as a good investment at this time, though some individuals will certainly benefit from taking it.

    What’s the Difference Between Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids?

    Essential amino acids refer the amino acids that our body’s cannot readily produce. Non-essential amino acids are those in which the body can produce. In other words, essential amino acids must be consumed through one of two means: food, or supplementation (i.e. EAA or BCAA powder).

    Wrapping Up

    Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA’s, may provide medial benefits when supplement for a consistent period of time and at the proper dosages. This is especially true when discussing the topics of muscle growth, performance, and recovery.

    While BCAA’s can be supplemented on their own, they can also be found in whey protein supplements as an all encompassing powder. It can also be found in protein-rich food sources.

    Supplementing with BCAA’s should not be the only solution to your goals. This wont work. However, by understanding that it’s not necessary, but also understanding its benefits, BCAA’s can be a great compliment to ones diet and supplementary regimen.

    To finally note, there is no better medicine than the diet that one consumes. So if nothing else, focus on a healthy, whole foods diet rich in protein, and packed with all the nutrients that you need to thrive.

    About The Author

    Michael Collins

    Michael Collins

    Michael is a gym enthusiast with experience that spans more than 20 years. He started his exhilarating journey of keeping fit in his late teens, and over the years, he has immensely grown to become a resourceful gem in matters of fitness.

    He has been writing for many years, focusing on answering all the questions you may have on nutrition, muscle building and fitness. Keeping fit and staying healthy is his main passion, and this is evidenced in the articles he writes in a simple and understandable language out of intensive reading and real-life experiences.