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BCAA Powder Benefits: Why and How to Best Take BCAAs

by Trevor Hiltbrand | Reviwed by Advisory Board

BCAA Powder Benefits: Why and How to Best Take BCAAs

Yes, amino acids are the literal building blocks of your muscles. Without them, you’d be nothing but a rubber-band muscled stick-man.

So does that mean consuming more amino acids will build more muscle and burn fat by the laws of ‘science’?

No, it doesn’t.

While eating more calories reliably leads to gaining more weight; the way that your body manages muscle growth is more so linked to physical activity and hormone balance [1], than: ‘enough BCAAs, ok let’s grow’.

But that doesn’t mean amino acids, particularly BCAA powders don’t have supplemental value [2].

Several clinical studies exist touting the benefits of BCAA powders.

Likewise, many counter-studies also exist supposedly ‘debunking’ the BCAA ‘myth’.

You know what tends to be the difference between pro and con studies? Dosage, timing, and consistency of BCAA supplementation.


How to take BCAA Powders for maximum effect

#1 there is an optimum nutritional time to take BCAAs

While BCAAs can offer a wide range of benefits, the time at which you should take them is much more specific.

BCAAs taken before exercise improve performance

Branch chain amino acid supplements can be used as fuel to improve performance when taken before exercise [3]. This effect is in addition to their anabolism, and metabolism appears to occur directly in the muscle.

These effects have been observed with prolonged athlete performance on the field, as well as a noticeable reduction in DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) later [4].

For runners, pairing BCAAs with caffeine and carbohydrates many increase 2 hour endurance performance by 2% compared to placebo [5].

BCAAs taken before exercise improve muscle recovery

The most popular reason athletes take BCAAs is to improve recovery and reduce the onset of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

Turns out, taking your BCAA supplement before exercise is more effective at reducing DOMS [6] and improving muscle protein synthesis [7], than taking post workout.

What does that look like?

Female participants who took a BCAA supplement before performing squats showed less symptoms of muscle fatigue after training, and were 80% stronger 3 days into training than the placebo group not receiving BCAAs [8].

Clearly, timing your BCAA matters.

Taking branch chain amino acids before workout increases performance, muscle growth, and reduces DOMS.

Interesting study – Cambridge researchers found that taking BCAAs post workout delayed gastric emptying in athletes [9]. This result corresponded with their findings of pre workout being the most effective BCAA/EAA supplementation window, while, protein performs better post workout.

Bottom Line: The best time to take your BCAA powder is before exercise (as/or alongside) your pre workout supplement. Taking BCAAs post workout or throughout the day will not boost performance or recovery to the same effect.

 #2 there is an optimal dosage of BCAAs

The amount of BCAAs you take matters just as much as the timing for both increasing performance and reducing prolonged muscle damage.

This dose-dependent quality is most notable for those increasing muscle recovery and reducing DOMS [10].

The typical ‘effective dose’ in the studies compiled in this article promote 7+ grams of BCAAs taken before workout.

Whereas for benefiting performance alone, smaller dosages may be effective though recovery benefits are sacrificed. [11].

A practical application:

This is why the highest rated pre workouts include BCAAs in their formulas, like our PreSeries Pre Workouts. While its expensive to do, the performance benefits are clearly worthwhile.

Bottom Line: To increase performance alone, approximately 4 grams will suffice before workout. However to improve both performance and recovery a dosage of at least 7 grams is needed.

#3 The Effects of BCAA supplementation require consistency

It goes without saying that gains aren’t free. To consistently improve performance, you’re going to need to consistently push yourself.

Turns out, even while taking BCAAs your supplemental and exercise consistency matter.

3 Interesting Study Perspectives on BCAAs:

  • Study A: Non-resistance trained males (rookies) training 4 times a week with 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions did not increase strength or other physiological markers while taking 9 grams of BCAAs per training day for 8 weeks [12]. Protocol unsuccessful.
  • Study B: Athletic participants trained 3 times performing 1RM squats and then taking 6 grams of BCAAs after [13]. There were no noticeable differences between BCAA and placebo groups. Protocol unsuccessful.
  • However, Study C: A large-scale review of clinical literature compared BCAA supplementation across 11 of the most relevant studies that met basic standards for supplementation protocol and study design. This literature review concluded that BCAA supplementation elicited greater performance and recovery effects when paired with before workout consumption, daily consumption, and supplementing for at least 10 days [14]. Successful Protocol.

Our interpretation:

  • In study A, participants were not taking BCAAs daily, nor were they training at volume.
  • In study B, participants were not taking enough BCAAs, and not for a long enough duration. They literally only supplemented 3 times.
  • However study C’s review of previous literature points out the consistency with dosage, timing, and duration for BCAA supplementation required to take desired effect.
Bottom Line: The benefits of BCAA supplementation are most pronounced in individuals supplementing every day, before exercise on lifting days, and for over 10 days consistently. This creates the anabolic and substrate rich environment required.

Who should take BCAA powders?

