Most of us have heard of the term ‘BCAAs’ before. Some of us have seen it featured in social media advertisements, some have heard their workout buddies talk about it, and others might have seen it in their local grocery store. Either way, BCAAs are everywhere.
As popular as this supplement is, most people have no idea what BCAAs actually are and what they do for the body. In fact, many people don’t understand how and when to take BCAAs properly — which results in many people not getting the most out of their supplement.
To many, BCAAs are just another workout supplement that comes with a lot of hype but fails to deliver results. In reality, BCAAs are essential nutrients that play an important role in everyday health and performance — both inside and outside the gym.
While BCAAs are essential amino acids that everyone must consume daily for optimum health and wellness, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone needs a BCAA supplement. In fact, most people consume enough BCAAs through their normal, everyday protein-rich diet. But, if you are going to add this supplement to your diet, there’s a lot to know, including the best time to take BCAAs so you can gain the right benefits.
When Should You Take BCAAs?
The only time you should take BCAAs is when your body is breaking them down at a higher rate than normal. For most people, this occurs while working out or indulging in some form of physical activity. In this case, it might be too difficult to increase BCAA intake through your diet.
A BCAA supplement provides a quick solution when replenishing the three most important amino acids to your workout — valine, leucine, and isoleucine. They should never replace the BCAAs you normally get from your diet, but rather the BCAAs lost during a workout.
That’s why you’ll see many bodybuilders and workout loyalists taking BCAA before, during, or after a workout. Of course, that leaves us with the million-dollar question that’s on everyone’s mind — should we take BCAAs before a workout, during a workout, or after a workout?
There have been a few studies comparing the use of BCAAs before, during, and after a workout. More research is needed, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence supporting the fact that you’ll receive greater results by taking a BCAA supplement at a certain time of the day.
With that said, many people are taking BCAAs for different reasons. Some want a more energized workout, some want a more pristine recovery period, some want to grow muscle at a higher rate, and others are simply interested in making sure their body gets the right amount each day.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons and possible benefits of taking BCAAs either before, during, or after a workout.
Taking BCAAs Before A Workout
Taking BCAAs before a workout is the most preferred way among bodybuilders and workout enthusiasts — unless you’re fasting. It generally takes 30 minutes for your BCAA levels to spike after taking a supplement, so most people take their BCAA 15-20 before a workout.
When you take your BCAA as a pre-workout, you’re giving your body the amino acids it needs during a workout. Your body breaks BCAAs down for energy — the more BCAAs you have, the more energy you have and the more intense your workout is.
In addition to improving your performance, taking BCAAs before a workout can improve your post-workout recovery. Some studies have shown less muscle soreness and lower blood markers of muscle damage after their workout when taking a BCAA supplement beforehand.
Taking BCAAs During A Workout
Some people prefer to take BCAAs during a workout. Much like taking it before the workout, it’ll still give you an energy boost during the workout and will improve your post-recovery. The main thing to keep in mind is the 30-minute delay between taking it and your BCAA levels peaking.
If you’re someone who exercises before eating a meal or while fasting, taking a BCAA during a workout can help you fight the fatigue you normally experience. You should note that your body won’t be in a fasted state anymore, but the BCAAs will help you preserve lean muscle.
There are some people that work out for extended periods of time. In this case, it might be beneficial to take BCAAs before and during a workout. A good example is someone who works out for 3 hours straight. They would benefit from taking BCAAs 20 minutes pre-workout and about halfway through their workout.
Taking BCAAs After A Workout
Taking BCAAs after a workout isn’t a bad thing and it doesn’t come without benefits. They will help improve your recovery and get you ready for your next workout, but you won’t necessarily see an increase in performance — unless you take it before or during, in addition to after.
If you’re turning to a BCAA supplement after a workout, you’re better off reaching for a healthy meal that’s rich in protein. Not only do you get all 9 essential amino acids, but you also get a heaping of other nutrients that are excellent for the body after a workout.
