You have seen them around at your local Supermarket, GNC, or sports nutrition website (like this one!) and this may have resulted in questions like “what is a BCAA” and “is it something I need?” but often the product labels aren’t enough to go on.
Trust me, I know how that feels – walking aimlessly through the supplement store in my local mall, lost in the crazy variety of products. All those flashy labels and packaging designed to catch your eye but sometimes not telling you a thing about what you’re buying.
Well today we’re going to take a good look at BCAAs, for better or for worse, so read on to find out more!
Preworkout, post workout, intra workout, etc. But then there is the less explanatory ones like Creatine and BCAAs.
Here I have collected some information on the subject for you guys and gals to benefit from. The end result is that you’ll (hopefully) have some questions answered and you’ll have some idea of if it is something that could work for you.
Here is a summary of the topics to come:
- What is a BCAA?
- Why are they important?
- Side Effects
- Other things to consider
- Where to buy
As always, let’s get right into it!
What is a BCAA?
I’m going to do my best to get this info out there without getting unnecessarily deep into the science stuff. Because the science of nutrition does get pretty complex after all.
That being said, the real do-it-yourself bodybuilders must have a University degree worth of knowledge with all these different medical ingredients you have to learn about. It’s all important stuff too, not to be dismissed by simply labeling it “bro science” and moving on.
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids, which covers 3 of the various 9 essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are special because our bodies cannot supply enough through standard production – they have to come from our nutrition. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in our bodies, if you remember biology class from your school days.
Why are they important?
Well the 3 essential amino acids (the BCAAs) we want to focus on are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. Especially Leucine, as it stands to be the most important of the lot. You may have seen these names in the listed ingredients on some of your supplement labels. Protein comes to mind..
And delicious steak. Yum!
But anyways, they’re apparently quite important in the overall process of protein synthesis, which is to say they help you build muscle faster and slow the breakdown at the same time. That’s something we can all use during recovery periods.
They also assist in the prevention of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) which you may have heard of before. Or you’re just familiar with the feeling – a special kind of post workout agony your muscles sometimes go through if you’ve recently started training again. Or maybe you’ve just pushed yourself with a new exercise, and this is the price to pay for the next 24-96 hours (1-4 days).
Either way, the addition of BCAAs in your nutrition overall can help you get through that awful pain by reducing the damage done to your muscles and assisting in a speedier recovery. Cool eh!? I certainly think so, because having sore muscles for several days after a workout is less than desirable.
There also is some beneficial effects for your immune system as well. For more details, check out this article here.
Increased concentration and ability to focus is another upside of taking BCAAs, benefiting any sort of endurance athletes like marathon runners by delaying the effects of fatigue. Possibly something that may be useful for Esports athletes and professional gamers, but I’ll save that for a separate article.
Quick Recap (Positives):
- Helps build and grow muscles
- Reduces muscle pain during recovery (DOMS)
- Faster absorption into the muscles than through food
- Enhanced concentration
- Boosting of the immune system
However, BCAAs are not the magic bullet of the supplement world by being without any downsides.
For starters if watching your blood sugar levels carefully is something that you are required to do, for medical reasons or otherwise, you should approach BCAAs with a bit of caution. It’s said that more sugar is fed to your muscles as a result of taking the supplement and therefore decreases what is available for the rest of your body.
So again, if you have Diabetes for example, definitely consult with your Doctor before using BCAAs.
Low blood sugar levels aren’t just bad for people with medical conditions though. Low sugar levels can cause fatigue, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, and weakness among other things. So even if you’re in great health overall, remember to be safe regardless.
Quick Recap (Negatives):
- Lowers blood sugar levels, increasing the possibility of fatigue, dizziness, etc.
- May not be recommended for individuals with Diabetes or other conditions that require careful monitoring of blood sugars.
- Increased sweating and possible anxiousness for people prone to anxiety
Other things to be cautious of:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding – the effects of BCAAs on individuals that are pregnant or breastfeeding are still unclear, due to a lack of legitimate medical studies. Unless you’ve heard from a trusted source that it’s okay, I wouldn’t take the chance. Safety first!
Where to buy
You can find BCAAs as a supplement in the vitamin/pharmacy sections of your local supermarkets like Wal-Mart and so on. Most dedicated supplement and sports nutrition chain stores would carry them as well (think GNC).
If you’re looking online, Amazon has a worthy selection to look through. In addition to the plethora of options to pick from, there are user reviews and other great info there. Plus free 2 day shipping and exclusive deals for Prime members.
Some other great choices are of course bodybuilding.com and Muscleandstrength.com as both are great online stores with excellent deals on all year round. And more information than you can shake a stick at!
I think at the end of the day, the addition of BCAAs to your overall stack of supplements can be a very beneficial thing.
From everything I’ve gathered, the pros far outweigh the cons overall whether you’re a serious endurance athlete or someone relatively new to the workout scene. The increased ability to recover after tough workouts and reduce the pain that follows is almost too good to walk away from. Not to mention the heightened focus!
My experience so far with BCAAs has been positive for sure. I am recovering faster and coming back stronger, which is especially helpful where I’ve been hitting the gym about 14 times a week as part of the Kris Gethin program I’m working through currently. Proper supplementation is key in order to keep going with high intensity day after day like that.
On the downside, I’ve been sweating somewhat heavier than normal which is also said to be a possible side effect. And as an individual who suffers from anxiety on a regular basis, it’s also said that I’m a target for possible anxiety spikes. I haven’t had this issue so far, to which I am more than happy to report.
But as I always say, check in with your Doctor if you’re unsure whether taking any kind of supplement is right for you.
And be safe out there!