Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are essential to muscle growth and repair, fat loss and preventing fatigue during exercise, making them a vital part of any bodybuilder’s diet. BCAAs are naturally occurring in the body and make up approximately 1/3 of the body’s muscle protein. There are three BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine and valine—and they can be ingested naturally through food or taken as supplements. Knowing when to take BCAAs optimizes their benefits.
See our top 5 BCAA list here
How Much BCAAs to Take
For people 150 pounds or lighter, the recommended intake of BCAAs is between 3-10 grams per day. For people over 150 pounds, BCAA intake should be between 5-15 grams per day. If taking BCAA supplements, it is a good idea to balance the supplement levels with any amounts of BCAAs that may have been consumed in the form of natural foods. Foods that are naturally BCAA rich include animal proteins (beef, poultry, pork, eggs), dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), beans and legumes. Generally, three ounces of animal protein or half a cup of cottage cheese will contain approximately 1.7g leucine and 1g valine and isoleucine. A cup of milk will have half that amount of BCAAs. A cup of beans contains approximately 1 gram each of all three BCAAs.
When to Take BCAAs
Intake of BCAAs should be spread throughout the day to maximize their beneficial effects. When taking BCAAs before or after workout, you can improve the body’s ability to prevent fatigue, replenish the loss of amino acids due to exercise, and enhance protein synthesis and absorption.
BCAAs Before or After Workout
For BCAA intake before a workout, such as with a pre-workout powder, intake should be 30-45 minutes before exercise. Taking BCAAs before a workout allows the body enough time to transport the BCAAs to various muscles, where they will be used as energy. Both isoleucine and valine convert into glucose, which can function as a source of energy during the workout. BCAAs also contribute to lowering levels of tryptophan, a hormone that causes fatigue. Having optimal levels of BCAAs delays fatigue, enabling a longer and more powerful workout session. The higher energy levels can also contribute to fat loss.
Taking BCAAs after a workout with a protein shake or a meal is also a good way to restore BCAA levels that have been depleted by exercise. Any stress on the body, whether exercise-related or not, causes the body to deplete amino acids. If you are on a calorie-deficit diet, exercise can also cause catabolic hormones to be released, which causes muscle loss. Taking BCAAs replenishes the lost amino acids and combats muscle loss.
BCAAs Before Bed
It is also a good idea to take BCAAs before bed. BCAAs aid in protein synthesis as the body combines and synthesizes amino acids to make protein. These amino acids are not only important to muscle growth but also muscle repair and recovery. Protein synthesis and muscle repair occur at optimal levels during the body’s sleep cycle, so taking BCAAs before bed helps to facilitate these processes.
Looks for some recommendations?
Kaged Muscle Intra Workout (not strictly a BCAA supplement)