When it comes to supplementation in the gym world, Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) are right up there with creatine and protein on the celebrity supplement list. Many people can be seen walking around a gym, sipping on various bright coloured BCAA based intra-workout concoctions. The question is, are they worth it?
For those that aren't familiar, BCAA's are three essential amino acids (meaning we have to get them from our diet, or we die), that are strongly involved in the growth of new muscle within the body. BCAA's can make up to one-third of all muscle protein and are given their name due to their unique 'branched' structure.
BCAA's are found in protein sources and are especially high in protein supplements such as Whey Protein. The BCAA's found in BCAA supplements differ from the ones found in protein sources. BCAA's found in protein are peptide-bound to other proteins, meaning they have to go through digestion in order to be liberated and used by the body. This process can take hours to occur before the amino's can enter the bloodstream.
BCAA's in supplement form, however, are free form and don't require digestion and can enter the bloodstream a lot quicker. This means they can be utilised a lot faster by the body.
There are many purported benefits of the supplementation of BCAA's. Most of these are because of their potential ability to stop muscle breakdown during workouts and during times of calorie restriction (dieting).
While exercising, the body can increase the process of breaking down amino acids found in muscle, to use as fuel. This is obviously counterproductive for those who's goal is to put on muscle. It's shown that supplementing with BCAA's around a workout may counter this effect during exercise, increasing recovery and delaying fatigue.
There are also benefits to supplementing with BCAA's while calorie-restricted (''dieting''). A recent study showed that the supplementation of BCAA's before and after a workout helped preserve muscle mass while dieting, and, lets face it, no one wants to lose muscle.
Another, often overlooked benefit of BCAA's are their benefits on the brain while working out. During exercise, the body produces the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin increases the perception of fatigue, often decreasing the intensity of our workouts. BCAA's compete for entry into the brain with serotonin. This decreases psychologically perceived fatigue during a workout, allowing you to keep the intensity up, longer.
Despite all of BCAA's potential benefits and the widespread usage of them as a supplement, their benefits are far less supported than other supplements, such as creatine and beta-alanine.
If you are in a catabolic state such as dieting or training fasted, the benefit of BCAA's as an effective supplement in your stack, goes up. Aside from the above, the decision is up to you. If you can justify the cost, BCAA's could help you delay fatigue and increase your recovery.
While there are a lot of other supplements such as creatine, I would place over BCAA's, the question of whether BCAA's are worth it depends largely on what you are currently doing in your training and whether you want to spend the extra cash.