I've seen a lot of hype about BCAAs. What's the story? Do I really need this supplement or do I get enough with regular food?
Amino acids are the essential building blocks of protein. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are amino acids that have a special branched structure, hence the name branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are not just hype! BCAAs are important because they're metabolized in the muscles instead of the liver like other amino acids. As a result, they can then be used as energy or to make new proteins. BCAAs make up about a third of the skeletal muscle in the body.
BCAAs are three of the eight essential amino acids (EAAs). Essential means that your body can't synthesize these aminos, so you must get them from food. Red meat and dairy are particularly good sources of BCAAs, but you can also get them in chicken and turkey. Whey protein is a rich BCAA source.
Free-form BCAAs are great because they're almost instantaneously digested and sent into your bloodstream. Taking a BCAA supplement before, during, and after you train is important because BCAAs can help prevent muscle breakdown. If you plan on doing hardcore endurance training, experts recommend using BCAAs to help you maintain energy and minimize protein breakdown. Replacing lost BCAAs-usually 10 grams pre- and post-workout-also helps keep your body anabolic, which is important whether you're slimming or bulking.
If you're in the habit of taking a whey protein shake before and after you train, you can forego the BCAA cocktail, or take them during your workout. If you're on a calorie-deficit program however, protein turnover increases; BCAAs are an (almost) calorie-free way to regulate your protein synthesis, so help yourself to multiple servings throughout the day.
While we're on the subject of BCAAs, I have to do a special promotion for leucine. Leucine is one of the key igniters of protein synthesis; it may also help stimulate insulin production, and modulate blood sugar. Make sure you check the label of your BCAA supp for high leucine content.
BCAAs are one of those supplement categories which lives up to the hype. No matter what, you still need to train hard and eat smart to achieve great results, but BCAAs can give you that final added edge.