I have probably lost you if you are not the type who has lifted weights or followed some crazy personal trainer. BCAAs are a supplement that only comes up once you have been working out for a little bit and been around people who claim to know supplements.
Now that I have narrowed down who is probably reading this blog, let’s talk BCAAs.
What Are They?
BCAAs are also known as Branched-chain Amino Acids. They come in a powdered form, and they typically taste really good when you mix them with water when you buy the flavored ones. If you are hard-core and just toss the powder in your mouth…. Stop reading immediately and go mix your BCAAs with water. What is wrong with you? If you buy the unflavored ones, also – what is wrong with you? One of the biggest draws to amino acids is that they taste good? Anyway… I digress.
Amino Acids, simply put, are the building blocks of protein. They can be divided into Essential Amino Acids and Nonessential Amino Acids. The former are the ones your body does not synthesize naturally but are essential; so, they must come from food. There are 9 of those. You obtain these nutrients through eating protein-rich foods. As for Nonessential Amino Acids, there are 11 of them and they are typically able to be created by the body from other stuff and thus are not necessary to come from food. This is very basic, but that is the gist of it.
BCAAs, on the other hand, are like a subcategory of the Essential Amino Acids. They are the amino acids that have a “branching chain carbon molecule structure.” What you drink when you drink BCAAs are the three essential amino acids that are also branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Now, you can take these branched-chain amino acids separately as supplements in their own right. However, I got to be honest and tell you – pure leucine might be the WORST tasting thing I have ever consumed. Also, if you can take it in BCAA form, just stick with that…
Why Do People Take BCAAs? The Science and the Reality…
There is only moderate evidence for the effectiveness of BCAAs in helping people build up muscle or make gains from using them. In the strong category are creatine and whey protein. So, I would say that the reality is to stick with Whey Protein or another protein supplementation and to use creatine as an addition if you lift weights. That is the science. However, the reality behind people’s use of BCAAs, whether it is 100% true or not, include the following:
- Supposed help with muscle growth: Since amino acids make up the protein molecules in your body, researched purport that consuming them during exercise or after exercise may aid with muscle growth, like protein. I cannot say that I notice a difference on this front either way upon taking BCAAs.
- Decrease muscle soreness and repair muscles: Now, this one does seem to apply in some capacity to using BCAAs. I can never quite tell if it is BCAAs or creatine that prevents me from being sore, but I can tell you that when I take BCAAs and creatine that I am definitely much less sore from lifting. I notice that I have a speedy recovery process, I can work out two days in a row without having super sore muscles, and I feel like I am not as tight from lifting.
- Reduce fatigue: THIS ONE I DEFINITELY NOTICE. When I consume BCAAs while at the gym lifting, I notice I just feel a little bit more alive in the workout. It is not the same aliveness as caffeine, which has become a regular part of my routine in the AM. It is also not like pre-workout, which makes you feel jittery. BCAAs are just that little boost you need that feels non-manufactured (despite being just that). I actually consume BCAAs for this reason, primarily, since I lift in the AM before I eat.
- This brings me to my big selling point for BCAAs. If you do decide to embark on the journey of consuming BCAAs, my recommendation is to use it when you are “fasted” AKA “have no food in your system.” This means I recommend using it during your gym session if you workout in the morning before food. I also recommend drinking it during the workout, not after, because you should probably eat after you workout.
- Taste good at the gym: This one is not science. It is just sometimes nice to have a fun tasting beverage while you are lifting. I can completely attest to this one. Even though this is not the “best” reason to choose something, I do find that this fact combined with the fatigue really motivates me to use BCAAs.
What Does Kat Suggest?
I will start by saying my usual spiel about how you need to read your labels… READ LABELS. I will also say that BCAAs are arguably one of the supplements I have done the “least” sampling of with regard to trying a bunch of different ones. I actually got quite lucky (for once) and landed on a good one the first one I tried, and I did not steer away. So, I cannot go on a soapbox for this one about reading labels cause I got lucky; but, READ LABELS.
Secondly, like everything else, you do do not need BCAAs. However, I would suggest giving them a try if any of the following apply to you:
- You often struggle to wake up in the morning yet you want to workout in the morning.
- You often find that you cannot consume enough water while you workout in the morning.
- You often do not eat until about 11AM, but you workout at 7AM.
- You often find that you are SUPER SORE from a lift and cannot make it to the gym the next day due to that soreness.
- You like things that taste good. Water bores you.
One Last Point About Water Consumption
I wanted to make one last point before closing. I am the type of person who tries to drink enough water in a day. I aim for about 100 oz of water per day. With that in mind, my 24 ounces of water I consume during my gym session that is mixed with BCAAs made me wonder a bit about “if this counts towards my water allotment for the day.” Of course I asked this question! I am trying to drink 100oz and EVERY oz counts! And, you know how you see all these ads that are like “JUICE IS NOT WATER.” So, I did some research.
BCAAs technically do have a small amount of calories in the form of protein, purportedly. It is like 4 calories per gram, which is nothing. However, does not that not mean it will be the same as juice and not count as water?
The research is not clear. However, what has been said in some articles is that YES – COUNT YOUR BCAAS TOWARDS YOUR WATER ALLOTMENT FOR THE DAY.
You will still be hydrated from it, and that 24 oz of water in the morning does help you. Don’t be like me and avoid drinking BCAAs because you have “so much water to drink all day and need to drink only water.”
Alrighty – end of random soapbox. Here are some BCAAs I have tried or looked into:
*I do not list any pills here or unflavored BCAAs because I do believe that one of the DRAWS to BCAAs is having something to drink in the morning. I do not necessarily see the point in popping more pills. However, if you want to go that route, by all means!
- NASM Certified Nutrition Coach Course Textbook