Sports nutrition supplements can be intimidating, not to mention complex. But if there’s one supplement you should consider, it’s branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Amino acids serve many important functions in the body, so they’re helpful for anyone — regardless of fitness goals. The trick is to know when to take BCAAs and how.
Without getting too scientific, amino acids are the compounds that make up protein. There are about 20 different types, eight of which the body can’t make on its own. These are known as essential amino acids, and they must be obtained from food. Protein in food is broken down into amino acids, which are used by the body for various purposes, including building the type of protein needed to build and maintain muscle tissue.
You may have heard of BCAAs. This stands for branched-chain amino acids. Named for their chemical structure, which looks something like tree limbs, BCAAs include isoleucine, lysine and valine — three of the eight essential amino acids not naturally made by the body. Protein-rich foods such as beef and chicken provide BCAAs, but in order to get the amount we need, we’d have to eat a lot of meat — which isn’t ideal when you have weight-loss goals.
Taking a supplement is an easy way to increase your intake, and it comes with some added benefits. Research shows that BCAAs help maintain optimal performance when exercising, while also promoting muscle recovery after participation in sports activities. They also support muscle tissue from breakdown and help maintain lean muscle mass. In my experience, taking a BCAA supplement is great when following a low-calorie diet, trying to lose weight and gain muscle at the same time.
After workouts, when muscle tissue is broken down and protein synthesis is low, is the best time to take a BCAA supplement. You’ll find them in both capsule and powder forms. I like to add a scoop of Vitacost ARO BCAAs to my post-workout protein shake daily to help support lean muscle tissue and to get antioxidant protection from exercise-induced free radical damage from the added vitamin C.