For people who think protein powder is all you need to get #swole, this article probably isn’t very helpful. But for serious lifters looking for the benefits that only BCAAs can provide, you’ll want to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth so you can experience the fastest results possible. Here are — in order — the best BCAA supplements available.
What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the fundamental building blocks of proteins. All proteins are made up of a chain of amino acids bound end-to-end for the entire length of the protein. Each amino acid is different, and what distinguishes one from another is the side chain, which can vary from a single hydrogen atom to complex branching structures. As the name implies, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are aminos that have a branching side chain.
In total, there are 20 proteinogenic amino acids — that means they can be used by our bodies to make proteins — of which nine are considered essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that we have to consume from our diet because we cannot synthesize them ourselves. There are three total branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), and all of them are essential amino acids. In aggregate, they account for 35% of the essential amino acids in muscle proteins.
What Are the BCAA Benefits One Should Expect?
The benefits of BCAAs are twofold: first, BCAAs help sustain a high level of performance over longer periods; second, they inhibit muscle breakdown after strenuous activity and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
BCAAs Improve Stamina
In a study of marathon runners, the effects of BCAAs on both mental and physical stamina were observed. For runners that received BCAAs during a marathon, cognitive performance (as judged by a Stroop test) was improved relative to the control group which received no BCAAs. Meanwhile, from a physical standpoint, running performance during the marathon itself was improved for slow runners taking BCAAs, though fast runners did not experience an appreciable benefit. A possible reason for this is that the faster runners had already built up sufficient stamina, and so did not experience as much of an improvement as untrained runners.
BCAAs Reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Breakdown
Since BCAAs are found in high levels in muscle tissue, it is reasonable to expect that they play a major role in muscle growth. Furthermore, as shown in a study of twelve young males, taking BCAAs during an intense workout can reduce signs of muscle inflammation and damage. Additionally, the group that received branched-chain amino acids also experienced less soreness after their workout. Together, these yield an improvement in recovery (which was also seen in the study) and ultimately more productive workouts down the line.
Can BCAAs Boost Testosterone?
There is some evidence that in resistance-trained individuals (e.g., weightlifters), there was a noticeable increase in testosterone levels for BCAA-supplemented individuals postworkout. This would be a huge boon to bodybuilders of all types looking to maximize gains, and explains why BCAAs are often taken during a workout as opposed to before or after.
Are There Any BCAA Side Effects to Watch Out For?
By and large, taking BCAA supplements is a safe activity. After all, these are amino acids that are found naturally in our diets — and indeed, need to be in our diets since they’re essential amino acids. The only real exception here is if you have a medical condition that interferes with your body’s ability to metabolized branched-chain amino acids properly (e.g., branched-chain ketoaciduria). If your doctor has told you to avoid BCAAs or monitor the types of protein you consume, definitely consult with him or her before starting a BCAA supplement.
The Best BCAA Supplement: MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2
MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2
If you’re looking for the best BCAA supplement, look no further than MusclePharm’s BCAA 3:1:2. With 3 grams of L-leucine, 1 gram of L-isoleucine, and 2 grams of L-valine per serving, you’ll get an ideal combination of aminos to maximize your BCAA benefits. The one downside is that 8 pills is one serving, so you’ll have to down a whole bunch of these after a big workout.
Product Details (from the manufacturer):
- Patent-pending branched-chain amino acid complex (BCAAs)
- The ideal mix of L-leucine (3 grams), L-valine (2 grams), and L-isoleucine (1 gram)
- Fuels muscle development
- Increases lean body mass and aids in fat loss