BCAAs—A Sports Nutrition Essential

Increase performance, speed recovery & more!

BCAAs—A Sports Nutrition Essential - Increase performance, speed recovery & more!
One of the most effective supplements for building muscle and speeding recovery are BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body and help to facilitate cell growth and repair and contribute to countless other functions in the body. Whether you know it our not, you may already be taking a supplement including BCAAs, as they are in your protein powders and many pre-workout and intra-workout supplements. But despite that fact, do you know why you need supplement with them or how to properly use them? This post will give you the low-down on BCAAs, so keep reading!

What Are BCAAs?

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body. Therefore, we can only obtain these critical amino acids from the food we eat. Although there are nine essential amino acids, there are only three BCAAs—Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. When it comes to building muscle, these three aminos are by far the most important.

What Are The Benefits of BCAAs?

BCAAs play many important roles when it comes to building and maintaining muscle during and after exercise, as they stimulate pathways involved in muscle development. They can also help reduce exercise-induced muscle pain and decrease muscle fatigue. Additionally, their presence can help preserve muscle tissue and reduce muscle breakdown.

Each of the BCAAs has a specific role and function. Isoleucine helps to regulate blood sugar levels, assists in the formation of blood cells and supports muscle growth and repair. Valine helps support the recovery and muscle building process, but it also plays a role in cognitive and nervous system functioning. By far the most important and most anabolic of the BCAAs is Leucine. This amino acid is a direct regulator of the muscle-building pathways that activate the mTOR complex, which essentially turns on protein synthesis. In fact, Leucine’s presence in the muscle determines if the muscle is in a state of anabolism or catabolism. This is why supplementing with BCAAs before, during and even after a workout is so important.

Who Should Use BCAAs?

If you workout regularly—lifting weights, performing conditioning work, participating in sports or CrossFit—BCAAs should be part of your supplement regimen to help improve performance, speed recovery and support muscle-building goals.

How To Dose & When To Use BCAAs?

Since BCAAs help to regulate protein metabolism, they can be supplemented before, during and after a workout to ensure the muscles have a steady supply of aminos. If you supplement before, aim to take them about 15 to 30 minutes prior to your workout and continue to sip them during your workout. (Most BCAA products are powders to be mixed with water in a shaker cup.) If you choose to supplement after, be sure to get them in immediately following your workout when your muscles are most receptive to nutrient up-take. Another popular time to supplement is before a fasted morning cardio session. Supplementing with BCAAs before a fasted cardio session helps you to preserving muscle tissue, which forces the body to tap into fat as fuel.

BCAAs—A Sports Nutrition Essential - Increase performance, speed recovery & more!You can find BCAAs in pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout products, but you can also find them on their own in a powder, liquid, chewable or pill format. When deciding on a product, choose free-form BCAAs, which are more readily available and more quickly absorbed. The majority of formulations are sugar-free, but be sure to check the supplement facts panel to ensure the product fits with your dietary plan.

A typical serving is about 10 grams. For maximum results, look for a ratio of BCAAs of 3:2:1 or even 2:1:1 of Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine. These optimal ratios are supported by research.

What Products are Available?

There are many BCAA products out there, each with unique offerings. Here are just a few products and their main benefits to give you a sense of what is available is BCAA products on the market:

Gaspari Nutrition Aminolast
Aminolast provides 10 grams of free form amino acids (2:1:1 ratio of Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine) along with electrolytes to help keep you hydrated while you train and replenish your body post-training. It also contains the proprietary AmmoJect, which helps to rid muscles of waste (i.e. ammonia) that causes fatigue. Thus, this product has been formulated to help increase muscle endurance and speed recovery making it especially effective for intra-workout and post-workout usage. Aminolast is sugar-free, has no added synthetic colors and comes in four flavors, including Lemon Ice, Orange Mango, Watermelon and Strawberry Kiwi.

Scivation XTEND
Xtend is a sugar-free BCAA powdered mix formulated with 7 grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio of Leucine: Isoleucine: Valine. It also provides 2.5 grams of Glutamine, 1 gram of Citrulline Malate, electrolytes and vitamin B6. This product comes in six different flavors including: grape, green apple, lemon lime, orange, pink lemonade, blue raspberry and watermelon. Like Gaspari Nutrition’s Aminolast, this product is formulated as an intra-workout and post-workout supplement.

MusclePharm Amino 1
This formulation provides 10 grams of a 3:2:1 ratio of BCAAs along with all-natural coconut water concentrate that provides a balance of electrolytes and minerals. It also provides a hydration blend to help with endurance and nutrient delivery and a few stimulant-free energizing ingredients to support ATP production including L-Carnitine and Co-Enzyme Q10. This product is formulated for recovery and hydration and comes in five flavors cherry limeade, fruit punch, glacier breeze, lemon lime and orange mango.


Da Luz CR, Nicastro H, Zanchi NE, Chaves DFS, Lancha AH. Potential therapeutic effects of branched-chain amino acids supplementation on resistance exercise-based muscle damage in humans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011. 8:23

Blomstrad E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HKR, Kohnke R. Branched Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise. J Nutr. 2006. 136(1): 269S-273S.

Karlsson HK, Nilsson PA, Nilsson J, Chibalin AV, Zierath JR, Blomstrand E. Branched-chain amino acids increase p70 phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. AJP. 2004. 287(1): E1-E7.

Howatson G, Hoad M, Goodall S, Tallent J, Bell PG, French DN. Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 May 8;9(1):20

Pasiakos SM, McClung HL, McClung JP, Margolis LM, Andersen NE, Cloutier GJ, Pikosky MA, Rood JC, Fielding RA, Young AJ. Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances post exercise muscle protein synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):809-18.

Mourier A, Bigard AX, de Kerviler E, Roger B, Legrand H, Guezennec CY. Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. Int J Sports Med. 1997 Jan;18(1):47-55.

MacLean DA, Graham TE, Saltin B. Stimulation of muscle ammonia production during exercise following branched-chain amino acid supplementation in humans. J Physiol. 1996 Jun 15;493 ( Pt 3):909-22.

Lauren Jacobsen

Lauren is the creator of Sexy, Strong and Fit Online Coaching Services specializing in transforming women to fitness model condition. Lauren has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, supplement consultant and nutrition expert. She is also the TV show host of "Body Fuel," a competitive athlete and regular contributor to various fitness publications.

Connect with Lauren: