Branched Chain Amino Acids



By Cara Ayala, RD, CPT, CHC

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs are branched chain amino acids and they are comprised of the three amino acids: valine, leucine and isoleucine. These three amino acids are part of the essential amino acid family, meaning you must get them through your diet. Animal protein is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids. Conversely, not all plant sources are complete proteins - quinoa and soy are the two plant sources that are complete proteins.


What does research say about BCAAs?

In the bodybuilding/fitness world, these amino acids are praised for their muscle-building effects. But do BCAAs really produce the benefits supplement companies claim they do, or is the cost of these supplements just burning a hole through your wallet?

If you’re an average gym-goer who is looking to tone up and get fit, then BCAA supplements may be a waste of money. It’s likely that, in this circumstance, you’re receiving enough protein from your diet to help you achieve your muscle-growing goals.

For bodybuilders, BCAA supplementation may promote muscle protein synthesis and decrease muscle degradation. This is likely due to the lower calorie intake necessary to maintain lean body mass while still promoting muscle growth. Although, muscle growth requires all of the nine essential amino acids; thus, it is essential to consume adequate complete protein sources, alongside BCAA supplementation.                    


BCAA food sources

Quality animal protein sources (meat, eggs and dairy) and some plant-based sources (quinoa and soy) will have all of the nine essential amino acids that you’ll need to build muscle. For individuals that enjoy protein shakes as an easy way to get protein in after a workout, whey protein is the best source for muscle recovery. Research has shown that whey protein alone stimulates a greater increase in muscle protein synthesis than BCAA supplementation. Unless you’re not consuming enough protein from your diet, which is unlikely, BCAA supplements are nothing but expensive additions to your monthly bills. Use food for muscle growth - it’s cheaper, tastier and healthier!


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