Supplements like BCAAs help ensure that athletes get the right amount of key nutrients that they need for optimal exercise performance and muscle recovery. Both elite and amateur athletes regularly use supplements to make up for nutrient deficiencies that we don't get from our diets.
CAA (Branch Chain Amino Acid) supplements are often recommended for athletes who want to build lean muscle mass and recover faster from intense training sessions. It has long been debated whether BCAA supplementation should be taken before or after a workout. Some trainers suggest taking them before a workout, while others say they should be consumed post-workout.
In order to determine which approach will work best for you, we must first dive into what BCAAs are and the role they play in muscle protein synthesis.
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are a group of 3 essential amino acid compounds that our bodies need in order to repair our muscles after we exercise. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and each essential amino acid in BCAAs plays a special role in preventing or repairing exercise-induced muscle damage.
The 3 branched-chain amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine promotes the formation of new proteins and helps prevent muscle breakdown, isoleucine regulates energy and blood sugar levels, and valine improves energy levels and enhances athletic performance.
BCAAs are "essential" because our bodies don't make them naturally. We can only get them from protein-rich food sources that have all nine essential amino acids, or from supplements. BCAAs are found in foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and grains.
Active individuals, especially those who lift weights and exercise regularly, may not get enough BCAAs from food, so you may need amino acid supplements to help maximize performance and limit muscle loss. Most BCAA supplements are made in powder form and can be mixed with water to create a sports drink.
Staying hydrated and supplementing with a BCAA powder can help reduce muscle protein breakdown
How BCAAs Help You Reach Your Fitness Goals
BCAAs are an important part of recovery for those who exercise or strength-train regularly. There are many benefits of BCAAs that can help you maximize your exercise performance if you know how to take them properly.
- Help Increase Muscle Growth: BCAAs help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which leads to increased gains in lean muscle. If you are into weightlifting or if your fitness goals include muscle building, BCAAs are essential for muscle growth.
- Decrease Muscle Soreness: BCAAs help to decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs in the 12-14 hours after a hard workout, due to the tiny micro-tears that your muscles sustain from exercise. This can help to reduce recovery time, lessen muscle fatigue, and get you back in the gym more quickly!
- Reduce Exercise Fatigue: When you exercise, your muscles use up BCAAs and deplete the levels in your blood. This causes your brain to increase tryptophan production, which turns into serotonin, which causes you to feel fatigued. Consuming BCAAs before or during your workout builds up the amount in your body, which can lessen or delay the onset of exercise fatigue.
Prevent Muscle Loss: Muscle protein breakdown happens when we exercise, especially during strength and resistance training. Staying hydrated and supplementing with a BCAA powder can help reduce muscle protein breakdown.
BCAA powder is a supplement that can actually be taken more than once daily without the worry of overdoing it
When to Take BCAAs
When should you take BCAA powder?
The answer depends on your personal preference and what you're trying to achieve. Few studies have been done on the optimal time to take BCAAs, with differing results.
BCAA powder is a supplement that can actually be taken more than once daily without the worry of overdoing it. If you are training hard or have an exceptionally intense workout, you can take about 5 grams of BCAAs 15-30 minutes before your workout session and another 5 grams as a post-workout supplement.
But if your workout routine (or your pocketbook) doesn't allow for double-dosing BCAAs daily, consider the following information to decide when to take your BCAA powder.
Before & During Exercise
If you are looking to give yourself a little extra boost during your workout, consider taking your BCAA supplement before or even during your exercise routine for an added energy source. It will give you the steady energy boost that you would expect from a traditional pre-workout supplement, without the jitters and eventual crash that come with many highly-caffeinated pre-workout supplements.
When you consume BCAAs 15-30 minutes before you exercise, you're giving your body added fuel to power your workout and the valine it needs to stop the breakdown of muscle tissue before it starts. This can help reduce fatigue during exercise and allow you to work out longer and harder.
Endurance athletes such as marathon runners and triathletes may prefer to up their intake of BCAAs during a long race in order to give them the extra energy boost to get through intense exercise. Since BCAAs have been shown to reduce fatigue and improve mental energy and clarity, some athletes find that it is a helpful source of energy to get them through those last few miles of a long run, bike, or swim.
BCAAs vs. Pre-Workout
Pre-workout and BCAAs are among the most common types of workout supplements consumed. Some people prefer to take a pre-workout supplement that contains high amounts of caffeine and beta-alanine before a workout to increase focus and performance. Others choose to use BCAA supplements instead because they are easier to digest and provide a more sustained energy boost.
"Traditional" pre-workouts contain caffeine and other stimulants that give athletes a boost of energy and focus throughout their workouts. However, these types of supplements can cause jitters, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches. These side effects can lead to poor concentration and decreased endurance in some users.
If pre-workouts tend to leave you feeling itchy and jittery, or if they leave you with a mid-day crash after all the caffeine wears off, consider taking a BCAA supplement before your workout, instead. BCAAs taken before a workout can give you a sustained burst of energy during exercise without all the negative side effects of a highly-caffeinated supplement.
Where BCAAs tend to shine, though, is as a post-exercise muscle recovery tool. After a tough workout, your body uses BCAAs to repair damaged cells and tissues. By consuming BCAAs immediately after exercising, you'll ensure that your body has enough of these amino acids to rebuild muscle fibers and maintain lean muscle mass.
This is why BCAAs are often recommended by trainers and sports nutritionists to help speed up recovery after a strenuous workout. Many people notice reduced muscle soreness, quicker recovery, and delayed or decreased feelings of exercise-induced fatigue when they consume their BCAA supplement after exercise.
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