You've probably heard of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and their benefits. But have you ever questioned why they are so popular with people looking to build muscle?
There is no shortage of "miracle" sports supplements on the market today. However, BCAAs have stuck around and survived when others have fallen by the wayside, thanks to medically-backed research that supports their benefits.
Here are some benefits of BCAAs for athletes.
BCAAs aid in recovery and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). A study conducted at the University of Birmingham found that taking a steady supply of BCAAs throughout the day reduced DOMS caused by high-intensity training. Study subjects took BCAAs 30 minutes before exercise, within 90 minutes after exercise, between lunch and dinner and before bed.
BCAAs may lead to greater endurance capacity. Trial research at Sacred Heart University separated nine untrained male cyclists into three groups: one took BCAAs along with a carbohydrate-rich beverage 90 minutes prior to endurance cycling trials; the second group took only carbs; and the third group took a placebo. Although no performance differences were noted, ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were improved in the BCAA group.
BCAAs aid in muscle growth and fat loss. A 2011 study found that leucine, an amino acid found in BCAAs, triggers protein synthesis, and subsequently muscle growth. Leucine supplementation creates an anabolic environment by activating the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which promotes muscle gain and fat loss. (Listen to CSCS David Pearson explain the roles of glutamine and BCAAs in the body.)
The take home message is this: you can probably get away without taking BCAAs if your diet is in check. However, for busy athletes looking for an extra edge, supplementing with BCAAs will likely improve workout performance. Remember, BCAAs are a supplement to a balanced diet. Focus primarily on quality whole foods, and fill in the gaps with BCAAs when necessary.