There are many questions regarding BCAA, such as, what it is for and, how should one take it? Well, to understand this, it is important to understand muscle building and how the BCAA is implicated in that.

BCAA is one of the most commonly used supplements by people performing physical activity. Its acronym, BCAA, stands for branch chain amino acids. Its popularity has risen significantly in the fitness world because its amino acids are associated with increased muscle mass.

BCAA is made up of three essential amino acids*, known as leucine, isoleucine and valine. About 35% of the amino acids found in muscles are BCAA and because of this, we can begin to understand why their intake is so important for those who want to gain muscle.

Our muscles undergo a constant process of catabolism and anabolism. Anabolism is when amino acids are used to form muscle with a consequent increase in lean body mass. Catabolism is the opposite and happens when the amino acids present in the muscle are used for various functions in the body, thus muscle mass is lost. When we do not have enough amino acids to complete muscle formation, it is common to see a loss of lean body mass. So, how does one gain muscle mass? For an increase in muscle size, the balance needs to tip towards the positive, the anabolic side, making it necessary to provide the body with amino acids involved in muscle formation such as BCAA.

In this way, the amino acids that are part of BCAA will act by supplying the muscle with the main amino acids involved in the synthesis of muscular protein. And, of the three amino acids involved, studies show that leucine, being present in a higher proportion in muscles, is the most effective amino acid in activating one of the major anabolic pathways called mTOR. In the presence of leucine this pathway is activated in order to increase the synthesis of muscle protein.

Intake of BCAA is also able to stimulate and raise the production of insulin, a highly anabolic hormone, providing better amino acid absorption and allowing greater entry of glucose into the cells, the result is more energy during training. In addition, BCAAs can also reduce fatigue by inhibiting the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in the processes of fatigue and sleep.

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BCAA before or after training?

As said above, branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are an excellent choice for those who want to gain muscle mass, but when should one take it? For example: BCAA are incredibly beneficial to take pre-workout to fuel your muscles, giving you energy and encouraging the muscles to grow while burning fat. Alternatively, BCAA can also be taken post-workout or during exercise.

BCAA powder or capsule? What is the difference?

Several studies have shown that the amino acids of BCAA supplementation should maintain equimolar proportions (all three BCAA have equivalent moles), providing a total of about 3g of amino acids per dose. That amount of amino acids to be dispensed in capsules would require the ingestion of at least six capsules. In this sense, the use of BCAA in the form of powder facilitates the process, since it can be added directly into beverages as well as being available in different flavours.

Is BCAA fattening?

BCAA assists those who are looking to increase muscle mass, and used in this way, the increase of muscle assists in fat loss. (one dose of BCAA has only 23kcal**). However, for this effect to occur, the intake of BCAA should be accompanied by the practice of regular physical exercise.



* Amino acids that the body needs to acquire through diet and/or supplementation

** BCAA 8: 1: 1 Essential Nutrition

Published by Essential Nutrition Magazine 19 Dec 2016