BCAA’s (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) are one of the newest superstars on the supplement market. And that’s not surprising since they’re one of the effective supplements out there for building muscle, enhancing recovery, reducing fatigue, and helping to prevent muscle breakdown during intense training sessions.

It’s the secret supplement that many bodybuilding pro’s and physique competitors have been using for years, to great effect.

BCAA’s are research proven too. Just like Creatine was back in the day, copious amounts of scientific papers were done on it, proving its effectiveness. It took a long time for the fitness supplement industry and average gym-Joe to catch up and start using it, but when they did nobody ever looked back.

BCAA’s are the new Creatine, they’re the new superstar of the industry but with slightly different effects, and even bigger results!


What are the BCAA’s?

BCAA’s consist of three essential amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Due to the unique nature of these amino acids researchers believe that the BCAA’S, especially leucine, work to increase lean muscle tissue and promote recovery.

The following mechanisms have been suggested to be enhanced as a result of BCAA supplementation:

  •   Prevention of tryptophan from crossing the blood-brain barrier and increasing central fatigue = Less fatigue, better and more consistent workouts!
  • Regulation of muscle protein synthesis and increased muscle hypertrophy = Increases in muscle mass and reductions in body fat!
  • Greater post-exercise insulin response and nutrient shuttling = Enhanced recovery and better results from training!

How do BCAA’s help to build muscle and reduce body fat?

Translation initiation is the first step by which muscle protein synthesis (MPS) occurs. MPS is basically the posh name for being anabolic. The more anabolic you are and least catabolic; the more muscle you can theoretically build. The other two steps that initiate MPS are referred to as chain elongation and termination. Without translation, there can’t be protein synthesis or muscle growth.

Research by Norton & Layman (2006) have demonstrated that after exhaustive resistance training, the body is in a catabolic state until adequate nutrition is provided. During this catabolic state, MPS becomes impaired at the cellular level due to the inhibition of specific translation initiation factors (eIF4G, eIF4E and rpS6).

These factors are what ‘turn on’ the process of translation, and eventually MPS. These translation initiation factors are controlled by intracellular insulin signalling and leucine concentrations….

Remember, leucine is one of the BCAA’s!

When leucine is ingested, tissue levels increase, and translation initiation is activated. Hence, supplementing with the BCAA’s and leucine in particular actually activates the beginning steps of muscle protein synthesis, leading to an enhanced anabolic state and increased muscle building.

Leucine’s effect on protein synthesis is also synergistic with insulin, and most of us know how anabolic insulin can be.

BCAA’s are one of the most effective supplements on the market for increasing lean muscle mass. Here are some recommendations you might want to consider before supplementing with BCAA’s.

Types of BCAA

BCAA’s can be found in powder or pill form. Both are as effective but which one you choose will depend on convenience, practicality and taste. When trying to find a good BCAA supplement look for a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine.

When looking to supplement with leucine-alone, look for a powder with good mix ability, as adding it to your post-workout shake can sometimes give it a ‘frothy’ look.

Frequency & Dosage

Using BCAA’s directly around the time of your workout has been considered a highly effective strategy. Aim to consume up to 15g spread throughout the course of your training session, beginning 30 minutes prior. Alternatively 5g doses can be taken up to 4 times spread throughout the day.


No serious side-effects have been reported from use of BCAA’s. However excessive use of leucine can cause the body to enter a ketogenic state faster, similar to that of a low carbohydrate diet, and hence similar effects. BCAA’s are also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Take Home Message

If your goals are to increase lean muscle mass, promote recovery, train harder, and take your body to the next level, then BCAA’s could be worth a try.

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