When Should I Take BCAAs for Best Results?

Ultimate Guide to Taking BCAAs for Muscle Building

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) definitely play a role in muscle growth and repair. But what exactly is this role and how large of an impact does it have?

We answer the question “When should I take BCAAs for best results?”, and “Can BCAAs improve your fitness goals?”. Let’s try to piece together this puzzle. 

Short Summary

  • BCAAs are three of the nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 
  • BCAA supplementation can provide numerous benefits, including increased muscle growth, reduced fatigue and muscle soreness, and improved exercise performance.
  • Timing BCAA supplementation isn’t as important as ensuring they are taken in proper doses and consistently.
  • When selecting a BCAA supplement, it is important to review the ingredient list for allergens as well as consider third-party certifications for product safety and effectiveness.

Understanding BCAAs: The Basics

Amino acids act as the basic building blocks for all proteins in the body. A key group of essential amino acids are BCAAs. Their structure sets them apart from other necessary aminos with a side chain that has an attached branch. BCAAs are found in various foods such as eggs, beef, and poultry. 

Essential Amino Acids

There are twenty amino acids needed by the body, but there are nine essential ones that cannot be produced by the body so they must come from dietary sources. These vital nutrients for muscle protein synthesis can either be ingested through meals or supplementation.

Muscle Protein Synthesis

Amino acids are necessary for muscle protein synthesis, which enables the production of lean muscle mass. The BCAA leucine in particular has been identified as a pivotal agent in stimulating this process.

They also provide protection to muscles by preserving mass in times of calorie restriction and furnishing the necessary proteins for repairing and maintaining musculature. For anyone trying to grow or maintain muscle, muscle protein synthesis must occur at a faster rate than muscle protein breakdown. 

The Benefits of BCAA Supplementation

BCAAs are an important supplement when it comes to reaching your physical goals. What advantages can you get from these powerful amino acids?

Supplementing with BCAAs offers several benefits such as improved exercise performance and muscle growth while reducing fatigue. Some argue that they can be a real game-changer in fitness pursuits. However, a recent review stated that the clinical evidence for BCAAs and athletic enhancement is unclear. 

Muscle Growth

By stimulating protein synthesis, adding BCAAs into your eating regimen may assist you with achieving increased muscle development more effectively. Introducing them into your nutrition plan could result in muscular gains at a faster rate.

To enhance the results of muscle-building exercises, it may be beneficial to include BCAA supplements since leucine plays a pivotal role in protein synthesis within skeletal muscle. This is for both reinforcing existing muscles and supporting the development of new ones.

Speeding Up Recovery

BCAAs are incredibly important for proper muscle growth and recovery. When used correctly, they can reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and decrease associated soreness after an intense workout. They also work to speed up muscle repair processes, alleviating any lingering aches from your last session quickly, ideally allowing a speedy return to physical activity. 

Optimal Timing for BCAA Consumption

Timing isn’t crucial when it comes to taking BCAAs, but it may be something to consider for serious lifters and athletes. How and when should one take these important building blocks of proteins? This has been a pressing issue amongst fitness enthusiasts, with many looking for guidance on optimal consumption times.

For the most part, it’s much more important to take amino acid supplements in the right amounts and consistently. Once ingested, the supplement effects peak 30 minutes after consumption. 

Pre-Workout

BCAAs are a component of many pre-workout formulas, but they aren’t 100% necessary. Consuming BCAAs prior to exercise may provide sustained energy, helping your session be as productive and successful as possible.

BCAAs may also help safeguard against muscle breakdown. There is some evidence to suggest that taking BCAAs before exercise can help prevent muscle soreness from resistance training. 

Intra-Workout

Consuming essential amino acids in the form of BCAAs during exercise can be beneficial for maintaining energy. This is especially useful for extended endurance workouts, as these compounds may help stave off muscle destruction.

Post-Workout

Consuming essential amino acids like BCAAs after exercise can contribute to muscle recovery and repair. These aminos will not only help reduce the amount of soreness, but they may even decrease your downtime for future workouts by increasing protein synthesis in muscles. After strength or resistance training, your muscles repair and build back larger and stronger.

