Should you be taking BCAAs?
What are BCAAs?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and there are 20 total amino acids that are found in the human genetic code. Of these 20 amino acids, 11 are considered non-essential. Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need these amino acids. It simply means that your body can create these amino acids on its own. The other nine amino acids are considered essential. These nine you HAVE to get from your diet as your body cannot make them.
Ok… so what the heck are BCAAs?! BCAA stands for Branched Chained Amino Acid. You know you’ve heard of and seen BCAAs everywhere (hello Instagram fitness freaks!). BCAAs refers to three essential amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. They get their name from their structure- they’re the only three amino acids to possess a branched side chain. Every BCAA can be used as energy during a workout staving off muscle catabolism. For example, leucine and isoleucine are ketogenic as their breakdown actually produces ketones to be used for energy! Yes, BCAAs are very special indeed.
Why are they important?
BCAAs account for around 33% of total amino acids in the body… I think they got the name right when they labeled these “essential” 😉 So why exactly does it seem like every fitness fanatic considers BCAAs a “magic” supplement? Because, BCAAs help to reduce muscle soreness (yes, really!). This is the number one reason people use BCAAs- increased recovery time means you can get back to the gym sooner and crush another work out. If you sip on BCAAs both during and after working out you’re helping to inhibit the breakdown of your muscles and the protein in your muscles (the major cause of soreness).Leucine is really key to building and maintaining muscle- when the body detects a certain amount of leucine it actually triggers muscle protein synthesis! Better recovery means no missed training sessions. You know, like when you’re SO sore from leg day yesterday that you can barely walk so you skip training today in hopes you’ll recover sooner? Less of that. Sounds freaking great, amirite?!
Besides reduced recovery time, BCAAs are essential for maintaining lean body mass in times of high stress or caloric deficit. When you’re not supplying your body with enough nutrients to support your energy needs, for either metabolic functions or muscle stimulation and growth, your body will eventually begin eating its own muscles. It does this to convert protein into energy that can be used to support energy demands. What’s the point in hitting the gym if you’re body can’t recover from all the stress you’ve placed on it? Just sipping BCAAs between meals and both during and after working out can help to maintain lean body mass and discourage muscle atrophy. That’s because although you might not be eating a ton of food, you’re supplying your body and muscles with the amino acids it needs to recover properly.
Which foods contain high amounts of BCAAs?
You can get a vast majority of your essential BCAAs from food- and I always recommend a food first approach to any type of diet. Our bodies are made to live, no- thrive off of food, so we should respect our ingenious mechanics and let our body do its job (It’s kind of a master at metabolism).
Here’s a list of the foods with the highest concentrations of BCAAs (Don’t worry- there’s food for omnivores and vegans alike!):
•Lean Red Meats
•Eggs (Both whole and only egg whites)
•Tuna (canned is great)
•Beans (Highest amount of plant-based protein, the best plant-based food source of BCAAs)
•Whey Protein Powder
•Organic Whole Wheat Products (Bread, pasta, etc.)
•Nuts (Almonds, Cashews)
•Vegan Protein Powder (With pea and brown rice as protein base)
Balancing Food and Supplements:
It can be really challenging to get the recommended amount of protein, and in turn BCAAs through diet alone. Whether it’s because you have a certain macronutrient range you need to hit and a calorie limit you can’t exceed, or simply because it may require you to eat a ton of food, it can be tough. That’s where supplements come in! Now, you shouldn’t just rush out and grab any old BCAA or protein powder- make sure you’re selecting products that are made with real nutrition in mind. What I mean by this is that you want to find a company that makes products with ingredients that are as close to what you could find in nature. This makes sense, no? Think about it- if our bodies are designed to thrive off of natural, unprocessed foods then any type of dietary supplement you use ought to use a combination of ingredients that are close to the real thing you would normally eat.
So, let’s say you’re a vegan and need to increase both your protein and BCAA intake. First off, you know ingredient quality matters. So, a great protein powder supplement could be MRM Veggie Elite. It’s high in both protein (24g per serving) and leucine! The macros are great, and the ingredients used are even better. Made from brown rice and yellow peas you can see that these would be natural foods you would normally eat, they’ve just been dried and minimally processed so you can easily shake them up in some water and drink them. It’s the same story for BCAAs- and MRM makes a great supplement called “Reload”. It’s completely vegan with leucine from a fermented source (Bonus- fermented products are great for the gut!)
•You need BCAAs. They’re essential.
•Find them in whole foods first.
•Supplement your diet with BCAAs second.
•Search for a company or brand that makes products you can trust- like MRM.
•Enjoy living your healthy life 🙂