When it comes to training to achieve certain fitness goals, you'll do anything to help maximize the hard work you're putting in at the gym. Supplements, like protein powder, can help you enhance your workouts by giving your body the nutrients it needs for muscle growth and recovery. Recovery is especially important when it comes to training because that's where the real magic happens. In order to build muscle and get stronger your muscles need time to recover properly. Aside from getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and getting enough rest in between training certain muscle groups, there is one supplement that can help enhance recovery - BCAA's.
You might have heard a thing or two about BCAA supplements at the gym or just by doing a quick search about popular supplements. BCAA's are up there in popularity because of the benefits that can help enhance your workouts and recovery process. But looking for the right workout supplements can be difficult, especially when you don't know exactly what they do. So we're here to help you decide whether this supplement is right for you by giving you a breakdown of what BCAAs are, why they matter, and how to incorporate them into your training!
What are BCAAs?
To understand BCAAs, you need to understand what amino acids are first. These little guys are often called the building blocks of protein, and they really do live up to that name. Our bodies put them together like Legos to synthesize muscle, meaning they are what help repair and rebuild muscle. There are 20 amino acids in total, 11 of which our bodies make that are considered to be non-essential, and 9 that are essential amino acids that we obtain through our diet. So, where do BCAAs come in? Well, BCAAs stands for - branched-chain amino acids. And they are made up of three of the nine essential amino acids, but they're not just any amino acids... These three are specifically important for our muscles. They are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA supplements contain only these three amino acids, among other ingredients, but you can also get these in foods like red meat and milk. Eating a healthy balanced diet can make sure you’re getting enough of all the amino acids, but taking a BCAA supplement can provide some additional benefits to your training.
What do BCAAs do?
Unlike the other amino acids that are broken down in the liver, BCAAs are mostly broken in the muscle. They enter the bloodstream rapidly, bypass the liver, and are taken and broken down by active muscle tissue. Because of this, they play a major role in energy production during exercise. Essentially they fuel your skeletal muscles during training which in turn helps you to push your limits and push through to do that extra rep or two. And since they are made up of parts of protein, they do the same thing as all proteins do. So aside from playing a role in energy regulation, they also play a role in protein synthesis and turnover, glucose metabolism, and even immune and brain function. The way they work in the body is what gives it its impressive training benefits we briefly touched on, but let's take a closer look at them...
Benefits of BCAAs for training
As we now know, BCAAs are broken down in the muscle tissue, this is what helps give it its impressive training benefits which include...
- Help reduce fatigue:
During intense prolonged exercise the levels of BCAAs in your blood decrease. This causes the levels of another amino acid to rise, tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, in simpler terms, it produces the feeling of relaxation and sleepiness... Something you definitely don't want while working out! So, taking a BCAA powder supplement before or during your workout can inhibit the onset of central and peripheral fatigue during exercise. Basically, it helps you fight training fatigue so you can go stronger for longer. And when it comes to resistance training, you want to push yourself to do an extra rep or set to challenge your muscles which in turn helps them grow.
What do the studies say?
Well, one particular study reported that the group that received BCAAs during exercise reported up to 15% less fatigue, compared to those who were given a placebo. Other studies show similar reports, reporting 12-17% less fatigue when using BCAAs.  
BCAA's seem to be effective at preventing fatigue and keeping energy levels steady. However, not every study shows that this helps improve performance, so keep that in mind!
- Promote muscle protein synthesis:
First, let's talk about muscle protein synthesis (MPS). This is a naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage that is caused by high-intensity exercise. The key to achieving muscle growth is to increase MPS so it outpaces its opposing force, muscle protein breakdown (MPB). Leucine, one of the BCAAs, is actually the most important for initiating MPS. A dose of 2-3g of leucine post-workout, depending on body weight, is said to be effective at stimulating MPS and increasing muscle-building efforts.
What do the studies say?
One study shows that people who consumed a drink with 5.6 grams of BCAAs after resistance training had a 22% increase in MPS, compared to those who consumed a placebo drink.  However, other studies show that drinking a whey protein shake post-workout increases MPS much more than just BCAA's alone.  So, although BCAAs can increase MPS, they can't do it maximally without the other essential amino acids. This is why it's ideal to consume a complete protein source after training as opposed to just BCAAs.
- Help prevent muscle breakdown and reduce muscle soreness:
BCAA supplementation before intense exercise benefits the muscle-building process immensely because it can help with the recovery process. Using BCAAs as a pre-workout, or even in addition to it, can help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and exercise-induced muscle damage. So, although a complete protein powder is better for post-workout, BCAA's can help when taken before a workout.
Here's how it works... The muscle is made up of about 35% branched-chain amino acids and high-intensity exercise BCAA catabolism (muscle breakdown) and muscle damage. Taking BCAA's prior to or even during a workout will lessen the effects of this. It can also help lower blood levels of the enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase (these two are the culprits for damaging muscle) which in turn helps reduce the severity and duration of muscle soreness.
What do the studies say?
A study that was done to see the effects of BCAAs on muscle soreness showed that the participants that were given a BCAA supplement rated lower muscle soreness levels (as much as 33% lower) than those given a placebo. 
Another study that examined the effects of BCAA supplementation showed the same results in regards to reducing muscle soreness but also showed that taking it before a workout has been shown to reduce the breakdown of muscle protein during exercise. 
How to use BCAAs effectively
Considering that whey protein is better for increasing MPS post-workout, BCAAs are better taken before or during your workout. Now, in terms of the right dosage, it really depends. The usual dosage is anywhere between 5-12 grams. Studies show that taking 5-6 grams pre-workout provides good effects, but to increase the effects of protein synthesis and other benefits, the ideal daily dose is anywhere between 14-20 grams.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to get all your BCAAs from a supplement, in fact, you should prioritize foods that are rich in all the amino acids that way you maximize the benefits.
Here are the best foods that are high in BCAA's and other essential amino acids:
- Meat, poultry, and fish
- Greek yogurt
- Pumpkin seeds
- Tofu and tempeh
In summary, eating a well-rounded diet, and supplementing with BCAA before or during exercise can help enhance your recovery which will maximize all the hard work you're putting in at the gym and help you achieve the results you deserve!
At 373 Lab we pride ourselves on creating supplements that will enhance your training performance and recovery by creating formula blends with fewer fillers, and more high-quality ingredients. Our BCAA's are made with the fewest ingredients as possible, making sure that BCAA's is the main ingredient and doing their job - helping reduce fatigue during your workout and reduce muscle breakdown and soreness. We provide 5 grams of BCAAs per scoop at a 2:1:1 ratio of L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine, the ideal split for optimal supplementation.