When research study after research study refers to BCAA supplements and cites leucine as the most anabolic amino acid available, you better pay attention.  Add l-isoleucine and l-valine to the mix, and it becomes one powerful muscle-building cocktail.

What BCAA Does

BCAAs have two primary benefits for the fitness enthusiast:
  1. BCCA products are the only amino acids that can be used by the muscles for energy. So instead of your body breaking down muscle during extreme catabolic conditions, BCAAs will be used instead.
  2. BCAA products, specifically l-leucine, stimulate muscle protein synthesis via multiple pathways, including the very important mTOR pathway.  Even alone, l-leucine has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, as well as insulin secretion.

What Can You Expect From BCAA Supplements?

The results will be no different than consuming protein.  Rapid strength gains and large increases in muscle mass will not happen overnight. Much like individual strength training sessions, increases will be small, yet progressive.

When Should You Take BCAA Supplements

It varies. It depends on your current supplement regimen, diet, and goals. If you’re dieting and trying to preserve lean muscle mass, sipping BCAAs throughout the day may prevent muscle mass loss. If you’re already consuming protein shakes throughout the day and bulking, consuming them before, during, and even after your workout would aid in creating an anabolic environment quickly.

How Much BCAA Supplements You Should Take

Once again, it varies. Strength coach Charles Poliquin has several of his professional athletes consume up to 30-40 grams before, during, and post-workout. If you’re dieting and sipping them throughout the day, 8-10 gram shakes three to four times daily should be enough to ward off protein catabolism.
If you’re bulking and already consuming protein shakes, taking 8-10 grams in your pre-workout shake, as well as sipping 8-10 grams throughout the workout, and adding another 5 grams or so post-workout should stimulate maximum muscle protein synthesis. That maybe overkill. Most lifters, those who keep their training sessions under 60 minutes and consume a post-workout shake, will probably be fine with 8-10 grams before exercising.

The Downside of BCAA Supplements

Little if any side effects have been reported. The two major complaints are cost and taste. Many argue that if you’re already consuming protein shakes, are BCAA products really worth the extra money. The research is inconclusive at best.  Most BCAA products also have a poor taste, and don’t mix well.  You’ll become accustomed to both after a week, but if you’re used to Syntha-6 or some of the other great tasting supplements, you’ll be in for a shock.

TJ’s Inside Scoop

Even though the research is inconclusive at best, I’m a huge proponent of BCAAs. For one, they get to the muscles fast. When you’re pumping iron, and already have delayed gastric emptying/reduced blood flow to the stomach, you want something that doesn’t take long to digest like whey protein.  Because BCAA products are individual amino acids, they take very little time to digest. Plus, with amount of toxins in our food as well as the ridiculous use of antibiotics, most of us suffer from poor gut health, even though we don’t know it.  Thus, we digest protein poorly. Just ask strength guru Paul Chek.
Secondly, if someone tells me just a single amino acid stimulates muscle protein synthesis through multiple pathways, I’m going to make sure I consume more of that amino acid compared to the others. In this instance, I’ll be the research. The studies can validate my hypothesis 5 years from now.

What Do BCAA Products Stack Best With?

Creatine, Dextrose, Beta Alanine, Citrulline Malate

Top Products Using BCAA Ingredients

MusclePharm BCAA, Scivation Xtend, Optimum Essential AmiN.O, Controlled Labs Purple Wraath