Are BCAAs Worth It? – How Amino Acids Can Benefit Your Health

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By Leslie Waterson

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

BCAAs drink for men

Are you aware of the crucial role that protein plays in muscle synthesis? If maximum muscle gains are your goal, then BCAA’s, or branched-chain amino acids, should be included in your day to day supplements. These amino acids are the basic building blocks of protein and can be found in foods like meat, dairy products, and legumes. If you don’t consume enough of this supplement through your diet, you can supplement with it instead.

You may think that amino acids and protein supplements serve the same function for building muscle, but they have different purposes. Additional beneficial support is provided by boosting your protein intake with essential amino acids.

For many years in the bodybuilding community, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been used to promote muscle protein synthesis. But choosing the right brand of branched-chain amino acids for maximum results can be hard. Due to a lack of regulation and misinformation, there is contradictory or unclear information on the internet about BCAAs.

While popular amongst bodybuilders, this supplementation method isn’t just for exercise performance. So, are BCAAs worth it? Let’s take a closer look.

BCAAs Powder

Are BCAAs Really Necessary?

To understand further why BCAAs are needed for muscle building, you need to understand how two processes that occur in your body. These two processes are anabolism and catabolism.

Anabolism is the increase in size, strength, and general recovery of skeletal muscle. The macronutrient protein is facilitated by it. Thus, when adequate protein is available for the body to use through optimum ingestion in frequency and mass, protein synthesis, an anabolic process happens.

On the other hand, there is catabolism, which is the degradation, breakdown, or reduction in the size of skeletal muscle tissue. The opposite of anabolism, this happens when the body’s energy requirements exceed the calories you consume, usually when you’re on a diet. The body looks to obtain the necessary energy from other sources when its calorie balance is in a deficit.

On top of that, during high-intensity activities with longer duration, the body uses muscle tissue as fuel rather than body fat. As there is a lack of oxygen in your body and fat oxidation requires an ample amount of it to be broken down for energy.

When you start dieting to become lean, you run the risk of losing all the hard-earned muscle through catabolism, even though you put in a lot of hard work to build it.

That is why branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are important. They are the building blocks of protein and protein synthesis. Without it, the protein is unable to function properly when it comes to muscle building.

Is It Better To Take BCAAs Or Protein?

If you are trying to decide whether to take BCAA supplements or other protein sources, you should first understand the difference between the two. There are two main types of protein: whey and casein.

For context, whey protein is one of two types of protein found in milk, with Casein protein being the other. It has been in use for a long time now, dating back to centuries when it was used to feed livestock and as fertilizer.

But as time passed, it has been utilized as a food additive for many of the household food products we grew up with. Eventually, fitness experts saw how fast whey protein was absorbed in the body and started supplementing with it as well. And now, it is mostly known for being used as a supplement.

As a form of protein supplement, it has been debated whether BCAA supplements and whey protein is the better supplement. Both have been proven to supplement muscle building, but the truth is neither one is better than the other. It depends on what you are aiming for, and often times supplementing with BCAAs and protein can be the best course of action.

It really ranges on how much to take of each product as well. For instance, for an average 176-pound male, 20 grams of whey protein is needed for muscle mass. This should be taken after working out. The amount of protein is adjusted depending on sex and body composition based on the number above.

BCAAs Or Protein

The Three Essential Amino Acids Of BCAAs

On the other hand, BCAAs are three essential amino acids, namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are responsible for the increase of athletic performance, protein synthesis, and lean muscle mass. These three amino acids are highly effective when it comes to muscle mass because leucine, isoleucine, and valine can actually bypass the liver and head to the muscles. This is part of the reason why BCAA supplementation is so popular.

When combined, amino acids are the nitrogen-containing building blocks that form the protein. Any protein not containing these essential amino acids is just called an incomplete protein source.

But as a matter of fact, protein powder already contains a full spectrum of amino acids, including BCAAs. Though that doesn’t mean whey protein is the superior one, protein powders contain sugar and many calories. Which if you’re aiming for a leaner body, you’ll want to avoid those.

Regardless of the source, BCAAs do the same thing for your body. The majority of it ends up being utilized in muscle tissue after digestion. Hence, it does a chunk of the work for building muscle. 