With that said, a BCAA supplement could be beneficial for anyone not looking to add calories after a workout. Since some people have very strict diets and eat at certain times throughout the day, taking a supplement to ensure your body gets the necessary nutrients at the right times is important.
Other FAQ’s Regarding BCAAs
Knowing when to take your BCAAs is extremely important, especially if you’re taking them for a specific reason. Of course, you should also have a deep understanding of what BCAAs are, how much you should take, how they work, and what to look for in a quality BCAA supplement.
For starters, BCAAs are essential amino acids that the body uses to build proteins, as well as help enzymes and other molecules function properly. There are three different amino acids that make up the BCAA group — valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
Also known as branched-chain amino acids, they’re ‘essential’ because the body can’t produce them on its own. Instead, your body relies on you to consume enough valine, isoleucine, and leucine through your diet each day. Of course, that’s where BCAA supplements come into play.
How Much BCAAs Should I Take?
The amount of BCAAs you need to supplement with each day largely depends on your diet and how much protein you consume on a daily basis. The body requires anywhere between 15-65mg of BCAA per pound of bodyweight — this equates to around 9-12g of BCAA per day.
Most people receive all the BCAAs they need from their diet, while other people lead more active lifestyles and require a boost from BCAA supplements. Most foods rich in protein will contain BCAAs, including meat, fish, beans, milk, cheese, eggs, quinoa, and nuts.
If you’re going after a supplement, you should ensure it follows a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine. That’s because leucine is the most important amino acid of the three and the body requires more of it for protein synthesis. Most BCAA supplements contain anywhere from 4-20g of BCAAs.
BCAAs play a number of roles in the body, most of which come in handy during or after a workout. All in all, there are four major benefits of taking BCAAs — muscle growth, muscle recovery, increased energy, and improved fat loss.
Let’s take a closer look at each benefit:
- Muscle Growth – BCAAs help improve protein synthesis and also bypass the liver for direct access to the muscles (unlike most amino acids). The most important leucine for muscle growth is leucine, which activates mTOR in the body.
- Muscle Recovery – BCAAs are anti-catabolic, which means they help reduce muscle breakdown, reduce muscle soreness, and reduce recovery time. Of course, this means you’re ready to go for your next exercise.
- Increased Energy – during a workout, the body breaks BCAAs down and uses them as an energy source. In addition to that, BCAAs help reduce fatigue by limiting the amount of serotonin in the brain. The main BCAA here is valine.
- Weight & Fat Loss – BCAAs help you feel full throughout the day to avoid overeating. More specifically, isoleucine helps activate PPARs that increase fat-burning and inhibit the fat storage process.
There’s a reason many bodybuilders and exercise loyalists turn to these three specific amino acids when getting the most out of their workout. They help with every facet and every stage of your workout, making it the best pre- and post-workout supplement.
What Should You Look For In A Quality BCAA Supplement?
The first thing you should look for in a BCAA supplement is the dosage of each individual amino acid. This is important because you need to confirm you’re receiving enough of each amino acid (depends on diet), as well as receiving the proper 2:1:1 ratio.
The second thing you should look for is the quality of ingredients. You want to confirm that the supplement is manufactured in a clean facility that doesn’t use any fillers, additives, or harmful ingredients. If you’re vegan or have allergies, you should also take note of that.
The third thing is price — which is an important factor of every purchase you make. Many supplements have the perfect formula, but are way too expensive. Other ones are extremely affordable, but either not effective or harmful to the body. Finding a balance is important.
Finally, you must take into account any other ingredients you want included in the formula. BCAAs are stacked with a wide range of workout supplements, including pre-workouts, protein shakes, fat-burners, and much more. Of course, you can also find BCAAs alone in their own formula.
Are BCAAs Safe?
The good news when taking BCAAs as a supplement is they are widely tolerated in just about everyone. You likely won’t experience any side effects with a daily BCAA intake of 15-35 grams, but you should always pair that up with a sufficient amount of exercise — especially with higher doses.
Anyone with ALS should avoid BCAA supplementation and anyone with maple syrup urine disease should limit their daily intake because their body can’t break it down properly.
