What are BCAA's?

Ever see people at the gym with some kool aid looking drink in their shaker bottle and wonder what the heck it is? Or do you see people on Instagram posting selfie's with their BCAA's and wonder if it's just an attempt to look cool or more "hardcore"? (I've admittedly passed judgement before really knowing much about them). I can't vouch for every shaker bottle's content, but I can speak to the benefits of incorporating BCAA's into your workout routine, especially as a girl who doesn't always knock her daily protein intake out of the park...

BCAA's, or branch chain amino acids, are a group of three essential amino acids (called branch chains because of their unique structure): leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Along with 17 other amino acids, they are the building blocks for protein in the body. BCAA's must be consumed through diet as the body cannot produce them naturally. They also play a vital role in protein synthesis and energy production. So what does that mean and why should you potentially add them to your fitness routine? Here are 3 great reasons. 


1. BCAA's can help you build lean muscle. Now when I say BCAA's here, I don't just mean the pink powder (or whatever color), I mean BCAA's in general, from food or supplements. You need BCAA's in order to stimulate protein synthesis, which is the process critical for developing new muscles. The levels of amino acids in your blood stream determine how much protein synthesis takes place, especially during exercise. (i.e. if you want to tone up, you need this process to happen because can't tone fat, you gotta build muscle.) If you are not eating enough protein, even if you are working out a ton, you may not be getting the results you want, and this is why. So the first step is eat protein with every meal (best BCAA sources are from meat, chicken, fish, eggs, lentils, and nuts). But as a second step, take BCAA's with you to the gym to make sure you are fueling your body properly. 

2. Leucine can help you burn fat while preserving muscle. Leucine is the most widely studied of the 3 branch chain amino acids. This particular super star of the BCAA's trio will activate mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), which will help up-regulate protein synthesis (basically it acts like a switch that turns the process on). This matters because it will help you preserve the muscles you just worked so hard to build during your session at the gym. Said another way, the body will burn fat after a workout while preserving muscle mass. 

3. BCAA's can help prevent (or lesson) muscle soreness from an intense workout. It's not a magic potion, so won't completely negate soreness when you go hard at the gym, or hit a PR, but because of the boosted protein synthesis process at work (compliments of proper levels of BCAA's available during and immediately after your workout), you may experience less muscle damage and improved recovery (i.e. not as sore). When you aren't super sore, you are less likely to skip a workout the next day. And consistency is what yields results. Soooo, following why this is beneficial here? 

Hopefully, you can now see the importance of BCAA's as it relates to muscle growth (or toning), preservation of this hard earned muscle, and soreness prevention so that you can keep a more consistent workout schedule. Do you need to take a supplement to get the the positive effects? No, you don't, you can absolutely this this from diet alone. In fact, there is also evidence that high protein diets do not benefit from BCAA supplementation. But we're talkin' HIGH protein diets, and I know most days I don't come remotely close to this level.

So all this to say, whether or not you start supplementing with BCAA's during your workouts, make sure you are getting a proper amount of protein in your diet to help fuel your muscles and burn unwanted fat! 

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