What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and How Do They Work?

While people are becoming increasingly attune to the benefits of protein, there’s still a lot of mystique, misinformation and a general lack of awareness surrounding branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).

What are amino acids? What do they do? When should I take them? Will they give me an energy boost? Are BCAAs good for you? Are there any side effects?

These are some of the most common questions that the inkospor® UK team have to field as far as BCAAs are concerned. As such, we figured it would make sense to pull together an all-encompassing guide that answers all of your questions in one fell swoop.

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids?

Okay, let’s start from the very top.

Branched chain amino acids are so called because of their structure, which includes a “side chain” of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. There are three BCAAs: L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine.

BCAAs can comprise up to one-third of muscle protein (Antti Mero 1999). Because of their prevalence and involvement in protein synthesis and energy production, BCAAs are important to many metabolic processes.

How Do BCAAs Work & What Are the Main Benefits?

While they’re renowned for helping people to maintain muscle mass during exercise, there’s far more to BCAAs than this.

Essentially, they work by providing skeletal muscle with a supply of amino acids that can upregulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), aka muscle building/hypertrophy. However, arguably more important is their effectiveness as an anti-catabolic agent – ideal for either those people who are in a calorie deficit, or those who are training in a fasted state in the morning.

Consuming BCAAs before training can increase uptake into muscle tissue (Mittleman KD et al 1998). This has many benefits:

–     BCAA supplements may lower lactate levels after resistance training and improve muscular oxidation

–     They help to protect muscle tissue during a diet (more on this later in the guide)

–     They can increase growth hormone (GH) circulation, which may be related to anabolic mechanisms causing muscle growth (De Palo EF et al 2001)

–     Amino acid powders or tablets might decrease serum concentrations of the intramuscular enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase following prolonged exercise. This can decrease muscle damage and improve recovery (Coombes JS, McNaughton LR 2000)

Do you struggle with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)? BCAAs are worth a try!

When to Take BCAAs – Is There An Optimum Window?

Of course, everybody is different and you can take BCAA supplements any time of the day (recommended between two and four times). That said, the best time to take BCAAs is before, during or after a workout.

As far as how much you should consume, an effective dose is between 50 and 75mg per kilogram of bodyweight.

Can BCAAs Help Me to Lose Weight?

As we’ve already alluded to, BCAAs are ideal for those who want to preserve muscle mass while at the same time attempting to lose weight. This can be a tricky balance to strike and also explains, in part at least, why the demand for lean protein powders has soared in recent years.

So, if you’re in the routine of working out first thing in the morning, before you’ve eaten your breakfast, then they come highly recommended.

A study conducted in 2010 – which involved people in the UK, US, China and Japan – found a strong link between amino acid consumption and weight loss.

Will BCAAs Give Me Energy?

Technically, NO!

While BCAAs don’t give you a sudden hit of energy, they do help to prevent fatigue. They preserve muscle glycogen stores, resulting in a longer time until you reach “absolute fatigue” – the point when you simply hit a proverbial wall and cannot carry on.

If it’s an energy boost that you’re looking for, you should check out our range of Endurance products instead.

Are There Any Side Effects?

BCAA consumption can be liver toxic at high dosages, between 750 and 1,250mg per kilogram of bodyweight. This is due to increased ammonia levels in the blood that cannot be excreted by the body.

However, this is an obscene amount to consume and would mean an average 80kg man taking between 60 and 100 GRAMS (rather than milligrams) per day.

If you follow the recommended dosage – which is clearly outlined on our packaging – you don’t need to worry.

Which Foods Are High in Amino Acids?

There are plenty of ways to boost your amino acid intake. They are naturally found in fish and meat in particular, as well as nuts, eggs, certain grain types and soy products.

As ever, we’d always recommend that you get your macronutrients and micronutrients from a diverse range of food sources, but we fully appreciate that getting your daily intake can be easier said than done. That’s where BCAA supplements can fill the gap.

Why Are There Different Amino Acid Codes?

There are 20 amino acids, 12 of which are non-essential due to the fact they can be synthesised by the body.

The remaining eight are essential and need to be taken via protein-rich foods or supplementation. BCAAs make up three of the eight essential amino acids.

You can find a full list here.

What is an Amino Acids Table?

The amino acid table shows how the protein is put together. 100g of protein can be made of different amino acids and this table refers to the quality and bioavailability of the protein.

As an example…

100g of protein from beef will be different to 100g from wheat.

Also, the protein in a high-quality steak is put together differently to that in a low-cost cut of meat. This will be reflected in taste, price and therefore in quality.

A lot of products simply state there are “5 grams of BCAAs” in their protein powders, but don’t provide the complete picture. Inkospor® UK’s products, on the other hand, show the full amino acid breakdown on the packaging, which means you can see exactly what you are putting in your body.

Should I Use BCAA Powders or Capsules?

This is entirely your call.

Our Blood Orange X-Treme BCAA Supplement Powder is delicious and you can enjoy it as a longer drink, with one scoop (6.5g) mixed with 250 to 300ml of water. Alternatively, our tablets are a great option if you’d prefer a quick, flavour-free dosage. Take five capsules with plenty of water once per day.

But wait! There’s another option.

Our X-Treme Supafit Muscle+ vials combine amino acids and vitamins in liquid form, giving you a handy 25ml serving that is ideal for your gym bag.

Got More Questions?

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but if you’ve got another query that hasn’t cropped up, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our experts.

Written by Inkospor UK