How BCAAs can help you gain muscle, change your body composition, or recover faster.
Time and time again I hear some version of the same story:
Now I know what you are thinking – how on earth are these stories similar? But, they all bring me to the same conclusion: if this person is working out as hard as they say they are, then they need to change their diet and supplement regimen to get results. And, if they want to gain weight, boost recovery or lose some body fat, I may put them on branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).
The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are part of our 8 essential amino acids, which are essential to eat because our body can’t make them (luckily though, you’ll find all 3 together in meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods).
Amino acids are important for a variety of functions in our body. They are the building blocks of proteins, form coenzymes (coenzymes are essential for enzyme activity; enzymes facilitate biochemical reactions in the body) and serve as precursors for the synthesis of molecules in the body. And as an athlete, BCAAs serve additional functions. They can help you build muscle, recover faster and prevent muscle damage.
Maximizing Strength Gains
BCAAs are essential for preventing muscle breakdown in the recovery period post-workout and they can also flip the switch in favor of muscle growth. After a hardcore workout where you are busting through your lifting routine, two processes increase: muscle growth and muscle breakdown. However, if you don’t eat something, muscle breakdown exceeds muscle growth. If you consume carbohydrates (bread for instance) muscle growth will bump up a little more. Consume BCAA-rich whey protein or BCAAs and this entire seesaw will flip.
Consume BCAAs pre-workout and you’ll flip this seesaw in the right direction:
In addition to boosting muscle growth, BCAAs can decrease the muscle damage and soreness associated with intense exercise. Less damage means an athlete will recovery rapidly and get out on the court, field or in the gym sooner instead of sitting on their couch, legs propped up and watching re-runs of Dancing with the Stars.
Dose: 5– 10 grams* mixed in water or a sports beverage fifteen minutes prior to resistance training and sipped throughout training session. If you want to gain weight, opt for the sports drink (more calories).
*athletes over 200 lbs should aim for 7-10 grams
BCAAs may also decrease muscle damage during endurance exercise as well as the loss of lean body mass and power experienced during prolonged exhaustive exercise (bouts of exercise lasting several hours if not over the course of days like a bike ride across your state). Many athletes train hard for prolonged periods of time during which, it may be difficult to ingest adequate calories to sustain the same pace. Over time, calorie deficits lead to weight loss, which is fine if you have the spare fat to lose, but, during weight loss, some of that weight is typically muscle tissue. BCAAs can help decrease the amount of muscle lost when you’re dieting.
Dose: 3-12* grams mixed in a sports drink one hour before exercise and sip on additional BCAAs in a sports drink throughout during exercise lasting longer than one hour.
*Smaller female athletes can take approximately 3-5 grams of BCAAs whereas larger athletes may need more. Only those participating in very long bouts of endurance exercise (running a marathon for instance) need 12 grams of BCAAs.
Boosting Weight Loss
In addition to helping boost muscle growth, some scientists think that BCAAs can help you drop fat by increasing satiety (that full feeling where you push the plate away). This effect may be especially important when on a low calorie/carb diet. In one interesting study, scientists put wrestlers into one of three groups. All 3 groups were on low calorie diets while one group served as a control, another was given BCAAs and the third group was given a high protein diet. The group supplemented with BCAAs lost a significant amount of bodyweight and body fat compared to the other groups.
BCAA supplementation certainly isn’t necessary for the masses. However, athletes who train hard, want to gain muscle, change their body composition (lose fat) or recovery more rapidly, may find that BCAAs help them achieve their goals.
Looking to reap the benefits of BCAA supplements? 1R would recommend giving the following options a try: