Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—leucine, isoleucine and valine—are the most chemically complete type. The body does not make them naturally, so the only way to take them in is through food and/or supplements.
BCAAs prevent the body from using muscle aminos for energy, and they help muscles repair themselves faster after workouts. They also appear to diminish delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which means athletes won’t be as sore after workouts and can get back to the gym sooner. Other benefits include building more lean muscle and shedding body fat. But the keys are to fuel activity and enhance recovery.
Good sources include meat (grass-fed beef), fish (trout, salmon), dairy (milk, cottage cheese) and legumes (black beans). BCAAs are also available in pill form.
The right dosage depends on the athlete. There is no magic number, but it seems that taking between three and 12 grams before and after a workout is a fair estimate of what a young athlete needs to get results. The bigger the athlete, the more BCAAs he or she should take before and after workouts.