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BCAAs 101: Everything You Need to Know


Protein powder has enjoyed its fair share of glory in the kingdom of lifting (as well as other sports, let’s not fool ourselves), but it’s time for men everywhere to learn more about another useful addition to the muscle-building game: BCAAs. This acronym stands for branched chain amino acids, a specific type of amino acids that are especially useful in the aim to grow stronger, enhance your lean muscle mass, and improve your overall performance and physique. Such a potent tool cannot be overlooked in any man’s healthy lifestyle, hence the need to cover our bases and learn as much as you can on how to best utilize them in your diet and training.

Healthy, consistent supplementation has become one of the most efficient ways to make sure that we lead a balanced life. It has become quite a challenge to include all of our most essential macros and micronutrients through food alone, and this is where supplements specifically designed to help with your fitness goals step in to save the day.

Before we move forward: men, this is not the be-all and end-all of fitness. BCAAs are a useful addition to your routine, and they can indeed help you progress faster and more efficiently. They are not a magic fitness bullet, and they only serve to motivate you to go back to the gym and hit those weight harder than ever. Let’s get down to it, then!

Defining BCAAs

First things first: our beloved, much-needed, muscle-building proteins are made of amino acids. Simple math says that by balancing your amino acid intake can help you effectively increase your protein intake and thus build more muscle and strength. Out of nine amino acids that make up proteins, there are three which have the branched chain structure that earned them the name.

The famous three are as follows: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. In addition to their unique structure that has earned them their reputation, they also serve a very unique purpose in the fitness world. They are considered essential amino acids, meaning that our bodies cannot synthesize them, hence the need to get them directly from food.

Just like you’d normally mind your protein intake for the sake of your muscle-building efforts and workout performance, this isn’t too complicated a task. Keeping a closer tab on your intake of BCAAs is simple enough especially if you combine protein-packed foods with essential amino acids and add healthy, well-calculated doses of supplements to further empower your routine. Certain foods that contain them are likely already in your menu due to their naturally high protein content: chicken breast, lean beef, fish such as salmon and tuna, eggs, and various nuts that contain BCAAs in high enough amounts.

Better post-workout recovery

Now that you know what they are, their basic chemistry, and where you can find them, it’s time to learn what these powerful branched chain amino acids can do to improve your training, your health, and above all, your recovery. Because, let’s face it, without optimal recovery and recuperation, there’s no way you could ever pack your gentlemanly gym bag the next day and overload the barbell just the way you like it, since your muscles wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressure.

This is where our precious BCAAs step in to save the day and ensure that DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, doesn’t wreck your fitness goals. Although nothing can completely eliminate DOMS, BCAAs can indeed reduce it significantly enough to help you push through your next arduous training routine.

When translated to real life, this small, but meaningful change in how your body functions after a strenuous resistance workout can make a difference in your overall fitness plan. It means you’ll go back to the gym the next time with less pain to slow you down, which in turn means that you’ll be less prone to injuries and in much better control of your body.

Improved performance

With less soreness to struggle with and more energy on your hands, it’s natural to deduce the next way in which BCAAs can help any eager fitness enthusiast improve their workout. One of the factors that leads to this positive impact is that branched chain aminos are powerful in combating muscle breakdown during strenuous activities. First off, your body does its best to use your immediate energy stored in your body in the form of ATP, short for adenosine triphosphate. Once it runs out of ATP, it will resort to tapping into your muscle tissue, effectively slowing down your muscle-building efforts and impacting your performance.

While this typically happens for endurance athletes preparing for a truly extraordinary endeavor such as a marathon, and it’s not likely to happen to anyone with a regular eating schedule and a moderate workout regime, it pays to know how you can use BCAAs to your advantage in this respect. Providing you with ample energy, these amino acids are helpful in preventing exhaustion during workouts as well, so the combination of these effects works in your favor.

Muscle gains and BCAAs

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BCAAs work in unison with the rest of those essential amino acids to help you with muscle protein synthesis after a workout. Without them, you cannot possibly gain lean muscle mass or grow stronger, nor can you live without them, hence the term “essential”. Now that we’re specifically interested in how they help grow new muscle tissue, some numbers will help you understand the advantage of having them in your diet.

A study showed that people who introduced a BCAA drink into their post-workout routine (after their strength training, that is) had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to the placebo group. BCAAs, however, do their finest muscle-building work when combined with the rest of the amino gang, so you should make sure that in addition to the branch chained amino acids you also consume enough protein in general.

Reduced mental fatigue

A commonly overlooked factor that can make or break any diligent man’s training is his level of mental endurance. Alas, even with the best of nutrition and the best-organized workout plan, you cannot possibly foresee every drop in mental energy for another mind-bogglingly challenging training session that can come your way. These drops are often the key culprits of poor performance, reduced training efficacy, and ultimately, suboptimal results. While an occasional hindrance is inevitable, you can use BCAAs to make sure you reduce the occurrence of those energy slumps.

Once more, research speaks to the favor of these amino acids. A study showed that participants who consumed BCAAs during their training reported 15% less fatigue compared to the control group. If you’d like to reap the greatest rewards, perhaps you can spread out your amino acid intake to consume a portion during the workout and see how that habit affects your mental energy. You might be surprised to discover that your slacking at the gym could be attributed to fatigue as opposed to lack of skill or poor nutrition. That’s why knowing about BCAAs can make all the difference for your mental preparedness as much as they do for your physical abilities.

To wrap up

There will always be entire shelves packed with supplements that promise extraordinary results. Few, if any, will deliver anything, let alone the results they promise. BCAAs on the other hand, are those nature-made goods that we can often use more of in our diets and that can have a tremendously positive impact on our workouts, energy levels, and our health.

So, if you’re getting ready for a competition, an endurance event, or you need a kick for your current fitness strategy, perhaps BCAAs can indeed be of help.

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