When to take BCAAs – Brief Summary
- 6-20g per day
- Before, after, even during training
- No evidence that more leucine is better
- Take with protein to enhance benefits
The term 'BCAAs' refers to Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, the Branched Chain Amino Acids. These three essential amino acids are abundant throughout the body, and make up a large percentage of muscle.
Exercise causes the breakdown of BCAAs themselves, to provide energy. This process is in turn, partially responsible for the muscle catabolism that occurs during exercise. For muscles to repair and grow, it is very important to provide a source of BCAAs, particularly as the body cannot make these amino acids on its own.
There has been a lot of research looking into the benefits of BCAA supplementation. BCAAs are best known for their ability to improve recovery and alleviate muscle soreness, particularly after eccentric exercise. This effect has been shown in both strength and endurance athletes.
BCAAs are also known for their effects on muscle growth. Not only do these amino acids have anti-catabolic properties, and prevent muscle breakdown, but research has shown that leucine actually has anabolic properties. This amino acid has been shown to activate the mTOR muscle building pathway, and it is the only amino acid to do so.
BCAA supplementation has been shown to increase the amount of power the muscles can generate in the presence of high lactate levels, so may increase muscular endurance. In addition, supplementation with BCAAs can enhance the adaptive immune response after extremely strenuous training.
How to take BCAAs
There are a lot of different ways to take BCAAs. They are commonly used as a stand-alone supplement or incorporated into a pre or post-workout regimen. There has been some evidence that the effects of BCAAs are amplified when they are taken together with a complete source of protein, and it is common to find proteins, particularly those designed to assist post-workout recovery, supplemented with additional BCAAs.
There has been quite a bit of debate over the optimal ratio when it comes to BCAAs. These amino acids are found in a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine:Isoleucine:Valine in the muscles, but many companies ave formulated products with much higher ratios of Leucine, believing this to enhance the anabolic qualities of this supplement – some companies go as high as 10:1:1. At present, there is very little evidence in support of any increased benefit from a higher proportion of Leucine, but there has not been enough research done into the effect of Leucine ratio to draw a definitive conclusion – the jury is still out.
Research has shown that 3g of Leucine is the optimum dose to maximise muscle synthesis, which equates to 6g of a 2:1:1 BCAA supplement. This falls on the low side of the generally accepted dosage, which ranges from 5g up to 20g daily.
Best Time to take BCAAs
To obtain maximum effect from BCAAs in terms of muscle growth and recovery, they are best taken before, after, and even during training. It is common to split the daily dose into two, taking half before, and half after a workout.