BCAAs: The Essential Building Blocks of Muscles
You can’t have muscles without them
We have a lot of craze in the fitness world around BCAAs. It’s touted as the best thing to build muscles and ranked ahead of many other supplements.
Sure, BCAAs play a big part in building muscles. In fact, we won’t grow any muscles in the absence of BCAAs!
This is not some far-fetched claim. If you paid attention in school, you know what we are talking about.
However, most of us were busy having fun in school. No worries, we are here to fill in the missing gaps!
Protein and BCAAs
BCAAs are made of three amino acids-
Animal meat, which is rich in protein, contains ample BCAAs. You can also get the essential amino acids from some plant proteins. However, protein contains other amino acids apart from BCAAs.
BCAAs in protein is the actual candidate that build muscle fibers. So, when we say protein helps grow muscles, it’s the BCAAs that do the actual job of synthesizing protein in skeletal muscles.
For this reason, any muscle growth will need BCAAs. Since we don’t make our BCAAs, we need to fulfill our requirements from food.
BCAAs Role in Muscle Building
You need BCAA to develop any kind of muscle mass. But can BCAA supplements help you build muscles?
Scientists are studying BCAAs for more than 50-years. In all studies, BCAAs contribute to muscle building at multiple levels. The branched-chain amino acids play a big part in-
- Developing muscle mass
- Protecting muscles
- Reducing muscle soreness
In a word, research shows BCAAs to be indispensable for building muscles. We will explore exactly how BCAA achieves these wonderful goals.
How BCAAs Build Muscles
BCAAs are like a whole football team, where each player helps you win the muscle-building match! The amino acids reach our muscles directly and stimulate protein synthesis– the very act that builds muscle fibers.
1. Activates Cell Growth Pathways
BCAAs stimulate key pathways that promote cell growth. Leucine facilitates mRNA translation that increases the number of cells.
As a result, they lay the foundation for muscle growth.
2. Stimulates Protein Synthesis
Leucine contributes directly to grow your muscles. It can even make up for low-protein diets and increase BCAAs in skeletal muscles. That leads our muscles to convert more protein into muscle mass.
3. Prevents Protein Breakdown
Various processes in our body break down protein, which causes loss of muscles or muscle damage. Specifically, BCAAs discourage the actions of MAFbx and MuRF-1 that erode muscles.
Several studies show BCAAs to also reduce other markers of protein damage.
We can see BCAAs act in more ways than we can count to build muscles. They also have a protective effect and reduces muscle loss.
BCAAs Lower Muscle Soreness
Various enzymes in our body damage muscle. Some of these enzymes are produced as a result of exercise, like lactate dehydrogenase.
BCAAs go a long way to lower these muscle-damaging enzymes, as shown by countless studies. We have also mentioned at least 5 – 6 studies that come to the same conclusion (link below).
The protective effects on muscles act directly to lower DOMS or muscle soreness. BCAAs can reduce muscle soreness by as much as 33%, even within 48 – 72-hours of intensive exercise.
BCAAs Reduce Fatigue
BCAAs seem to be our best friend for building muscles. Not do they actively build muscles, but they also help you stay active and fit.
In fact, BCAAs can lower both physical and mental fatigue. Naturally, that leads to better performance in outdoor activities like cycling, skiing, and sailing.
Moreover, BCAAs play a part in alleviating neural fatigue that comes from aerobic exercises. It may even help you get over depleted glycogen stores and provide energy.
BCAAs are a wonder for bodybuilders. You can directly take BCAA supplements and supply the essential amino acids directly to your muscles.
The results are bigger and fuller muscles, less soreness, and more energy.
We have a blog explaining how BCAAs help you achieve your fitness goals. Give it a read by clicking below.
A Closer Look at BCAAs
Let’s get to know our muscle-building friends
Our body is made of protein, which, in turn, is made of 20 different amino acids. We can divide them into two groups-
1. Essential Amino Acids
Our bodies can make some amino acids, but not all. Those our bodies can’t produce are called essential amino acids. They are “essential” as we must get them from food.
