What are BCAAs?

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) seem to be a buzzword around the gym for both pre-workout and post-workout nutrition, improved recovery and improved body composition. In today’s Tuesday/Tip, let’s talk about this tiny, buttrending, little bit of nutrition…

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteinBranched chain amino acids are certain types of amino acids and are so called because of their structure, which includes a “side chain” of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Why are they so important?

BCAAs are the only amino acids which get directly into the bloodstream from the stomachwhich means they quickly get to your muscles. They can…

  1. be oxidized for energy
  2. lower lactate levels (decrease exhaustion from intense exercise)
  3. increase growth hormone (stimulate increased lean mass)
  4. decrease intramuscular enzymes which are a byproduct of prolonged exercise by decreasing muscle breakdown, possibly increasing endurance
  5. stabilize blood sugar

Because BCAAs are so important to maintaining muscle tissue and blood sugar levels, and knowing that these building blocks are depleted during exercise, it is important to get enough to support your workouts. If you are training for long durations or in a fasted state or if you don’t eat after you exercise, you will not have any BCAAs in your bloodstream and you will lose more protein than you rebuild. Your body will simply cannibalize your muscle for the protein it needs. No free lunch in nature!

Ok, they’re important. Should I use BCAA supplements?

At this point you need not be convinced of the importance of branched-chain amino acids; rather, is the SUPPLEMENTATION of BCAAs necessary? Were we to be able to convince you of how important is oxygen and of all the many wonderful things it does for your body, would you then need to rush out to buy tanks and tanks to keep in your home, in your car and at your desk? Or, might you be encouraged to know that, if you are taking regular breaths of air, you are getting enough of it? It’s kinda the same with BCAAs…most of us who eat well-rounded meals are getting plenty of branched chain amino acids already in our diet. We think the following chart is pretty eye-opening…

BCAA content of foods (grams of amino acids/100 g of protein)

Whey protein isolate 26%
Milk protein 21%
Muscle protein 18%
Soy protein isolate 18%
Wheat protein 15%

Source: Precision Nutrition and USDA Food Composition Tables


==> If you are eating regularly, getting protein with every meal, choosing a sufficient amount of protein from a variety of sources (meat, dairy, egg, plant) which will all be digested at varying rates, and/or if you are already supplementing with a protein supplement pre-/post-workout, then the additional supplementation of BCAAs may not be necessary (so don’t fall prey to fancy marketing schemes!).

==> However, if you are a long-distance athlete, training in a fasted state, or you are pushing it to the absolute edge and want a little insurance against muscle breakdown, branched chain amino acids before, during and after exercise can be a great option for you!

We’ll be sending you an upcoming Tuesday / Tip soon regarding what to eat (or drink) before, during, and after exercise (and if/when/how BCAAs could be included).

Stay tuned and see you in the gym!

Mike + Team Valeo

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