BCAA supplements fall into the category of ‘serious’ when you are discussing supplement types. Typically people who are trying to push themselves into the elite level of fitness or bodybuilding will discover them at some point and give them a try. Why? They are more ‘serious’ because while being extremely useful they typically mean you have progressed further along the training ladder and are having a harder time making the gains you want.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. There are three of the eight essential amino acids our body does not naturally produce (thus why labeled essential). All three are available within meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. But you can also buy them as a supplement in powder form which can then be mixed up to drink in shake or juice format.
As amino acids are the building blocks of protein, having them in our body when we need them is essential when you have high-level goals for health and fitness. The main benefits of BCAA supplements are assisting in building muscle, increasing the rate of recovery, and reduce or even prevent muscle damage.
Muscles are built after the workout is completed. The body goes into rest, recovery, and grow mode after you push through a brutal training session. For maximum growth it makes sense that you should have building blocks available for your body to use. Now you can use something like a whey protein shake which is highly recommended. But the whey still has to be broken down into its individual parts while the BCAA’s are giving your body 3 of those essentials much quicker. Even better is consuming both!
As you are working out muscle breakdown will begin to occur. But your growth is directly related to muscle breakdown. The further muscle is broken down then the more recovery has to take place before actual growth. So limiting the first factor only serves to increase the second. One way to help speed up recovery (reduce or limit damage and soreness) is by having excess BCAA’s in your system during the workout.
It has been shown that people who load up with some BCAA’s shortly before and sipped during a workout will show reduced levels of muscle damage after the session.
This is more theory than proven science. But, including BCAA’s into a low carbohydrate diet can help with weight loss because this supplement helps with that ‘full’ feeling you get after a meal. There have been a few studies on this and one test group was able to drop pounds faster on a low carb diet while ingesting BCAA’s over a high protein diet.
BCAA Supplements vs. Protein Powder
BCAA’s are not a replacement for protein powder. Instead you have to look at them as another building block to the nutrition plan you use to reach your goal. Adding BCAA’s in before, during, and after a workout is going to help across the board. But you still need to get large amounts of protein in to fuel your body and protein shakes are a great source for that along with meat, fish, poultry, and dairy.
One reason this is a ‘serious’ supplement is because it is used in addition to everything else. You should already have a great diet, be taking in a good pre-workout meal, have a good post-workout meal, be using extra vitamins and other needed minerals, take in whey protein shakes, and be using creatine; or at least have most of those covered. Then you are adding another piece to the puzzle by adding this supplement into the mix. That will get you the most benefit from BCAA supplements compared to just using them but not have all of those other aspects as part of your nutrition plan.