We have 9 essential amino acids, including leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
2. Non-Essential Amino Acids
We can make these amino acids in our bodies and don’t need to depend on diet. There are 11 non-essential amino acids like alanine, glutamic acid, and tyrosine.
All 20 amino acids are required for the growth of our body.
How BCAAs Work
When we eat protein, our bodies break it into amino acids during digestion. Then our body uses the amino acids to create a protein that builds each of our organs, tissues, and cells.
BCAA supplements increase the BCAA levels in our blood. Interestingly, our livers don’t digest BCAAs; our muscles are responsible for it.
Once the BCAAs reach our muscles, they stimulate protein synthesis. You also know how they build and protect muscles from our above discussions. So, let’s move on to examining our aminos!
Leucine, Valine, and Isoleucine
BCAA is the general name for three essential amino acids- leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
Why are they called branched-chain amino acids?
The name has to do with their structure that comes with a “side chain” of carbon and hydrogen atoms.
BCAAs make up 35% to 40% of the total amino acids in our body. Interestingly, our muscles store 14% to 18% BCAAs, which tells you about its importance for protein synthesis. You will get the same message everywhere- BCAAs are laden with protein anabolic properties.
Sources of BCAAs
BCAAs are essential amino acids and we must get them from food. The best sources are animal meat and eggs. Beef, chicken, and even fish can help get your dose of BCAAs.
Dairy products like milk also contain BCAAs. You can even get them from your whey protein and soy protein supplements.
Plant sources like beans, peas, lentils, and brown rice contain BCAAs.
Why Animal Sources are Better
Should vegans worry about BCAA deficiency?
Protein, whether from meat or plants, contains 20 amino acids, including BCAAs. But the amino acid profile for each protein is different.
What it means is, all proteins don’t contain the same amounts of each amino acid. Some have more BCAAs, while some may have more non-essential amino acids.
Research shows animal protein to contain more BCAAs compared to plant sources. You can consider soybeans or soy protein if you are a vegetarian.
BCAA supplementation may be ideal for bodybuilders who don’t eat meat. You do need adequate levels of BCAAs to activate and support muscle growth.
A more detailed blog on BCAAs and their role is waiting below for your click. Check it out!
Benefits and Effectiveness
What makes BCAAs indispensable?
Not a single cell in your body will grow in the absence of protein. So, in essence, BCAAs are vital for muscle growth, as they are the ones to synthesize muscle protein.
Now, what benefits can you get from BCAA supplements?
As we said earlier, supplements can increase the BCAA levels in your muscles and blood. Let’s explore what that leads to. You already have an idea, as we opened our guide with the magnificent advantages of BCAAs.
1. Bigger and Fuller Muscles
The branched-chain amino acids from your supplement directly reach your muscles and stimulate protein synthesis. Your key growth signaling pathways are activated, and you start building muscle fibers.
Over time, proper training leads to the swole look with prominent and big muscles. You can show off as much as you want!
2. Protection from Muscle Damage
BCAAs act like insurance for your muscles. They protect your muscles even in the face of extreme catabolic conditions. Studies show them to actively reduce protein breakdown and muscle wasting that results from exercise.
BCAA supplements help you maintain your bodily stores of the amino acids. They provide your body with an alternative source of protein to breakdown and fuel to burn.
As a result, you can prevent the loss of existing muscles.
3. Less Fatigue and More Energy
We saw how BCAAs help lowers mental and physical fatigue that comes from exercising.
Your muscles use BCAAs as a fuel source even after they use up all glycogen stores. That helps you push harder for more time. Just think of all the extra weights you can lift or reps you can perform!
BCAAs even limit the entry of tryptophan in our brains and prevents mental tiredness. You can keep feeling active and raring to go for more.
4. Improves Athletic Performance
Even a bit of improvement in performance is a lot for athletes. It can mean the difference between finishing the lap and bagging the medal- you must have an idea of what are saying.
