The efficacy of your supplements depends on certain variables. One of those variables, is supplement timing. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are shown to have the most anabolic effect on muscle protein synthesis, of all the essential amino acids. But when is the best time to take BCAAs? Should you take them before, or after your workout? We’re going to talk about this and how BCAAs can support your training and performance goals.
What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Amino acids are needed for several integral biological processes, such as muscle growth, muscle repair, and converting food into energy.
When protein is metabolized, it is broken down into essential amino acids. There are a total of twenty essential and non-essential amino acids. Nine which are essential, eleven non-essential. Three of those nine essential amino acids are classified as the branched-chain amino acids.
Essential, means that your body does not naturally produce them. Therefore, essential amino acids must be obtained from dietary sources such as protein, or through supplementation.
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Benefits Of BCAAs
1. Reduced Muscle Fatigue
Muscle fatigue is the main limiting factor to physical performance. Studies have shown that BCAAs can reduce fatigue by lowering serotonin, or 5-HT activity. Several studies have indicated that taking BCAAs before and during prolonged exercise can alleviate muscle fatigue and increase muscle force [R, R].
With reduced muscle fatigue, you simultaneously increase time to exhaustion. Research indicates that supplementation with BCAAs 1 hour prior to incremental endurance and resistance training, reduces levels of free fatty acids and serotonin, which delays muscle fatigue and improves performance.
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2. Inhibits Muscle Mass Breakdown
BCAAs inhibit muscle catabolism, or muscle mass breakdown by facilitating the process of muscle protein synthesis.
BCAAs help provide the amino acids your body needs to promote anabolism, while performing prolonged exercise bouts. By supplementing with BCAAs you ensure your body is in a positive amino acid balance, which will support muscle growth, repair, and reduce muscle soreness post workout. Studies suggest that BCAA supplementation may in fact reduce the occurrence of delayed onset muscle soreness, otherwise known as DOMS. Take it from me, the last thing you want is DOMS. Unless waking up every hour throughout the night, because your legs or biceps are aching then be my guest.
3. Promotes Exercise Recovery
Resistance training creates micro tears in your muscle fibers, which leads to muscle soreness. Soreness can inhibit training and have a dramatic impact on peak power, strength, and physical performance.
A study published in the journal Nutrients, examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on recovery from resistance training. Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled research design, participants were enrolled into either a BCAA or placebo group. At 72 hours post workout, the BCAA group reported significant less muscle soreness than the placebo group [R].
When To Take BCAAs
A large body of evidence suggests that supplementing BCAAs before your workout, will provide the best results to delay muscle fatigue, inhibit muscle mass breakdown, and improve recovery.
If you’re focus is building more muscle and promoting recovery, supplementing with BCAAs before, during, or throughout the day, can help promote muscle protein synthesis, especially in times of fasting.
However, research is still yet to determine the definitive best time to take BCAAs in relation to exercise performance. Despite the conventional wisdom, regarding the 30–45-minute post workout anabolic window theory, research has shown, that it still remains just a theory. Studies have shown that ingesting protein, amino acids, and carbohydrates within 1-3 hours of your exercise or training routine, will elicit the same response, completely disproving that the anabolic window is only open 30-45 minutes post workout.
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