The post-exercise anabolic window varies, so it’s difficult to determine one specific recommendation that will work for everyone. It depends on your overall dietary and training habits. For example, if you workout in the evening and have already consumed a significant amount of BCAA-containing dietary protein throughout the day and before your workout, your anabolic window will look much different compared to someone who works out in the morning after an overnight fast. 

BCAA Dosage Recommendations

It is essential to ensure the proper amount of BCAA consumption in order for it to be truly effective, but how much amino acids should one take?

Daily Dosage

The general consensus for a daily recommended dosage is 12 grams for men and 9 grams for women. This may differ depending on the individual’s body weight or activity level.

Dosage Based on Body Weight

People with greater body mass who exercise more often need a higher dose than those who train with lighter weights or who have less active lifestyles. General dosing recommendations are about 200 milligrams per kilogram of body weight daily. Body weight can be a significant factor when it comes to figuring out the right dose of BCAA. 

BCAA Supplement Forms: Powder vs. Tablets

Two wooden spoons with different forms of BCAA supplements. The first spoon is filled with a white powder, which is BCAA powder. The second spoon is filled with small white capsules.

When deciding which form of BCAA supplements to take, it is important to look into the advantages and drawbacks of both powder and tablets. Powders tend to be quicker in terms of absorption when taken with a drink as opposed to tablets which require more time for your body to digest them properly. Supplements in pill form are more common and might work better for you if you prefer to not have any liquids or protein shakes.

Powder Form

BCAA powder is popular with fitness enthusiasts due to its easy mixing and dosing capabilities. Quickly absorbed by the body, it can help build muscle and speed up repair times. This makes it a valuable tool when addressing fatigue or post-workout soreness. Here is a list of the best BCAA powders on the market that we have personally tested for safety, certifications, taste and mixability.

Tablet Form

Tablets are more practical and compact, but the dosage options may be limited compared to powder form, which can also provide quicker absorption.

BCAAs and Diet: Food Sources and Vegan Considerations

It is possible to acquire essential amino acids from various dietary sources, rather than just supplementing with a concentrated dose. For people following vegan or vegetarian lifestyles, creating satisfying meals and snacks may be difficult but doable. The same necessary BCAAs can still exist in their diet without any sacrifices on flavor or nutrition.

High-BCAA Foods

Essential amino acids (including BCAAs) are an essential part of muscle growth and repair. To make sure you meet the required intake level naturally, there is a wide selection of food sources like eggs, milk, or yogurt. Plant based options like beans, lentils, or quinoa also contain high levels of these important amino acids.

Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

For those on vegan or vegetarian diets, ensuring a sufficient amount of amino acids can be difficult due to possible shortages of plant-based proteins. This isn’t to say that a responsible plant-based eater can’t get adequate aminos through diet alone. However, plant sources tend to have lower amounts of EAAs or are less likely to contain all nine EAAs. As such, BCAA supplementation may prove helpful in maintaining the necessary intake level of these important nutrients. 

Tips for Choosing a Quality BCAA Supplement

When it comes to BCAA supplements, not all are created equally. Here is some advice that may help you pick one of good quality. Ensure your supplement contains all three essential amino acids:leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Pay attention to what types of additional components might be present in a product as this could impact its efficacy. Make sure you check out reviews from other users who have tried using the specific brand before making a decision.

Ingredient List

When selecting a BCAA supplement, it’s vital to look at the list of ingredients for any possible allergens, extra sugar, or caffeine content. Ensure that the product you decide on fits into your dietary requirements and lifestyle preferences. Be sure that no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners are included. Check whether these specifications fit with what you are looking for before buying!

BCAA Ratio

Image of a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) ratio of 2:1:1. The chart shows that leucine is the most abundant BCAA, followed by isoleucine and valine.

When looking for a BCAA supplement, try to choose one with 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine to get an optimal dose. Since leucine is the main precursor to muscle protein synthesis, it is required in higher amounts. Alteration in ratios may be required based on individual goals, so feel free to experiment with various formulas.

Certifications and Testing

It is important to take steps to ensure the quality of your supplement. One way you can do this is by selecting ones that have been tested and certified by third-party organizations like Informed-Choice. This provides assurance that what you’re taking will be both effective and safe for consumption.

Good manufacturing practices (GMP) certification is also an important one to look for. This means the product has been manufactured in a certified facility. 