BCAAs can improve both aerobic and anaerobic performance when you make it a part of your routine. That means you got to take your supplement regularly.
Studies show BCAAs to increase sprint performance, peak power, and time to exhaustion. You can certainly notice an improvement after a few weeks of supplementation.
5. Facilitates Recovery
Muscle soreness or pain in muscles can last for days after a session of intensive exercising. In fact, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a top reason for missed gym or training!
BCAA can bring down the severity of muscle soreness. Along with that, they can even reduce muscle damage that comes from endurance exercise and resistance training.
You can get back on your feet faster and forget about muscle soreness from intensive workouts.
6. May Serve Weight Loss Goals
Several studies show BCAAs to have beneficial effects on weight loss. Healthline highlights multiple studies where participants on BCAA supplements-
- Burned more fat
- Lost more weight
- Preserved more muscles
However, the studies have some credibility issues and drawbacks. We can say a positive connection between BCAA and weight loss exists. However, we need more evidence to make concrete conclusions.
BCAAs may have some use when you are in the cutting phase or following a cut diet. They can go a long way to preserve and add lean muscle mass.
Apart from the above, BCAAs may-
- Help people with liver disease
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Improve immune responses
BCAAs are your best friend when you want to build muscles and remain active. They also help you lower muscle soreness and facilitate recovery. Regular supplementation can even lead to an improvement in athletic performance.
Best Time to Take BCAAs
Before, during, or after a workout?
Every supplement has some rules to get the best results. Like all supplements, BCAAs, too, have some implications based on timing.
So, when should you take your BCAAs?
Let’s see what results in you get by varying your timing of BCAA supplements.
1. After Exercise
Only one study showed BCAA to promote muscle synthesis when taken after working out. No other evidence shows the same results. We can take it for certain that BCAAs don’t build optimum muscles when you take it post-workout.
However, you may get some benefit is reducing fatigue and muscle soreness.
2. During Exercise
Should you sip your BCAA supplement while performing pushups?
Taking your supplement while working out can improve your performance. You may even be able to reduce mental fatigue. It may also have some beneficial effects on recovery.
However, this timing has no significant effects on building muscles.
3. Before Exercise
What are the gains of taking BCAA supplements before working out?
Growth of Lean Muscle Mass
Research shows BCAA to fuel most protein synthesis when you take your supplement before exercise. The BCAAs in your supplement reach your muscle and start building muscles right away.
BCAAs also stimulate key anabolic pathways and help in protein synthesis. Additionally, your muscles experience less wear and tear as you have adequate BCAA stores.
BCAAs lower both mental and physical fatigue. They provide fuel for our muscles when we run out of our glycogen stores. As a result, you can get the energy to work out longer and harder.
Studies also show BCAAs to improve the athletic performance on the field. You can give a tough competition to your peers and even break your own records.
Better Muscle Recovery
You can significantly reduce muscle soreness by taking BCAA before exercising. They also prevent protein breakdown and counter muscle loss.
You can even reduce muscle damage and pain from intensive workouts. That leads to faster recoveries and better muscle health above all.
Summary: Most of us would benefit by taking BCAA supplements before working out. It results in more muscles, better performance, less fatigue, and improved recovery.
Should You Consume BCAA Supplements before Bed
Many bodybuilders take protein supplements before going to bed. Do BCAAs provide better results when taken before sleeping?
Our bodies build and repair muscles while we sleep. Supplementing with protein at bedtime can be a good way to supply your muscles with amino acids.
However, BCAAs may not be the right choice!
You see, we absorb BCAAs quite quickly. They don’t even need digestion and reach our muscles directly.
As a result, the amino acids will not last all night long.
If you take protein at bedtime, make sure it’s a slow-absorbing one, like casein. That way, your muscles will receive a steady supply of BCAAs all through the night to build and repair muscles.
BCAAs won’t serve the purpose as our bodies will use them up in a short time.
Experts recommend up to 144mg of BCAAs for every kilo of body weight. You can just multiply your body weight with 144 to get your required BCAA dosage.
