3 Things You Should Know About Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) for Sports Nutrition

Wellness: Health & Fitness
3 Things You Should Know About Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) for Sports Nutrition

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January 8 2019

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Branched-chain amino acids. What are they? And should you be taking them as a supplement? Here's what to know and consider.

  1. Essential Amino Acids

    Container of BCAA supplement
    BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—may help stimulate protein synthesis.

    There are 20 different amino acids that make up the thousands of different proteins in the human body. Nine of those are considered essential amino acids (EAA), meaning your body cannot make them, so they must be obtained through your diet. Of the nine essential amino acids, there are three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are present in foods like meat, eggs, and dairy.

  2. BCAA Supplements

    Branched-chain amino acid supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue, and alleviate muscle soreness. They have also successfully been used in a hospital setting to prevent or slow muscle loss and to improve symptoms of liver disease. However, because many people get plenty of BCAAs through their diet, supplementing may not provide additional benefits. 

    Hyvee Dietitian Expert Tip
    Supplemental BCAAs are meant to be consumed before, during, or after after exercise to support muscle recovery and muscle growth. These are most beneficial for those not consuming adequate protein or having trouble with lingering muscle soreness.
    Ryan Weiler head shotRyan Weiler, RD, LD, CSSDHy-Vee Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics
  3. Muscle Building

    While BCAAs can increase muscle protein synthesis, they can't do so maximally without the other essential amino acids, such as those found in whey protein or other complete protein sources (e.g. eggs, meat, dairy). Your muscles require all the essential amino acids for the best results.