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When you start looking at health supplements, you get bombarded with many funky words.
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Creatine! GABA! Nitric oxide! BCAAs!
You almost need a chemistry degree to be a fitness enthusiast!
Not quite, though. I’m here for you.
A few of those I’ve talked about before. Today, let’s look at BCAAs.
Should you take BCAAs? If so, how much, how often, and when?
What Are BCAAs?
BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acids. There are three of them:
Roughly a third of your muscle mass are these three amino acids. They are also essential amino acids, which means that your body cannot synthesize them.
You need to consume them!
What Do They Do?
Other than physically making up muscle mass, BCAAs do lots of good things for your body.
They encourage protein synthesis, so they trigger your body to use them and other protein to make more muscle.
They decrease protein breakdown, and not merely by supplying protein. BCAAs slow down the physiological process itself!
They decrease fatigue during workouts by outcompeting tryptophan. That keeps serotonin from signaling your brain that you’re tired.
They also increase insulin sensitivity (when mixed with weight training!) and help maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. These both help with recovery.
Okay, these are good, but don’t you get them from food or protein powder?
Sure. But they have to be broken down and digested.
BCAAs, when taken in a pure form, get into your bloodstream without much delay. This lets them hit your body with their benefits right away!
How Many Grams of BCAA Should You Take a Day?
So, it’s actually possible to take too many BCAAs.
In fact, over-supplementing can cause insulin resistance!
This means you only want to take a certain amount each day.
For men, the maximum recommended amount is 20 grams.
Women should take up to half as much, 10 grams.
I’d recommend starting with 5 grams per workout day and see how that makes you feel.
In both cases, if you’re a heavy gym rat, you can safely take more, since your body is using more.
If you a pregnant or breastfeeding, or are about to undergo surgery, do not supplement with BCAAs.
There isn’t enough evidence showing that BCAA supplements are safe for women growing babies.
Also, the changes to blood glucose levels can be dangerous before and after surgery.
Plus, too many BCAAs floating around in your blood is linked with insulin resistance instead of insulin sensitivity! As a marker, not a contributor, but still.
When Should You Take BCAAs?
BCAA supplements are typically dosed out 3 to 5 grams at a time, give or take a few grams.
When should you take those amino acids?
The most obvious time is before a workout. Take a dose half an hour before you start your exercise for optimal timing.
Don’t forget to take your second BCAA dose after a workout, within half an hour. This will get your body to build up those muscles as quickly as possible!
Heck, if your workout routine is taking a long time, why not take some BCAAs in the middle of it?
Though you wouldn’t need to do this with one of the HIIT workouts I’ve put together.
Should you take BCAAs before cardio? I do. You get the same benefits whether you’re lifting a bar or hitting pavement.
What about BCAAs before bed?
Remember the whole tryptophan and serotonin thing?
Yeah, you want to feel tired in order to fall asleep. A supplement that removes fatigue is the wrong choice when night rolls around.
However, if you don’t have trouble falling asleep even when taking a dose of BCAAs, they can help fight off any protein breakdown that may happen while you’re fasting.
How about BCAAs in the morning?
That’s perfectly fine. Break that fast and keep your muscles large!
What Supplements Can You Mix with BCAAs?
Mixing some supplements together can be problematic.
For example, you don’t want to take a pre-workout with a caffeine pill. You’ll get a double dose of caffeine.
That’s no good for your heart rate!
However, BCAAs supplements are a few grams of essential amino acids.
They’re basically like eating a select portion of protein. The only contraindications are surgery, pregnancy, chronic alcoholism, and branched-chain ketoaciduria.
This means you can mix it with your other supplements and you’ll be fine.
Creatine and BCAA together help your muscles in different ways. Go for it.
Mixing BCAAs with pre-workout supplements? Some already contain BCAAs! Don’t overdose and you’ll be fine.
If you’re looking for a good pre-workout supplement, check out Bucked Up. I reviewed it here.
You can mix BCAAs with protein powder as well.
Whey protein contains plenty of BCAAs already. However, even fast-digesting whey protein still digests more slowly than a BCAA powder.
So, mixing the two extends the amount of time you’re benefiting from the wonderfulness of BCAAs.
Should You Take BCAAs on “Off” Days?
Training every day, unless you’re an elite athlete, can lead to overtraining.
So, most of us are going to have off days, where we don’t exercise. Rest is good for your body, too!
However, should you take BCAA supplements on your rest days?
Most of the time, you don’t need the extra amino acids on those days.
Eat the proper foods and you will get enough naturally.
However, if you are cutting, I would say to go ahead and take BCAAs on your off day.
That’s because losing weight involves losing fat and muscle.
Well, we don’t want to lose muscle mass and BCAAs protect against protein breakdown.
You still don’t need as much as during a workout day, though.
Which are Better, Pills or Powder?
Which one do I prefer?
Whichever one I can buy for less money.
It’s all the same stuff. Pills are just the powder stuffed into a capsule.
Most of the time, the powder will be cheaper because the company doesn’t have to go through the trouble of turning it into a pill.
Sometimes you can find the pills for cheaper, though.
Plus, it’s easier to carry around a daily dose of pills, even if you have to take multiple pills to take multiple grams.
However, neither BCAA pill nor BCAA powder is inherently better than the other choice.
Unless everything you consume has to be flavored. There aren’t any fruit punch flavored BCAA pills!