BCAAs or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are a subset of the essential amino acids (EAAs) needed to help the body form and use proteins. We need to obtain EAAs from our diet, as the body is not capable of creating them on its own. The three BCAAs are part of these nine essential amino acids. They are leucine, isoleucine and valine, and they are especially effective for muscle growth, repair, and managing weight loss. They have other functions, too, such as improving our body’s ability to heal, and reducing post-workout fatigue by lowering the amount of serotonin the brain produces.
BCAAs make up about 14 - 18% of the amino acids usually found in our muscles and around 40% of the total essential amino acids found in the body - that’s how important they are. Unlike other amino acids, they are broken down directly into the muscles, rather than getting broken down in the liver and then distributed around the body. This is what makes BCAAs so effective in muscle protein synthesis and the prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
So, when is it best to take BCAAs?
If you’re exercising regularly, you might want to consider a supplement to improve the levels of BCAAs in your system. Taking BCAAs via supplementation means that they don’t need to be broken down before use. This is particularly effective during workouts as it allows the body to utilise the benefits of these wonderful amino acids much faster.
When you’re planning your exercise regime, it’s also worth considering your levels of fatigue, and how they can affect your performance. I’m sure we’ve all hit that point in a long hike or gym session when it feels like one more movement might just be too much. This isn’t always down to your overall levels of fitness. When you exercise, your body uses glucose as its main source of fuel for your workout. Feeling yourself becoming fatigued during exercise might mean that your glucose levels are depleting, which is when BCAAs can be really helpful to maintain a consistent level of energy, helping you to finish strong!
With SUSTAIN, Vivo Life’s intra-workout supplement and electrolyte complex, 4g of BCAAs help to combat that wall you might hit in the middle of an intense session, keep you hydrated thanks to the coconut water and electrolyte blend and, unlike generic workout supplements, contains all nine essential amino acids for an even greater boost in performance and recovery.
You’ll also notice that certain protein powders geared towards the more athletic amongst us also contain BCAAs. This is due to their effectiveness in helping with post-stress recovery in our muscles, and building them up in muscle protein synthesis. So having a protein powder with added branched chain amino acids can help you to recover faster and reduce muscle breakdown after you're done working out.
There are generally no reported safety concerns or side effects with BCAAs, and we’ve previously discussed the safety of BCAAs in another article, so having a combination of BCAAs from intra and post workout supplements shouldn’t present any issues. As ever though, please do discuss any concerns that you might have with a medical professional.
How do I take BCAAs?
Like most supplements, BCAAs usually come in either a ready-to-take tablet, or a powder which you can mix in with water or other liquids. The powder form is especially useful if you’re looking to use your supplement during a workout - no one wants to stop what they’re doing to swallow a tablet, after all! Plus, it’ll help to keep you hydrated during exercise, and we all know that replacing the water and electrolytes lost through sweat during exercise is super important for our whole body!
As with other supplements, the research into timings and windows is ongoing, and therefore there is little definitive proof that taking your BCAA supplement before, during or after your workout is better than at any other time. As long as you’re looking after your health and nutrition throughout the day then you’ll come to understand what’s best for you and your preferred product. A protein powder like PERFORM, for example, might be better used after exercise as the high protein content and 6g of BCAAs will help with your recovery and muscle growth. However, the boost of electrolytes and EAAs found in SUSTAIN will help to hydrate and energise throughout exercise, so taking a shaker to the gym for your spin class might help you beat your personal best!
There you have it! Whatever your preferred form, you can supplement with BCAAs during your workout for a boost of energy to keep you moving for longer, or afterwards for a helping hand in recovery and muscle growth. Couldn’t be simpler!