So, if you weigh 70 kilos, you will need (70 x 144)mg = 10grams, approx.
You can safely take 20 – 25grams of BCAA per serving without any risk.
Note: You will need to take BCAAs for some time to get any effects. BCAAs are safe and provide the best results when you take them for the long-term.
We have more implications of BCAAs based on how you take your supplement. Click the link below to find out more!
Best BCAA Ratio
The intricacies of BCAA dosage
When you buy a BCAA supplement, you will see a certain ratio for the amino acids on the label. Here, we are talking about the ratio of leucine, valine, and isoleucine.
Different brands use different ratios. Some go for 2:1:1, while you find 4:1:1, 10:1:1, and other combinations.
What’s the best ratio for you?
Understanding BCAA Ratio
Let’s take a common ratio to explain the concept clearly. We will go with 2:1:1.
Before we begin, you might want to revise your arithmetic lessons a bit, especially ratios.
This BCAA guide is turning out to be quite educative, right? After biology (how BCAAs work), we are now honing our mathematical skills!
Back to the topic, many supplements use a 2:1:1 ratio for BCAAs. The first number (2) represents leucine, while the second and third numbers (1) are for isoleucine and valine, respectively.
The amount of leucine is what changes in BCAA ratios. Most brands use 1 part of valine and 1 part of isoleucine as a standard. You may find exceptions, where the ratio contains 2 parts valine instead of 1 part.
Now, as it’s a ratio, the numbers represent the parts of amino acids present. So, in the total dose, 2 part is leucine, while isoleucine and valine are present by 1 part each.
Or, in other words, if the total is 100%, then a 2:1:1 ratio would mean–
- 50% leucine
- 25% isoleucine
- 25% valine
We hope we are on the same page on what a ratio is and what BCAA ratio means. Next, we will find out the ratio that delivers the best results.
Why BCAA Ratio Matters
Good question! You see, out of the three branched-chain amino acids, leucine has a bigger role in muscle building.
It’s the one responsible for activating the mTOR pathway and synthesizing protein. For this reason, some people think taking more leucine will result in more muscles. Brands also cash in on the logic and increase the amount of leucine up to 10:1:1 or even 12:1:1.
Unfortunately, increasing the intake of leucine doesn’t result in bigger muscles.
Leucine is no doubt the ultimate amino acid to build muscles. But it can’t win the match alone. Leucine needs its team members’ valine and isoleucine to add muscle mass successfully.
What Research Says
Research also shows the same. We need all 3 branched-amino acids to build muscles.
In a study by Baylor University, scientists found participants taking BCAAs in 2:1:1 ratio to build more muscles compared to-
- Participants taking leucine alone
- The placebo group
Moreover, experts point out another thing. Our bodies can use only a certain amount of leucine to synthesize protein. Having more leucine will just waste the amino acids without adding to any muscle fiber.
It’s clear we need all three amino acids for optimum protein synthesis. Now all that remains is to zero in on the best ratio.
What’s the Best BCAA Ratio
All nutritionists, coaches, and athletes prefer the 2:1:1 ratio, the same one we used in our explanation.
According to experts, this ratio ensures we get enough leucine without compromising on valine or isoleucine. The 2:1:1 ratio is best to enjoy the maximum gains from your supplement.
The ratio ensures-
- You build muscles like a pro
- Reduce fatigue and muscle soreness
- Burn more fat
Our muscles also store BCAAs in the 2:1:1 ratio. So, following the ratio for your supplement helps you tune yourself to how your body works.
You can safely have 20 – 25-grams BCAAs per dose. Going by a 2:1:1 ratio, that would mean 10-grams leucine and 5-grams each of isoleucine and valine.
We have included the take of various experts to explain the best BCAA ratio. You can strengthen your knowledge by reading the blog below.
Side Effects and Drawbacks
Are BCAAs safe?
Too much of anything is not good for your health. BCAAs are proven to work and have confirmed, positive impacts on muscle-building.