It should be noted that high dosages can lead to nausea, headaches, increased insulin resistance, and unregulated blood sugar levels. You should always follow the directions and guidelines on the back of the supplement and remember, don’t let it replace your diet!
BCAA Supplements You Can Trust
There are so many different BCAA supplements on the market today and finding the right one for you can be an extremely difficult process. You want to make sure you get a quality supplement, but also that it’s affordable — since you’ll want to take it long-term.
To help you navigate your options, we’re going to detail three of our favorite BCAA supplements available today — including Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine, Optimum Nutrition’s BCAA Caps, and BCAA’s by 1st Phorm. Let’s take a closer look!
Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine
The first supplement on our list is Transparent Labs BCAA + Glutamine. Each serving contains a total of 8,000mg (8 grams) of BCAAs and 5,000mg (5 grams) of L-Glutamine. The BCAAs follow the recommended 2:1:1 ratio, with 4 grams of leucine and 2 grams of valine/isoleucine.
That’s not all this formula contains, though. It also includes 1,000mg (1 gram) of coconut water powder, 1,535mg (1.5 grams) of Vitamin C, and 2 grams of total carbohydrates. Each serving has just 10 calories and you only need one scoop of the powder.
It’s not that expensive at just $39.00 per 30 servings. Of course, it can get expensive if you’re taking multiple scoops every day, so frequency of use plays a big role here. Either way, it’s a quality BCAA supplement that’s available in Blue Raspberry, Sour Grape, Orange, Green Apple, Strawberry Lemonade, and Tropical Punch.GET THE BEST PRICE ON TRANSPARENT LABS BCAA + GLUTAMINE
Clean BCAA is a BCAA supplement from Clean Machine. Clean Machine focuses on producing quality supplements that are healthy for the human body as well as helpful for the environment. Clean BCAA contains 2,000mg L-leucine, 1,000mg L-isoleucine, and 1,000mg L-valine within its formula. In addition to those BCAAs, Clean BCAA also includes a variety of key minerals such as calcium, potassium, chloride, and sodium.
This BCAA powder is available in lemonade or fruit punch flavor, aids in weight loss, benefits fat loss, supports muscle growth and recovery, and does not contain caffeine.GET THE BEST PRICE ON CLEAN BCAA
BCAA Caps by Optimum Nutrition
The next supplement we’ll display is featured by a very popular supplement company – Optimum Nutrition. I wanted to include this one because it’s a light and basic version of what was discussed above. Not only that, it’s available in capsules for ease-of-use, opposed to powder.
There are only three ingredients included and they’re the only three you need when taking a BCAA supplement — micronized valine, micronized isoleucine, and micronized leucine. It contains the 2:1:1 ratio we’re looking for, but there’s just 500mg of valine and 250mg of the other two.
They have several pricing options available. You can choose the 30-capsule bottle for just $7.99, their 100-capsule bottle for $16.99, or their 200-capsule bottle for just $29.99. It’s a quality option for someone that doesn’t need high dosages and just needs a little boost throughout the day.GET THE BEST PRICE ON OPTIMUM NUTRITION BCAA CAPS
BCAAs by 1st Phorm
The final supplement we’re showcasing here is called BCAA’s and it’s offered by 1st Phorm. It’s approximately the same price as Transparent Labs, but comes in a 40-serving tub and costs $42.99 — which means you get a little more bang for your buck.
The BCAA count is similar, with 1st Phorm including 3,500mg of valine, 2,000mg of leucine, and 2,000mg of isoleucine. It’s not an exact 2:1:1 ratio, but it’s close. Outside of the BCAAs, there’s also Vitamin B3, B6, B12, sodium, potassium, an amino blend, and an electrolyte blend.
The amino blend contains l-taurine, l-tyrosine, l-glutamine, l-citrulline, and agmatine sulfate. We don’t know the specific dosages of each, but they combine to total 1,723mg. The electrolyte blend totals 440mg and contains potassium citrate, sodium chloride, magnesium bisglycinate chelate, and potassium glycinate complex.GET THE BEST PRICE ON 1ST PHORM BCAAS