BCAAs are amino acids that help activate protein synthesis and create new muscle protein.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are made up of three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine. As amino acids are an essential nutrient our bodies use to undergo and maximize protein synthesis, BCAAs make up an important part of any pre- or post-workout regimen.
Exercise and the body
When we exercise, our muscles go through lengthening, shortening, and isometric movements. These movements—most notably, lengthening movements—can cause “microdamage” when the muscles suffer from microscopic tears. Damage can occur in a number of different cases, such as when we undertake new or demanding exercises, overstretch, or overexert ourselves in an effort to “push it to the limit.”
This damage can build up over time and cause all of the post-exercise symptoms we’re familiar with. So, to deal with this damage, our bodies use amino acids (such as BCAAs) as building blocks in order to activate protein synthesis, a process that creates new muscle protein.
The role of BCAAs
A recent study examined the effect of supplementation with BCAAs during short periods of high intensity resistance training. In this study, subjects consumed either 6 g of BCAAs or a placebo daily for three weeks and, afterward, continued supplementing while engaged in one week of training.
Researchers concluded that short-term supplementation lessens training-induced muscle damage and increases lean muscle mass when compared to a placebo which, by extension, may reduce the risk of exercise-related injury.
Other studies have found a number of different workout benefits the essential amino acids have to offer, such as
- helping to increase muscle production during exercise
- improving protein synthesis and helping to prevent the breakdown of muscle cells during exercise
- improving recovery by reducing protein breakdown that happens in our muscles after a workout
- decreasing muscle soreness
These amino acids are considered “essential” because they cannot be manufactured from other amino acids in the body—they must be ingested through food or supplements.
BCAAs are naturally occurring and are found in protein-rich foods, such as legumes and meat and dairy products.
However, as BCAAs are used up more quickly during and after bouts of exercise, adding a high quality BCAA supplement to the diet is an easy and convenient way for many people—especially those who follow a regular workout routine—to make sure they’re making the most of their workout.