By getting supplements with these sorts of certifications, it gives an additional layer of peace knowing that all safety protocols were followed during production processes, allowing consumers to rest assured they are receiving a product without any worrisome elements or components included.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

Taking BCAA supplementation is safe for most, though it is essential to know the possible side effects and any necessary precautionary measures. Before adding a supplement like this to your routine, you must discuss it with your doctor or health professional. Especially if you have existing medical conditions. Doing so will ensure that taking such supplements won’t cause any negative interactions or reactions on top of existing conditions already present in the body.

Side Effects

BCAA supplementation has a tendency to be mild in its associated side effects, such as upset stomach or bloating.

Precautions

It is vital to examine for allergens prior to beginning BCAA supplementation and be mindful not to exceed the required dosage. For those who are pregnant or lactating, it’s best to talk with a medical expert before taking any type of BCAA supplements.

Summary – When Should I Take BCAAs for Best Results

Supplementing with essential amino acids, such as BCAAs, is a great way to support muscle growth and recovery. To obtain the best results from their use, it’s recommended that you select a high-quality product for supplementation prior to or following exercise. Make sure you consider your dietary requirements beforehand and consult with an expert if required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you take BCAAs before or after a workout?

Before starting a workout, taking BCAA supplements can help prevent fatigue by providing energy reserves for an extra push. Post-workout, these same supplements will support muscle repair and will aid proper recovery of the body after exercising. It comes down to your goals and routine. 

How do I get the best results from BCAA?

For optimal results, taking 6-10 grams of BCAA supplements prior to a workout is recommended. You may also distribute your dosage throughout the day with 2,000 milligrams or more 30 minutes before exercising and then continuously during exercise too. Even on days that do not involve physical activity, it’s beneficial for long term effects to continue daily intake.

How long does it take to see results with BCAA?

Some people may see results within 3-4 weeks of supplementing with BCAAs, as this is the typical range to start noticing muscle growth. Of course, results will vary from person to person. 

Should I take BCAA every day or just on workout days?

Some research suggests that BCAAs should be consumed on both workout and rest days to continually stimulate muscle repair. This supplement will aid the process of recovery so muscles can continue to heal effectively regardless of whether you are exercising or not.

What are BCAAs and why are they important?

Essential amino acids, which include BCAAs, are an important part of muscle protein synthesis and health. They cannot be produced by the body naturally. Thus one must consume them through their diet or via supplementation. Protein synthesis is greatly improved with these essential amino acids making BCAA’s a worthwhile supplement for any fitness enthusiast!

References

Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5

ARROYO-CEREZO, A., CERRILLO, I., ORTEGA, Á., & FERNÁNDEZ-PACHÓN, M.-S. (2021). Intake of branched chain amino acids favors post-exercise muscle recovery and may improve muscle function: optimal dosage regimens and consumption conditions. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 61(11). https://doi.org/10.23736/s0022-4707.21.11843-2

BRANCHED-CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (BCAA): Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews. (n.d.). Www.webmd.com. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1005/branched-chain-amino-acids#:~:text=It%20might%20cause%20some%20side

Fedewa, M. V., Spencer, S. O., Williams, T. D., Becker, Z. E., & Fuqua, C. A. (2019). Effect of branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Soreness following Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Internationale 

Zeitschrift Fur Vitamin- Und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal International de Vitaminologie et de Nutrition, 89(5-6), 348–356. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-9831/a000543

Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage? A Systematic Review. (2017). Nutrients, 9(10), 1047. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9101047

Martinho, D. V., Nobari, H., Faria, A., Field, A., Duarte, D., & Sarmento, H. (2022). Oral Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation in Athletes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 14(19), 4002. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14194002

Ra, S.-G., Miyazaki, T., Kojima, R., Komine, S., Ishikura, K., Kawanaka, K., Honda, A., Matsuzaki, Y., & Ohmori, H. (2018). Effect of BCAA supplement timing on exercise-induced muscle soreness and damage: a pilot placebo-controlled double-blind study. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 58(11). https://doi.org/10.23736/s0022-4707.17.07638-1

Madison Wilferd | MSc Nutrition

Madison Wilferd | MSc Nutrition

Madison is a freelance health writer and advocate for evidence-based and holistic health information. She holds a BS in Kinesiology and Health Promotion from the University of Kentucky and an MSc in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Public Health from the University of Bristol.

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