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BCAA’s Are They Any Good And do they Actually work?

Shaker and serving scoop with BCAA's Branch Chain Amino Acids

BCAA’s Are They Any Good?

So BCAA’s are they any good? And do they actually work? Unless you have been hiding under a rock or are completely new to working out you will have undoubtedly been at the receiving end of a supplement company advert offering “The best BCAA powder”.

I remember when I first heard about BCAA supplements and to be honest I thought it was an un-needed expense to add to my current supplement stack.

After all if your consuming enough protein each day anyway then why would you need them?

But it wasn’t until I really started to do my research on the BCAA benefits that I decided to purchase some to trail out. Although I wouldn’t say they have made a monumental amount of difference towards muscle growth whilst in a bulking phase, I personally have felt a significant benefit when cutting/dieting. The partnership of BCAAs and lean muscle does seem to work hand in hand.

What Are BCAA’s?

If you are training to pursue a stronger, bigger and leaner physique (I imagine you are) then it is vital that your muscle cells are fuelled and stimulated at a cellular level.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are nine essential amino acids in total but the 3 most important when it comes to muscle are leucine, isoleucine and valine.

Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) consist of leucine, isoleucine and valine and constitute 1/3 of your muscle protein. There purpose is to reduce muscle fatigue and recovery time, help mitigate the loss of other amino acids from the muscle during exercise and help the body absorb and synthesise protein. BCAAs differ from the other amino acids as they are directly metabolised in the muscle as apposed to the liver.

When training amino acids are rapidly depleted from the muscle therefore taking a dosage of BCAA during a workout or directly before, has been shown to increase performance and reduce fatigue. Consuming BCAA’s immediately after a workout can also lower the catabolic hormone cortisol which by doing this aids in restoring nutrients to the muscle and puts a stop to unwanted muscle breakdown.

Can BCAA’s Benefit Me?

There has been a lot of research into the benefits of BCAAs and whether or not they work (actually help to build muscle). Although they have been shown to effectively stimulate protein synthesis this does not directly mean they promote lean muscle growth.

Despite their muscle-building capabilities being up for debate it’s the use of BCAA’s when dieting or “cutting” that studies prove show the most significant benefits.

When you are dieting for fat loss the risk of losing muscle mass is increased. This is because by the very nature of being in a calorie deficit, you are causing your body to function in a catabolic state (muscle tissue breakdown). The leaner and more body fat you lose, the harder it is too maintain muscle mass.

As fat stores become further and further reduced the body begins to look for new sources of energy. Therefore the body will start resorting to using muscle to satisfy its need for energy. Therefore unless your ideal physique is that of a long distance runner, keeping the most amount of lean muscle as physically possible is of upmost importance when reaching low levels of body fat.

To counteract catabolism (muscle loss) and keep hold of your hard earned muscle its fundamental that when training your protein syntheses (recovery) is equal or greater then your rate of protein breakdown. When this doesn’t happen is when you begin to lose muscle.

One way to to reduce the likelihood of muscle loss is is to consume BCAA’s. Branch chain amino acids are a fantastic anti-catabolic (they help prevent protein breakdown and muscle loss). A recent study in the nutritional journal of medicine proved these claims and found that muscle breakdown or catabolism was reduced in endurance athletes when there diet was supplemented with BCAA’s. This is why they are such a popular supplement among bodybuilders and physique athletes who are dieting down and preparing for competition.

So you could fairly confidently that in a calorie deficit, muscle maintenance scenario, yes BCAAs do actually work!

Case Study

A study conducted by the journal of Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise found that supplementing with BCAA’s can contribute to an anabolic (muscle building) environment in the body. There is evidence that supports a dose-dependent response to BCAAs, meaning the higher the BCAA dosage the better the results. It has also been suggested that for optimal results BCAA’s are best taken before, during, and after workouts.

Further findings also showed other BCAA benefits. These included limiting the amount of muscle loss and fat gain when taking time out injured!

A study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that giving BCAAs to rats with their hind limbs immobilised helped preserve protein synthesis to regulate muscle growth. In short, BCAAs sacrifice themselves as fuel in order to preserve muscle in the body, whether you are training or not, a high BCAA dosage in your body can do nothing but help your overall body composition.