Taking BCAA powders correctly can increase performance while also boosting muscle recovery, protein synthesis, and reducing DOMS.

This is applicable to virtually everyone who exercises, and wishes to increase the rate of progress through supplementation.

  • Athletes
  • Bodybuilders
  • Runners
  • Cross-fitters

Though interestingly, dieters may benefit the greatest:

During a hypocaloric diet, muscle loss alongside fat loss is hard to avoid. However in trained athletes, supplementing with BCAAs while on a calorie restricted diet for 8 weeks allowed for weight loss without muscle wasting or performance deterioration [15].

The same preservation of muscle can be seen while taking whey protein on a weight loss diet, however the performance maintenance is unique.

Bottom Line: All athletes can benefit from BCAA powders when taken properly, if they want to. Increased performance and muscle recovery are the most popular reasons for supplementation.

How do you know if your BCAA powder is any good?

The overall safety of BCAA powders is high, with supplementation considered a therapeutic recommendation for those with liver damage [16, 17, 18].

However quality does vary between supplement companies.

What to look for in your BCAA Powder:

#1 Plant Based Fermented BCAAs

In all Transparent Labs products containing BCAAs, we choose to use vegan friendly fermented plant based BCAAs.

They are considerably more expensive, but a no-brainer in our opinion.

The alternatives to plant-based BCAAs:

  • BCAAs isolated from bird feathers and animal byproducts [19].
  • BCAAs isolated from human hair [20].

No thanks.

We would never use questionable or even cut-rate ingredients in our supplements.

And you can taste the difference. Products containing lesser-sourced BCAAs have no choice but to ‘mask’ the taste by using powerful artificial flavors and sweeteners.

#2 Proper Dosage and in the 2:1:1 ratio

The 2:1:1 ratio refers to 50% leucine, 25% isoleucine and 25% valine. This is considered the ‘gold standard’ ratio and is correlated to the most success in clinical studies.

Ideally, you will want a BCAA supplement that delivers at least 7 grams of BCAAs in the 2:1:1 ratio.

#3 All-natural, without synthetic flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives

In their natural state, BCAAs are sour, but they don’t taste THAT bad. So, why is it necessary to drown them out in artificial flavors and sweeteners that may be linked to cancer, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome?

Great tasting BCAAs that are naturally flavored and sweetened exist, find them.

Bottom Line: Make sure that your BCAA powder is plant-based, delivers at least 7 grams of 2:1:1 BCAAs, and is naturally flavored and sweetened.

Our Recommendation: BCAA + Glutamine

View BCAA + Glutamine

Our own BCAA + Glutamine is expert formulated to meet the highest demands of performance athletes.

Formulated with:

  • 8 Grams Vegan Friendly 2:1:1 BCAAs
  • 5 Grams L-glutamine
  • 1 Gram Coconut water extract
  • Naturally flavored and sweetened

BCAA powders simply don’t get any better than this. Get BCAA + Glutamine and read real reviews now.


Common BCAA Questions & Answers

Q - What does BCAA stand for?

A - The acronym BCAA stands for branch chain amino acids which consist of leucine, valine, and isoleucine.

Q - Are BCAAs essential or non-essential amino acids?

A - BCAAs are essential amino acids, meaning your body does not produce them naturally.

Q - What’s the difference between BCAAs and protein?

A - Protein powders should be a complete protein, while BCAAs are 3 specific isolated amino acids: leucine, valine and isoleucine.

BCAAs are more effective than protein when taken before exercise, and are ‘lighter’ on the stomach.

However in post workout supplementation studies, whey protein is superior for recovery and daily total protein balance. Both BCAA and protein supplementation require consistent exercise and dosing [21].

Q - Is there caffeine in BCAAs?

A - BCAAs do not contain any caffeine naturally, however some brands choose to add caffeine to BCAA supplements.

You may notice more energy when taking BCAA supplements, this is due to BCAAs reducing l-tryptophan activity in the brain, thus delaying mental fatigue [27].

Q - Can you take BCAAs with creatine?

A - Yes, you can take BCAAs alongside creatine without issue.

Q - Can you take BCAAs with pre workout?

A - Yes, BCAAs pair with pre workout supplements nicely. Our top rated pre workout line contains BCAAs in all 3 goal-specific variations.

Q – How do I take BCAA + Glutamine with PreSeries Bulk, Lean, or STIM-FREE?

A - PreSeries pre workouts already contain the performance enhancing dosage of BCAAs. However, to improve recovery alongside performance – take ½ serving of BCAA +glutamine with your PreSeries pre workout. Then, on off days take a whole scoop of BCAA Glutamine but no pre workout.




Trevor Hiltbrand
Trevor Hiltbrand

Author

Trevor Hiltbrand is one of the owners/co-founders of Transparent Labs and head of content creation. He got his start with supplement research back in 2013 when he began researching cognitive enhancement. With the help of the Transparent Labs Expert Panel and Advisory Board, we aim to bring our evidence based nutrition and exercise research to the world.



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