BCCA’s 101

BCAA’s for exercise performance and recovery…  While glutamine is the most abundant single amino acid in the body, BCAA’s are the most abundant type of amino acid in muscle tissue.

BCAAs are proteinogenic amino acids (amino acids that are precursors to proteins) so they are important as building blocks for protein and muscle.  There are three BCAAs:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

These are also classified as essential amino acids, meaning that we must get them from our diet, the body cannot make (synthesize) them on its own.

What Do They Do

BCAAs account for roughly 30-40% of your dietary essential amino acid requirement.  They have been found to reduce muscle soreness from intense training and improve training drive, especially when fatigued. BCAA’s can signal protein synthesis, improve insulin signaling, recovery, and prevent muscle tissue breakdown.

When you train your body increases it’s ability to break down BCAA’s for fuel, but when you take them via your diet before training & intra workout you actually inhibit this response.  The same rule applies for periods between meals or when using a lower carb diet.

BCAA’s are unique in that they have muscle building (anabolic) and anti muscle breakdown (anti-catabolic) benefits, they can increase cortisol (stress hormone) and insulin.  This makes them great for training. Outside of training they are can be used as an anti-catabolic with a low calorie meal or as a muscle building (anabolic) when the meal is high in protein & carbs.

Because BCAA’s are highly glycogenic, they can be converted to glucose increasing the glycemic load and insulin load of meal.  This can be good in a post training meals, but the for breakfast this is probably not a good place to take high doses of BCAAs if your goal is fat loss.  The exceptions would be if this is also your pre-training meal, or you are having a low carb/calorie breakfast need to supplement some BCAA’s for the anti-catabolic / muscle breakdown effects.  When dieting down, using supplemental BCAA’s as a low calorie snack between meals with some greens is a great way to combat muscle breakdown and keep calories low and fat burning going.  But going over 8-10 grams will most likely switch off the fat burning in this case.

Taking adequate BCAA intake can improve glucose (carb) uptake and insulin sensitivity.  BCAAs can help stimulate insulin dependent transport of amino acids into the cells.

Supplement Intake VS Dietary Intake

BCAA’s do occur naturally in food protein sources, with the highest concentrations in chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, and whey protein. Supplemental form BCAA’s that are unbound are the most effective at inducing the anti-catabolic and anabolic response.  When in supplement form, BCAA’s require no digestion and go directly to the bloodstream. Any protein sources that requires digestion will lose a portion of its amino acid content during digestion.  So just because chicken or beef has X amount amino acid does not mean that amount actually reaches your blood stream. You would need at least 2-3x as many dietary BCAA’s compared to free form BCAA’s. 

Taking BCAA’s in their free form also allows for a spike of BCAA’s over other amino acids in the blood stream.  This means the signalling effects to the body of the BCAAs will be higher. Additionally the absorption time is very fast for free form amino acids, where as whey protein will be about 2-3 x slower and food based aminos will be 4-5x slower digesting.  

For an average sized adult male 6g & female 3-6g of BCAAs seems to be the threshold for muscle sparing benefits during exercise or when on lower calorie diets.  Doses of 20g throughout training elicit a more anabolic effect for those looking to use BCAA’s for muscle building. Higher doses of BCAA’s do require that you have adequate amounts of B-vitamins, especially B6. I suggest a good B complex supplement for anyone on a high protein diet so that they can make the best use of all the amino acids they take in.   Additionally, higher doses of BCAAs for muscle building (anabolism) work best with insulin, suggesting that high dosing BCAA’s without using any carbohydrates will drastically decrease their muscle building (anabolic) potential. So if you want to high dose BCAA’s for muscle growth, do it when you are also having carbohydrates intra/ post workout. 

One of the most talked about BCAA’s is leucine because it has a strong effect on promoting protein synthesis through the mTOR pathway.  Leucine also play key roles in the uptake of other amino acids and increased fat burning. Leucine is likely the most important of the amino acids for building muscle.

Get BCAA’s Here

BCAA’s From NUTRIDYN / Practitioner Brands – https://revoltfitness.nutridyn.com/dynamic-bcaa-drink

BCAA’s From IHerb:https://www.iherb.com/pr/MRM-BCAA-G-Reload-Post-Workout-Recovery-Lemonade-1-85-lbs-840-g/41341?rcode=BFL09



With more than a decade and a half of hands-on experience, Justin is not just an online fitness coach, he continues his in-the-trenches work at his gym Revolt Fitness Narraweena on Sydney's Northern Beaches implementing his distinctive approach to personalised fitness coaching with small group coached hours that offer personalised attention, creating a community atmosphere while ensuring individual progress.

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