If your goal is weight loss, neither BCAA supplements nor whey protein can stimulate it, but they can be used to help maintain muscle tissue while cutting fat. It’s worth it to give these a try.

Are BCAAs Useful?

Taking BCAAs on its own is a great alternative if you’re allergic to protein powder or if you just don’t like it, also if you’re following a strict diet. 

Consumption of BCAAs at different times of your day is very important. When taken before you work out, it helps you preserve muscle, especially if you’re strength training. It then helps your muscle recover when taken post-workout. And before going to bed, it maintains your muscle mass even if your body is going to rest.

It is not unheard of at all to consume BCAAs at all three times of the day if you are targeting to preserve your muscle mass. You also lose muscle tissue as you age. This process is called sarcopenia. Though inevitable, as we all grow old, you can do many things to offset this change in your body. Continuing strength training during the later years of life is one of the things you can do to combat these changes.

Supplementing with BCAAs to induce muscle protein synthesis can help fight diseases like sarcopenia. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to start supplementing with BCAAs earlier in life to encourage protein synthesis on a daily basis. It can aid in delayed onset muscle soreness and help prepare your body for aging later in life.

BCAAs Drink

Are BCAAs Bad For You?

Even though BCAAs are highly effective at growing muscle and maintaining muscle mass, just like anything you take, when consumed in excess, it could be bad for your health.

Studies show that this can lead to a reduced lifespan, a negative impact on your mood, an increase in appetite leading to weight gain are some of the bad effects of excessive BCAA consumption. It is important to just have balanced amino acids in your system.

If there is an increase in BCAA levels, it leads to a competition of BCAAs with tryptophan, one of the only precursors for serotonin, for brain transportation. They cause different effects when both reach the brain. In instances like this, there is a reduced synthesis of serotonin due to BCAAs taking tryptophan’s brain position. With serotonin being a hormone that improves mood, the lack of it plays a role in the regulation of appetite.

An excess of BCAA and lower serotonin levels could result in obesity, thus a shortened lifespan.

When Should You Take BCAAs?

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) tend to be less expensive than other protein powders. Supplementing with BCAAs works best for those avoiding dairy products and can be more convenient as it comes in tablets or capsules. Supplementing with BCAAs is also best for staying lean or if you’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition and the best choice when on a calorie-restricted diet.

They’re great to take post-workout in the form of protein shakes and can provide users with a great source of branched-chain amino acid benefits. If you prefer not to take them post-workout, you can also try taking them at other times before figuring out what works best for you.

If you find that you struggle with muscle soreness, adding BCAAs to your post-exercise routine can be extremely beneficial. It will not only protect you from muscle damage but also help with muscle growth.

Bcaa shake

Are BCAAs Worth It?

BCAAs are not just for bodybuilders or endurance athletes. This is a great supplement to aid in general muscle damage, especially if you have a hard time consuming enough protein foods. Not only is this amino acid combination beneficial for general supplementation, but it can also positively aid with liver disease.

The dosage of this supplement changes depending on your body. It’s great to calculate the protein per pound of body fat, and there are online calculators that can help you do this.

Because they play a significant role in stimulating protein synthesis, BCAAS are crucial to those trying to build muscle growth. When working out, people typically either want to build muscle or lose bodyweight. Sometimes, it’s both, or just trying to stay active. You also don’t want to lose muscle tone while losing body fat, so making sure you have enough protein in your diet is key. It’s better if you can maintain or increase muscle while burning body fat.

All of these goals could be achieved when BCAA supplementation is taken consistently and in regulation. As mentioned, BCAAs can be found in food, but they are also found in a variety of supplements. When buying these supplements, make sure they are high quality and well-tested. If you do have an adverse effect, make sure to notify your doctor immediately.

So what do you think? Are you going to add a BCAA supplement protocol to your diet? If so, some choices worth checking out include Clean BCAA, K Nutri BCAAs + Collagen, and Promix BCAA Powder. Now go get supplementing!

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Leslie Waterson

Leslie has been passionately involved in the health and fitness industries for over a decade. She is constantly reviewing the latest scientific research and studies in order to take a research-backed approach to lifestyle optimization. Her main areas of interest include nutrition and supplementation. Leslie shares her findings on Fitness Clone to help other health enthusiasts choose the products and routines that will help them achieve their goals.