BCAA: Benefits, Side Effects and Alternatives
BCAA, a group of essential amino acids, helps in delaying fatigue and boosting muscle performance. It is available in the market in various tablet and powder forms. BCAA supplements are your one-stop solution if you are looking for faster muscle recovery and improved performance.
What Are BCAAs?
BCAA or Branched Chain Amino Acids mainly consists of three essential amino acids-
The term Branch Chain Amino Acids can be simplified as-
- Branched-chain- chemical structure of amino acids
- Amino Acids- the essential organic molecules that combine to form proteins
BCAAs are obtained from the diet, the best sources being egg, meat, dairy products, etc. or in other cases, supplements too.
Recently, the trend of consuming BCAAs pre-workout drinks pre and post-workouts have seen a steep increase among fitness and sports enthusiasts.
The popularity of BCCA products can be determined by the fact that between 2015-2019, the demand grew by a factor of 10, increasing from just 0.3% of all BCAA product launches five years ago to 3.1% last year, according to Innova data.
BCAA pre-workout drinks benefits
Here are the key advantages of drinking BCCA before your workout:
- Increased muscle growth
One of the most popular uses of BCAAs is to increase muscle growth. This happens through activation of leucine leading to muscle protein synthesis. The BCAA leucine activates a certain pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis.
The increase in muscle protein synthesis is said to have an increase of 50% on consumption of BCAAs in comparison to other protein shakes.
Whey protein contains all the essential amino acids needed to build muscle. So along with BCAA, it is also advised to consume other protein sources as well like whey protein to aid muscle protein synthesis.
- Less exercise fatigue
BCCAs also have the added advantage of reducing fatigue-induced due to high-intensity exercises or workouts.
Your muscles use BCAAs during a workout, causing levels in your blood to decrease which leads to an increase in tryptophan levels.
This increase in tryptophan leads to muscle fatigue. Thus, optimum BCAA supplementation during your workout is necessary to improve mental focus.
- Reducing muscle wasting
BCAAs account for about 35% of essential amino acids and a total of 40% amino acid pool of the body. Thus, they play a key role in preventing muscle wasting or breakdown.
Before or during your exercise session, BCAA pre-workout drinks can prove beneficial in maintaining muscle strength and preventing protein breakdown.
- Decreasing muscle soreness
BCAAs can help decrease muscle soreness after a workout. The researched reasons for this soreness are believed to be tiny tears in muscles after exercise.
Decreased levels of creatine kinase can also lead to muscle damage and BCAAs workout drinks potentially prevent this damage while exercising.
In one study, people who supplemented with BCAAs before a squat exercise experienced reduced muscle soreness and fatigue compared to the placebo group. This proves that BCAA supplemented drinks also improve recovery time.
- Increase in muscle mass
BCAA supplements are proven to be effective for increasing muscle mass. This is due to the increased content of Leucine in them as compared to Isoleucine and valine.
It is advisable to take a BCAA supplement or drink that has all the three essential amino acids in a 2:1:1 ratio.
Consuming the BCAAs pre-workout helps in keeping you energized throughout your game and also prevents muscle fatigue due to which you can play for a longer time.
When and how much BCAAs to consume?
BCAA levels in your blood usually peak 30 minutes after consuming the supplement. According to newer research, it is suggested to consume BCAA drinks 5 hours after exercise
Talking about pre-exercise, it’s best to take BCAA supplements — whether tablet or powder form — before a workout, up to 15 minutes pre-workout.
As we know that BCAAs can be obtained majorly through diet, most people get plenty of these essential amino acids from eating protein-rich foods such as-
- Lean meat
- Greek yogurt
- brown rice
- pumpkin seeds
For those who are on restrictive diets for proteins, BCAA supplementation is a good option. This is common among athletes and they consume BCAA workout drinks to compensate for their proteins.
The volume of BCAAs you consume and when you take them will vary depending on the following factors-
- Your dietary protein intake
- Your body size
- Health factors
- Exercise regimen
- Intensity and duration of the exercise
Most people who supplement take anywhere from 4-20 g throughout the day, in the form of powders, capsules, or pills.
However, a general dosage to favor muscle gain is to go for a BCAAs drink with around 5-8 grams of leucine throughout your workout with 1-1.5 liters of water.
Risks Involved with BCCAs
Despite their proposed benefits on muscle growth, research has suggested that BCAA protein supplements may also have adverse effects and health consequences if consumed in excess.
The potential risks involved with BCCAs are-
- When BCAA levels are increased in the body, it replaces tryptophan in the brain leading to reduced serotonin production, decreasing the mood, and disturbing the sleep cycle.
- Continuing the chain of a decreased serotonin level, the increased BCAA level can cause obesity and lead to a shortening of lifespan.
- The excess consumption of BCAA supplements can prove harmful to your heart. It can lead to cardiovascular disorders. Research has shown that the metabolism of amino acids is potentially involved in the development of heart disease.
- High levels of BCAA can cause the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The notion is, however, debatable whether BCAAs lead to loss of insulin or promote insulin resistance.
- People with a condition called branched-chain keto-aciduria or Maple Syrup Urine Disease, kidney disease, liver disease, etc., or alcoholics should also avoid BCAA drinks.
BCAAs Drink Safe Alternatives
While BCAAs drinks are known to be profoundly beneficial pre, during, and post-workout sessions, there are many alternatives for it if you can’t consume protein due to dietary reasons.
Some of the best go-to drinks are-
- Plain water
- Coconut water
- Electrolyte infused water
- Electrolyte smoothies
- Sports drinks
- Watermelon water
So, in case BCAAs do not work out fine for you, you can easily switch to all these alternatives to fuel yourself up and gain muscle strength.
Another important point to note here is that these alternative drinks are best suited to restore lost electrolytes and fluids during workouts and thus prevent dehydration.
BCAAs pre-workout drinks are a good fit for muscle protein synthesis and highly prevent muscle soreness and fatigue and are quite a hit among sportspeople.
However, the amount of BCAA drinks consumed should be strictly adhered to as excess of it can lead to side effects and health complications.