However, taking BCAAs in huge amounts can have detrimental effects. You may feel-
- Loss of coordination
- Insulin resistance
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
Additionally, as BCAAs are parts of protein, high doses can have negative impacts in the long-term. Taking too much BCAAs may negatively affect mood and lifespan.
20 – 25-grams of BCAAs are more than enough to build muscles. You absolutely don’t need more than that!
The above dose has turned out to be safe in research and recommended by experts.
Best BCAA Supplements in India
Build muscles, improve recovery, reduce fatigue
You will find no shortage of BCAA supplements in India. Both Indian and international brands sell a range of BCAA supplements at all prices.
How do you find the best one?
Selecting the right BCAA supplement requires time and effort. You need to consider several factors like-
- Amount of BCAAs per dose
- BCAA ratio used
- Additional ingredients (safety and efficiency)
- Manufacturer experience
- Customer feedback
Honestly, the task of choosing the right BCAA is not so easy as it seems. You could end up spending days just to find a credible supplement that provides desired results.
Can you really afford to invest so many hours of your time?
Thankfully, we have already done the hard work for you. We have evaluated the top BCAA supplements in the Indian market based on countless metrics, including the ones listed above.
After spending endless hours, we were able to narrow our list of best BCAA in India to 5 supplements. We have created reviews for each one so that you don’t have to go anywhere else.
Just visit the link below and check out our hand-picked selection. We have included products only after thoroughly making sure they work. You can just order your favorite one from the list and look forward to a stunning physique like on magazine covers.
Just click below!
Q. Do I take BCAA before or after a workout?
Answer: The best time to take BCAA supplements is before you hit the gym. Our bodies rapidly absorb BCAAs and send them to our muscles. As a result, you create an anabolic environment apt for building muscles.
Research shows taking BCAAs before workouts to lead to more muscles, increased energy, and improved recovery. You can have all these results by taking your BCAA 20 – 30-munites before exercising.
On the contrary, having your supplement after workouts may promote recovery and reduce fatigue. However, you will not be able to maximize protein synthesis.
Always take your BCAA before working out for the best results.
Q. Do BCAAs increase muscle size?
Answer: It’s beyond doubt BCAAs add muscle mass and make your muscles grow. One study found BCAAs to increase muscle synthesis by 22%. In another journal, scientists found participants using BCCAAs to gain 2 kg muscle compared to the placebo group.
BCAA supplement is a top choice for increasing muscle size. The growth in muscle fibers causes an increase in muscle size that everybody can see.
However, muscles don’t come by just drinking your BCAA supplement. You will need to follow a suitable training program focusing on body parts where you want to add muscles.
Along with that, you should also follow a proper and nutritious diet.
Q. Can we take whey protein with BCAA?
Answer: You don’t need to combine whey with BCAA.
However, if you are taking only whey protein, then you might consider adding BCAAs for the following reasons-
- A single dose of whey may not contain enough BCAAs, especially leucine
- Whey takes more time to digest than BCAAs
- BCAAs reach our muscled directly bypassing the liver
Generally, you will need to take 30-grams whey if you want enough leucine for muscle-building. So, adding BCAAs may be a good option if you are taking lower doses.
Additionally, BCAA added to whey may improve recovery.
Q. Is BCAA safe?
Answer: BCAA is safe and free of adverse effects if you stick to the recommended dosage. You can consume 144mg BCAAs per kilo of your body weight.
A healthy person will be okay with 20 -25-grams of BCAA per dose. There is no concern for liver or kidney damage if you stay within limits.
However, very high doses can have adverse effects like nausea and headache. Continuing a heavy dose for a long time can also affect your lifespan.
So, always follow the safe dose of 20 – 25-grams of BCAA per dose.
Q. Is BCAA essential during weight loss or not?
Answer: The only thing essential for weight loss is to burn more calories than you eat. No supplement is essential for losing weight, including BCAAs.