Are There Any Side effects?

It is important to remember that BCAAs naturally occur in a variety of foods such as meat, fish and eggs. Therefore BCAAs can be classed as a natural supplement, meaning the risk of potential side effects is commonly reduced.

To date there have been no documented side effects as the result of BCAA supplementation. Much like Creatine they are a heavily researched and tested supplement. But if you have any concerns its advised you speak to your doctor or a health care professional before using.

Any Further BCAA Benefits Besides Muscle Gain And Fat Loss?

While preventing catabolism (muscle breakdown) and aiding protein synthesis are the primary BCAA benefits, there are further positive features to this supplement. For example BCAA’s help reverse the effects of glutamine loss and help your immune system recover quicker when taken ill.

Furthermore studies have also shown that the supplement can trigger visceral body fat reduction. This visceral fat tends to be the most diet resistant and stubborn fat to lose. One study which, backs up these claims of increased fat loss, was conducted on 25 competitive wrestlers. The wrestlers were divided into three individual groups these were, a diet high in BCAA’s, a diet low in BCAA’s and a control diet. The test was conducted over a period of 19 days of which the results concluded that the group of wrestlers in the high BCAA dosage diet lost the most body fat, which was on average 17.3%.

When To Take BCAA’s?

BCAAs are best consumed closely before and after your workouts aim for around a 5 gram BCAA dosage pre and post workout. As a further measure you could also consider taking a serving first thing in the morning to help replenish your body after 8-10 hours of fasting while you’re asleep.

(Disclaimer some supplements may recommend different BCAA dosages. Therefore be sure to follow manufacturer guidelines and check with a medical professional if you have any concerns)

How Much Are They?

The cost of BCAAs vary massively so be careful not to get stung on price when you don’t need too. In the past I have seen some companies charge 40% more than there competitors for an almost an identical product.

As always I only recommend products, which I personally have used in the past and personally feel would benefit the readers of Train Natural.

Over the years I have been training I have tried a number of branch chain amino supplements both BCAA powder and BCAA tablet forms.

Right off the back I will say when it comes to value for money, BCAA powder tends to deliver the best bang for your buck. Along with the saving in price, flavoured BCAA powder is also easier for your body to digest than a tablet.

BCAA Powder Average Price = £15 per 250g

BCAA Tablets Average Price = £23 per 270 tablets

Average Price Per 3g Serving

BCAA Powder

BCAA Tablets

£0.18

£0.25

Which Ones To Buy?

The best BCAA powder?

Depending on what your after you can usually buy BCAA powder on its own or as part of an amino acid powder. A typical amino acid powder will commonly contain other ingredients and amino acids such as L-Taurine, L-Citrulline, L-Glutamine and L-Arginine etc.. These extra ingredients can be beneficial and I will be posting articles on the uses for some of these other amino acids in the near future. But since this article concentrates on BCAAs alone I will stick to the topic in hand.

The BCAA powder I have been using for the last year is from MyProtien. It is standard BCAA powder with a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine, Isoleucine and valine. I’ve managed to secure a 15% off saving for new customers through the link below if you wish to grab some yourself.

myprotien BCAA branch chain amino acid supplement review

For 15% off for new MyProtien customers Click Here and use code NEW15 at the checkout

Final Verdict

As stated in previous supplement reviews whilst any supplement may offer benefits in terms of increased performance, muscle gain or fat loss. Supplements will only work to there full potential if combined with a good diet.

So to summarise branch chain amino acids are a fairly inexpensive, widely regarded safe supplement, which have a number of studies backing up claims of reducing muscle breakdown (catabolism) when dieting, promoting anabolism in the body and aiding protein synthesis.

And from my experience supplementing with BCAAs over the last couple of years, whilst the benefits in terms of physical muscle growth directly responsible from BCAA’s is difficult to measure. I personally have noticed a sizeable difference in the amount of lean muscle you are able to maintain whilst dieting and the improvement in overall energy when in a calorie deficit.

So to answer the question

“Are BCAAs Any Good And Do They Actually Work?

Yes!

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