Supplementation – BCAAs

It’s time to take a look at another product that has firmly established itself in the market for supplements – branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). With all the available supplements out there, it gets very expensive to keep up with all of them – so you need to know which ones are essential!

BCAAs are essential to us, but why? Well simply put, they’re essential because our bodies don’t produce them. As a result we need to get these nutrients from other sources, generally food. But if people aren’t able to get them from their nutrition, that’s when they look to supplements.

It’s important to stress the point that if you’re able to acquire any nutrient from food, you should look to do that before considering using supplements. The name itself tells us that these products should be used to supplement our nutrition – not replace it.

 BCAAs specifically contain leucine, valine and isoleucine (3 essential amino acids). But it’s not like we can’t get these from our food. In fact, a well balanced nutritional plan will provide us with enough of these BCAAs, providing there’s enough protein. So if you have plenty of meat, dairy and legumes, you’re more than likely to get the required amount of these amino acids.

The supposed uses of BCAAs are tremendously varied, with some people using them to train brain and liver disease, and others that are perfectly healthy choosing to supplement them to improve concentration and prevent fatigue.

But the common use of BCAAs is in relation to athletic performance – specifically focusing on reducing the amount of muscular breakdown.

Fatigue can be attributed to our body’s levels of serotonin – which is increased during/following exercise. You’ve probably guessed by now that BCAAs reduce serotonin levels and can therefore counter the effects of fatigue.

The other main benefit of taking BCAAs concerns the breakdown of muscles. Unlike most amino acids which are metabolised in the liver, BCAAs are metabolised in the skeletal muscles.

So when it comes to strenuous physical exercise, the presence of BCAAs is essential – whether provided through food or supplementation. Due to the fact that BCAAs are metabolised in the skeletal muscles they have been attributed to these benefits:

  • Decreasing soreness in the muscles (ACM & DOMS)
  • Repairing muscular damage
  • Increasing muscular function

Because of these benefits it’s often debated about when to take BCAAs (pre or post-workout?). One point of view suggests that if you can increase function it’s best to be taken prior to a workout. On the other hand if it’s repairing damage to the muscles, surely you should take it after a workout – when damage is at its peak.

So what’s the answer then? Well in a way I’ve given it to you already. Whatever supplement you are considering using, first consider whether or not you can access those nutrients through the food you eat. If the answer is yes, don’t waste money on supplements.

But this is your body we are talking about. If you know you can’t get enough amino acids from your nutrition, then yes supplementation is ideal.

So if you decide to try BCAAs, or even if you already take them – if you know that they are making a difference then there’s no need to stop!

Anything that helps your progress is a good thing – and if it isn’t breaking the bank balance that’s even better!


Ollie Lawrence
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