That being said, protein does have a beneficial effect on weight loss. Research provides some evidence linking BCAA and fat-burning. But nothing can be said conclusively as yet, as we need more research.
BCAAs can serve an important purpose during weight loss. They can help you protect your muscles and prevent muscle loss due to weight loss. We have enough scientific proof to claim this benefit confidently.
Q. Should you take BCAA every day?
Answer: BCAA is more beneficial in the long-term. That means you will be able to enjoy the best results by taking BCAA supplements every day for a long period.
Thankfully, BCAA is safe and doesn’t cause any problems if you follow the recommended dose. So yes, you should take BCAAs every day if you want big muscles and less fatigue.
Have your BCAA supplement before working out for the best results.
Q. Does BCAA affect kidneys?
Answer: Some people wonder if BCAAs damage the kidneys as they are part of proteins. However, no studies have ever found BCAAs to cause kidney damage. In fact, BCAAs are experimented on renal failure patients as nutritional interventions.
That shows without any doubt how BCAAs are safe for your kidneys. Also, most of the BCAAs are stored and used up by the skeletal muscles. So, they don’t exert any load on our kidneys.
However, people with kidney diseases should consult a physician before taking BCAAs.
Q. Do BCAAs have a caloric value?
Answer: May sources on the internet claim BCAAs to have zero calories. The claim is not true, even if you see 0 kcal mentioned on your supplement label.
The truth is, manufacturers can only mention calories for protein. However, BCAAs are free-form amino acids, which are not directly a protein. So brands can get away by advertising BCAAs as a zero-calorie supplement. This is a loophole of law, and we can’t do anything.
BCAAs contain around 4 calories per gram. So, taking 20-grams BCAAs will mean consuming (4 x 20) or 80 calories.
You don’t need to worry about the calories, as most of it will turn out to be lean muscle mass. Be sure to exercise regularly and follow a proper diet to get optimum results.
Q. Should I mix creatine with BCAA?
Answer: Stacking BCAA with creatine can be a good way to maximize your gains. You already know BCAA fuels protein synthesis, reduces fatigue, and facilitates recovery. Creatine has similar benefits like adding muscle mass, boosting energy, and improving performance.
You can combine both supplements to get the best of both worlds. The combo is safe and works well to develop muscle mass and strength.
BCAA is just like protein and gels well with creatine, just like whey protein. However, BCAAs have fewer calories than whey and can be ideal for cutting too.
Q. Can you take BCAA without working out?
Answer: Taking BCAAs without working out is not going to harm you. Of course, everything is bad in excess, so you have to stick with the recommended dosage.
Diet is the best way to get your BCAAs, especially if you don’t work out. Having sufficient protein (30-grams per meal) is more than enough to build muscles and fuel our bodily functions.
If you don’t eat quality protein as a part of your diet, you can consider taking BCAAs. However, excess intake of protein or BCAAs may lead to weight gain in the form of body fat. BCAAs do contain calories, so your body will store the extra protein as fat.
It’s always better to exercise if you take protein or BCAA supplement. If not anything, you will be more healthy and fit.
Q. Is it okay to take BCAA on an empty stomach?
Answer: You can drink BCAA on an empty stomach without any problem. BCAAs directly reach our muscles and are metabolized there, not in the liver. Hence, whether you are on an empty stomach or not isn’t going to impact the absorption of BCAAs.
On another note, you may want to skip exercising on an empty stomach. Research shows that our bodies break down muscles when you work out with no food in your belly.
Experts recommend a balanced meal of carbs, protein, and fat a few hours before you exercise. This provides the energy to work out and prevents the breakdown of muscles.
Q. How long does BCAA take to kick in?
Answer: You are not going to feel a kick from taking BCAAs as you feel in the case of pre-workout and creatine. So, we have to depend on science to find out the answer.
The BCAAs from your supplement take around 30-minutes to reach peak levels after you drink it. That means you should at least drink your supplement half an hour before exercising.
The BCAAs in proteins like whey take a little more time to reach the peak levels as they are not in free form.