If you’re an athlete, or just enjoy being fit, you probably want to get the most out of your workout every time.
While logging more hours on the treadmill, benching a higher weight, or finally taking that pilates class may be a good start, it’s important that you don’t overtax your muscles and that you allow them time to recover.
One of the ways to support your fitness is with a branched chain amino acid supplement (BCAA). In recent years, BCAAs have become a popular exercise supplement and may support healthy recovery, strength, and endurance.
How Do BCAAs Support Your Health?
Amino acids are called the “building blocks of protein,” since they contribute to the makeup and synthesis of protein in the body. Proteins bind together to make up the structural elements of muscles, contribute to hormone production, and support the immune system.
While there are roughly fifty amino acids in the human body, only twenty of those are used to make proteins. Eleven of those twenty are considered non-essential, meaning your body is able to produce them. However, the other nine are essential amino acids, which have to be obtained through your diet.
Three of these amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are known as branched chain amino acids (due to their branched chain molecular structure). Unlike most amino acids, they are broken down in the muscles, rather than in the liver. As a result, BCAAs are thought to have a positive effect on muscle health and on endurance during exercise. The functions of these BCAAs are as follows:
- Supports protein synthesis
- Contributes to the development of new muscle
- Activation of mTOR enzyme (responsible for cell growth and fat loss)
- Supports healthy energy levels
- Works to support glucose metabolism and absorption
- Regulates blood pressure levels
- Ferments alcoholic beverages
- Forms a building block of enzymes
A 2012 study in the Journal of the International Science of Sports Nutrition claims, “Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation has been shown to increase protein synthesis and decrease muscle protein breakdown.” Researchers believed that this effect was because BCAAs provided bioavailability of substrate, which supported protein synthesis and muscle recovery.
Finding the Best BCAA Supplement for You
There are quite a few BCAA supplements on the market today, and it can be overwhelming to try to choose the best option for you. That’s why we’ve created a handy guide to choosing the best BCAA supplement to support your health. When looking for a BCAA supplement, try to find one in a 2:1:1 ratio (leucine: isoleucine: valine). This is thought to be the most effective ratio to support muscle health (as evidenced by this study).
Best BCAAs for Smoothie Drinkers
If you can’t live without your daily green smoothie or protein shake, a powdered BCAA supplement may be the perfect option for you. These supplements are easy to add to water or juice as well, so they’re great for on-the-go support. If you’re looking for a protein source that contains healthy amounts of BCAAs, a whey protein powder may also have potential benefits for your health. This powder from Pure Encapsulations is easy to add to any shake or smoothie!
Best BCAAs for Busy Athletes
One of the easiest ways to get the BCAAs your body needs is through a more traditional supplement. Capsules and tablets are easy to take in the morning so your body can absorb the BCAAs and be ready for a workout in the afternoon. These capsules from Life Extension offer free form branched chain amino acids to support your health.
Best BCAAs for Women
When exercising, many women seek to build lean muscle, and support healthy muscle recovery without the fear of getting bulky. You’ll want to look for a BCAA supplement that not only has an ideal ratio, but also one that supports lean muscle. We always recommend products that aren’t made with artificial sweeteners. This great-tasting raspberry lemonade powder from DaVinci Labs is sweetened with stevia leaf, and offers support for lean muscle health.
Best BCAAs for Men
For men, taking a BCAA supplement stems from a desire to build muscle and add more protein to their diets. If you need protein support from BCAAs, try looking for a whey protein made with branched chain amino acids to fuel your workouts. Our pick is the Whey to Go Whey Protein from Solgar, which contains free form BCAAs and is suitable for lacto-vegetarians.
Best BCAAs for Post-Workout
Letting your muscles recover after exercise is incredibly important for supporting long-term muscle health and endurance. A post-workout BCAA supplement should not only be easily absorbed, it should also be formulated to help your muscles recover naturally. Try this powder from NOW Sports — it contains all three branched chain amino acids and is gluten-free to support your health.
Ultimately, the best BCAA supplement for you will depend on your body, your workouts, and your diet. Staying fit and healthy should be a lifelong pursuit, so figuring out what’s right for you is not only important; it could potentially make a difference to your overall health throughout your entire life.
Have you tried a BCAA supplement? We’d love to hear your story in the comments!