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BCAA Supplements: What Are BCAA Benefits and Side Effects?

Updated on December 18, 2013

Intense strength, endurance, or plyometric exercise on a regular basis puts the body under constant stress. Colds, infections, fatigue and muscle breakdown are conditions fairly common for the serious athlete. One way of preventing these issues is taking health supplements. Of the many available on the market, branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, provide four major benefits:

• Preventing Muscle Degeneration
• Strengthening the Immune System
• Improving Cognition after Exercise
• Preventing Central Fatigue

Branched Chain Amino Acids
Branched Chain Amino Acids | Source

What Are BCAAs?

Leucine, isoleucine and valine are the three branched chain amino acids. They are considered essential amino acids because the body requires them to function, but doesn’t produce them naturally. Any food that is a source of protein contains branched chain amino acids, and the more protein, the more BCAAs. Whey protein has the highest amount of BCAAs, making it a very popular part of the athlete’s diet.

There has been extensive research conducted on the benefits of BCAA supplementation indicating a positive correlation between BCAAs and improved health of athletes. Those studies also indicate that there are no serious side effects to BCAA supplementation.

BCAA Benefits:

1. Protects Muscle

BCAAs may helpful in increasing protein synthesis before or after strenuous exercise. Protein synthesis helps build non-fat mass and prevent muscle degeneration. BCAAs are metabolized in the muscles rather than the liver, so if there is enough protein in the diet to be burned as fuel while exercising, the rest is used to build new proteins, which may lead to muscle growth, or at least less muscle loss.

2. Strengthens Immune System

It’s well known that since high performance athletes are constantly taxing their entire body, they often have more colds and infections than the average person. This is because energy is directed away from the immune system in favor of physical recovery. BCAAs may increase plasma levels after working out, which thereby increase white blood cells and helps prevent infections and colds.

3. Prevents Fatigue

There is a growing body of evidence that points to BCAAs preventing central fatigue after workouts; central fatigue is a loss of power output from the central nervous system. In other words, overtrained athletes may generally experience more energy and fewer feelings of physical fatigue after strenuous exercise when taking BCAA supplements.

4. Improves Cognition

One recent study showed that when taking BCAAs cognitive function in athletes improves after long-distance running. More testing needs to be done the initial results look promising.

Additionally BCAAs have been used to prevent muscle deterioration in the elderly, to treat burn victims, aid in recovery after surgery, and treat patients with liver disease and kidney failure. The research on these benefits isn’t as well documented at this point in time but it does give further indication of the overall efficacy of branched chain amino acids.

5. Reduces Muscle Soreness and Recovery Time

A study in 2010 in that appeared Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise tested 24 healthy but untrained males for post workout muscle recovery. The study found "when soreness measures were compared, the participants who supplemented with BCAA reported significantly less soreness." The researches concluded that supplementing with BCAAs before and after intense exercise can reduce the overall muscle recovery time.

BCAA Dosage:

Dosage recommendations vary but I personally take 2 capsules of Optimum Nutrition BCAA in the morning and 4 capsules just before going to bed at night. This delivers 1500mg of L-Leucine, 750mg of L-Isoleucine, and 750mg of L-Valine absorbed over 24 hours.

A number of trainers recommend taking BCAA 30-45 minutes prior to working out and immediately following a strenuous workout. Because I take a pre-workout drink and a whey protein shake immediately following my workout, I prefer to take my BCAAs before and after the longest time period – sleeping – during the 24 hour day that I don’t have protein intake. I feel this is the best way to prevent any muscle loss. As with all nutritional/training recommendations it is best to try your own combinations and determine what works best for your individual body.


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      Brett Maas 2 years ago

      This is some great information. I like to take my bcaa's throughout the day in my gallon water jug. Yep i'm that guy. I don't care though because the benefits outweigh me looking like a tool at the gym! Ever since I started taking bcaa's I feel like not only have I gained strength in the gym but even my overall energy throughout my day at school and work has been at an all time high. Thanks again post. Here is a link to the bcaa that I take.

    • TotalHealth profile image

      TotalHealth 3 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

      Thanks for commenting, midnightbliss. Yeah, I have a few friends who actively train for triathlons and use BCAAs...among other supplements.They too noted the difference, particularly as it relates to fatigue-recovery. ~ Totalhealth.

    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 5 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      Wow, I never realized the importance of BCAAs. Recently I increased my running regimen from about 20 miles to 40 miles per week, and I have really noticed how fatigued I feel. I look forward to trying BCAAs to see if it will help. Thank you!