A popular supplement is BCAA (branched chain amino acids). This article will be featuring the most important information about BCAA. The central question that will be discussed, is whether using BCAA helps with faster muscle growth.

There is little to no proof for whether BCAA’s make muscles grow faster [1]. A recent study from 2019 confirms that the use of BCAA’s doesn’t result in faster muscle recovery either.


What is BCAA?

BCAA is short for ‘branched chain amino acids’. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and are therefore very important for muscle growth. BCAA’s consist out of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three amino acids make up a third (33%) of all nine essential amino acids, and around 70% of total muscle protein.

Therefore, you could say that these amino acids are very important.


How Does BCAA Work?

Energy Supply

First of all, the body uses amino acids for the recovery of muscles after heavy exercise. Furthermore, BCAA is used if the muscular glycogen depots are empty [1]. Our bodies don’t have the enzymes that are used to create leucine, isoleucine and valine. Therefore, only nutrition (and supplements) can provide our bodies with BCAA.

Protein Synthesis

BCAA’s play an important role during protein synthesis; the conversion from protein into muscle. This is a very important process during muscle growth. Without it, you would not be gaining any muscle mass.


What Are the Effects of BCAA Supplements?

How much does it matter if you add BCAA supplements to your meal plan? Here is a summary of the most studied effects.

Can You Build Muscle Mass Faster With BCAA?

There are a few conflicting findings on the topic of whether BCAA allows for more muscle growth. These differences are mostly because a lot of research is poor in quality.

Researchers concluded in an overview article of 2015, that there was no definitive proof that adding BCAA resulted in extra muscle mass. Adding separate amino acids were shown to not have any extra value if one’s diet already contains a lot of protein. Furthermore, a recent study in 2019 showed that BCAA doesn’t speed up the recovery process [2].

Can BCAA Supplements Cause a Decrease in Muscle Mass?

Supplementing with BCAA possibly leads to a lower peak in protein synthesis if you don’t consume enough other essential amino acids [3].

To explain how this works, it is best to first explain what happens after a heavy workout. When you’re done training, the body requires amino acids to recover. Because the body wants to build muscle mass, protein will have to be created and broken down. This happens on a few conditions.

First of all, the body requires enough essential amino acids, which aren’t just BCAA. The body uses other essential amino acids as well during muscle recovery. When there are not enough amino acids present, the body will break down muscle proteins.

This can occur when the body has other repairs to be made. This in turn results in more muscle protein being broken down than there are created. Eventually, this will show in decreased muscle growth.

So in conclusion, BCAA’s are not the be-all and end-all. You need other (essential) amino acids. A healthy and balanced diet is always recommended!

Do Vegans Build Muscle Faster When Using BCAA?

For vegans, it might be more difficult getting all essential amino acids, seeing that vegans don’t consume animal protein. Plant based protein are often not as complete when talking about their composition. That being said, it is important that vegans use multiple sources of protein [4].

A BCAA supplement might do the trick, but only if all the other essential amino acids are present in the right amounts. Taking a protein shake may have the same effect, though. To be fair, it might even be more effective, as protein shakes contain high quality protein, as well as all essential amino acids. Even some vegan protein shakes contain a full assortment of high quality protein.

Decreased Mental Fatigue

BCAA possibly helps to decrease physical fatigue, while increasing concentration. A study with sailors confirms this. The group that used a high dose of BCAA felt less tired on the day after exercising. They were also able to remember information more effectively [5].

It should be noted though, that this study was done with 12 test subjects, making it less reliable.

Possible Explanation For a Decrease in Fatigue

It is possible that BCAA causes a decrease in fatigue, because the absorption of tryptophan and production of serotonin gets inhibited. These bodily compounds cause a satisfied effect that often influences overall fatigue [6].

It is also thought that supplementing BCAA before working out decreases the influence that tryptophan and serotonin have. This eventually results in more energy that can be used for working out.

BCAA and Improving Performance

Furthermore, it is questionable whether BCAA supplements increases gym performance. Trained cyclists showed to experience close to no performance boost. During this study, the cyclists used 90 mg BCAA per kilogram of body weight (40.5 mg per lbs). After physical exertion, their fatigue was measured [7].

Another study with trained cyclists also shows near to no increase in physical performance when using BCAA. The dose that was used during this study was between 6 and 18 grams. However, it was shown that beginning male runners may notice an increase in performance [8].


When Should You Take BCAA?

BCAA can be taken at several moments during the day:

  • Between meals
  • Before a workout
  • During a workout
  • Right after working out

Long story short, you can take BCAA almost anytime.


In Conclusion

BCAA’s are three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The use of BCAA doesn’t add a lot if your diet is already rich in protein. It might be of use to some, but it is good to note that BCAA’s are by far not the most effective supplement on the market.

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