What BCAAs Are, What They Do for You, and How They Work

By Kyle Milligan / March 10, 2017

Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs. What are they? What do they do for you? BCAAs are one of the most beneficial dietary supplements you could ask for. BCAA use has become more and more popular in the fitness community as more research findings endorse their use and beneficial effects.

BCAAs are very important for the maintenance and growth of muscle tissue. Supplementing your diet with BCAAs at specific times will help prevent your body from breaking down its own muscle for fuel during exercise.

Even though BCAAs have been around in the fitness community for quite some time, there is still an air of mystery regarding what BCAAs are and what they do for you. I'm no exception. I am one of the newest members of the BCAA fan club. I just started using Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard BCAA, and I'm loving its effects

What Are BCAAs?

BCAAs are branched chain amino acids. So what are amino acids? Scientifically speaking, amino acids are the monomers that make up proteins. We all know what protein is. It's a delicious powder you pour it in your blender, and it makes you jacked. We love that stuff.

amino acid glycine

"Eat me! I'll make you strong!"

Anyways, proteins, which are the building blocks of muscle, are made up of a bunch of amino acids strung together on peptide bonds. Think of protein like a string of beads and all the beads are amino acids. 

When you buy a dietary supplement like a BCAA powder, you are buying it for three specific amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Amino acids are typed "essential" or "non-essential." The three in BCAA powders are essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be produced by the body so they must be consumed. Follow so far? Good.

What are BCAAs good for?

Now we know what BCAAs are, but what do they do for you? Actually a lot. I started looking into BCAAs because my friend said they'd help my sore back. But I had no idea the the amazing array of applications of BCAAs for both the fitness and medical community. Primarily, BCAAs provide awesome support for muscle preservation. In fact, BCAAs are used to treat muscle degeneration for people confined to beds, people suffering from ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, brain conditions due to liver disease, and a ton of other diseases! (Source: WebMD

Athletes have sought to harness the regenerative power of BCAAs for bigger muscles and improved athletic performance. While I haven't found anything to support that BCAAs build larger muscles, research has shown that branched chain amino acid supplementation:

  • Positively affects muscle recovery and the immune system
  • Increases rates of protein synthesis while suppressing muscle protein breakdown.
  • Reduces markers of muscle damage
  • Reduces the effects of delayed onset of muscle soreness, also known as DOMS.

How Do BCAAs Work?

BCAAs give your muscles powers like Wolverine from X-Men. So how do they do it? Well, your body handles BCAA powder differently from other substances you consume. When you usually ingest amino acids, either individually or as a whole protein, they go straight to your liver. Once there, your liver either breaks the amino acids down to use as fuel or sends them to work repairing muscles. But not BCAAs.  They go straight to your muscles, so they can be used for fuel or to build and repair the tissue.

That means you can send fuel and resources straight to your muscles​, super fast. As a result, your muscle degeneration is decreased, your repair time decreases, and you are able to build more muscle. This is the the weird roundabout way that BCAAs actually DO give you bigger muscles.

DOMS occurs about 24 hours after a workout. So if you workout hard today, the effort and strain from that workout can inhibit your performance tomorrow. By ingesting 4-8 grams of BCAAs before or during your workout, you can reduce the damage to (and repair time of) your muscles. This means you can work out just as hard tomorrow as you did the day before. This, in theory, should result in increased muscle mass and strength over a period of time.​

What is the Best BCAA Powder?

When shopping for BCAAs, there is one main thing to keep your eye out for. You want to pick up a brand that offers 5g of BCAAs at a 2:1:1 ratio; leucine to isoleucine to valine. Why arrange the ratio like that? It's because of leucine's very important job, which is to increase muscle protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth.

Gold Standard BCAA Train and Recover Powder

"Buy me! I'll make you strong!"

In brand terms of best BCAA powder, I am using Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard BCAA Train and Recover. It tastes good, BCAAs are worth it, and I am an ON fan, so I think you should buy it. 

What BCAAs Are, What They Do for You, and How They Work
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What BCAAs Are, What They Do for You, and How They Work
What BCAAs Are, What They Do for You, and How They Work. Branched chain amino acids are popular in the fitness community, yet still surrounded in mystery.
About the author

Kyle Milligan

I'm Kyle Milligan. I really enjoy writing. I wrote a couple novels (The Hang-Ups and Hangovers series) and now I blog frequently on a bunch of different websites. I also enjoy lifting heavy things and and writing about it.

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