Breaking down the basics of branched-chain amino acids

Breaking down the basics of branched-chain amino acids

BCAA supplements may be the talk of your gym, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? Before you make any decisions, go back to the BCAA basics. Here are 8 things you should know about BCAAs.

1. Needed by your body

Getting their name from their “branched” molecular structure, there are three types of BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This trio makes up three of your body’s nine essential amino acids—called so because your body needs them to function, but can’t produce them on its own.

2. Found in your food 

BCAAs are found in protein-rich plant and animal sources. In addition to beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and milk, you can get BCAAs from corn, soy, beans, chickpeas, lentils, whole wheat, brown rice, almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds.

3. Available in supplements 

If you are eating a balanced diet—especially one with adequate protein—you’re likely already getting enough BCAAs. Still, there are reasons that you may want to add a BCAA supplement to your routine. If you and your health care practitioner determine that a BCAA supplement could provide needed support, you’ll find them most commonly in the form of powders, tablets, or capsules.

4. Ease muscle soreness 

BCAAs can aid in reducing the muscle soreness you may feel after a workout.  Known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), you may know the feeling best two or three days after a particularly hard workout.  Research has shown that BCAAs, especially when ingested prior to working out, can help suppress DOMS.

5. Help you exercise longer 

Studies have found that BCAAs can help enhance athletic performance by reducing exercise fatigue. The reason for this benefit has been linked to BCAAs’ ability to lower serotonin levels and interfere with tryptophan absorption—two chemicals that work to make you feel more tired during your workout.

6. Protect your liver 

Studies have shown that BCAAs help protect the liver of those who eat high-fat diets by providing support to gut flora that prevent fat accumulation in the liver. Further, BCAA supplementation has been shown to provide beneficial effects in those with advanced cirrhosis, a severe liver disease.

7. Prevent muscle wasting 

Muscle wasting is the reduction in skeletal muscle, which is brought on by a number of causes including disuse. BCAAs can help slow this muscle-wasting process. Separate studies have shown that BCAAs can provide beneficial effects to slow or prevent muscle wasting in a range of cases, including those involving cancer, advanced liver disease, and kidney damage.

8. Support your well-being

Adequate intake of BCAAs has been linked to a reduced risk of anxiety and depression, and an improved stress response.  In fact, one study showed that subjects with severe depression showed decreased BCAAs in their systems, suggesting that a low level of BCAAs could play a role in depression symptoms and low energy metabolism.

By Laura Newton

BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.

Photo by Victor Freitas:

Article copyright 2023 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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