When to take BCAA – In a hyper consumer world, the fitness industry has taken center stage.
In the quest for beauty and wellness, the fitness business, and specifically, the supplements industry has pushed out many nutritional and performance-enhancing products aimed at supporting the increasingly lofty goals of millions of aspirational people.
Often fronted by the faces and bodies of a minority of internet-savvy personalities endowed with incredible physiques, performance supplements are a marketing juggernaut rivaled only by the beauty and cosmetic industry.
This isn’t to take away from the thousands of hard-working, well-trained fitness personalities, many of whom truly live a lifestyle and by a work ethic that allows them to achieve what they have.
However, the idea behind the effectiveness of many of the supplements promoted by these personalities and viral marketing strategies have been slowly unraveling, placing a lens on what really works and what doesn’t.
One such supplement and one of the most popular is BCAAs, short for branch-chain amino acids.
Let’s take a look at why.
BCAAs are a group of 3 amino acids, they are part of the 9 essential amino acids.
These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
That means your body needs them in order to function normally and can only be sourced from your diet since you don’t naturally synthesize them.
In isolation, BCAAs are believed to stimulate many exercise specific benefits on top of what they regularly provide as part of a normal amino acid profile found incomplete proteins.
That’s because these 3 amino acids have been proven to have very specific roles in the building of muscle protein and the improvement of exercise endurance.
While their effectiveness in this regard is undisputed, there exists no solid science to support any scenario that necessitates their intake in isolation.
In order to fully understand why BCAAs are so popular, and when to take BCAA let’s look at the myths that influence their popularity.
The science behind catabolism stipulates a metabolic reaction that leads to the breakdown of muscle protein for the sake of amino acid scavenging.
This occurs naturally and constantly and is a normal, necessary function of human metabolism.
One of the purported functions of BCAAs is that they halt or greatly reduce the metabolic action of catabolism.
This is not true. And that’s because catabolism cannot be stopped.
The goal in building muscle is not to stop catabolism, but rather to experience more anabolism (building of muscle protein) that catabolism.
This net anabolic state is what helps build lean mass and is supported by having an abundance of complete protein and a positive energy balance (caloric surplus).
BCAAs in isolation, therefore, cannot prevent catabolism, and that’s a good thing.
Going further with the story of catabolism is the idea that BCAAs should be consumed straight after a workout.
There exists an imaginary window of opportunity called the anabolic window, a short period of time after serious physical activity when nutrients such as protein need to be consumed in order to satisfy the body’s increased demand at this time.
The idea of the anabolic window has long been debunked by sound science, but continues to persist in the chambers of what some call “bro-science”. So along with this, when to take BCAA the idea that BCAAs are necessary straight after exercise also goes out the window so to speak.
Aside from boosting muscle growth, taking BCAAs is meant to boost recovery.
Again, the idea of countering catabolism comes into play and purports that BCAAs have a specialized effect when it comes to recovery.
Speeding up the process and optimizing the post-recovery adaptations to training.
The truth is, if you are consuming enough complete protein, a protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids, either through a protein-rich diet or supplements such as whey, you won’t get any bonus benefits from a BCAA formula.
One of the BCAAs, leucine, is a key in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
But again, just as is the case with all other claims in this list, leucine is already in effect when adequate amounts of complete protein are included in your diet.
A popular use for BCAAs is to include them as part of an intra-workout nutritional regimen.
This is for the express purpose of preventing fatigue for greater quality exercise.
While a noble cause indeed, BCAAs haven’t been shown to provide any significant levels of fatigue support during a workout outside of what a good protein intake will have already provided.
Things such as beta-alanine and L-citrulline are actually much more effective in this regard when it comes to performance-boosting amino acids.
Valine, one of the BCAAs has been shown to impede fatigue signals between the brain and muscle fibers, allowing you to work past your natural limit, but again if you already have a decent protein intake, which you should if you are serious about health and fitness, BCAAs aren’t necessary.
While BCAAs are essential, their isolation does not present any useful effectiveness in boosting performance, recovery or anabolism.
The only way BCAAs can show a significant effect in this regard is if you aren’t getting them from a complete protein source.
And if you are not consuming enough complete protein in the first place, then when to take BCAA is the least of your worries.
That’s because the other 6 amino acids all play a role and that’s why they are also essential. BCAAs are simply triggers to a complex process that requires many other resources.
Having said that, BCAAs are not harmful, they don’t hurt to take, and in fact, might be a good idea if only to serve as a tasty way to encourage better hydration during a workout.