In your body, there are twenty amino acids that make up thousands of different proteins. Nine of those amino acids are known as essential amino acids, which means your body cannot make them and they must therefore be obtained through your diet. Out of those nine essential amino acids, three are branched-chain amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
The term “branched-chain” refers to the BCAAs’ chemical structure. Branched-chain amino acids can be found in protein-rich food, but BCAAs are also available as dietary supplement powders. BCAA supplements are often used to increase muscle growth, reduce exercise fatigue, prevent muscle wasting, and decrease muscle soreness. They can be used before, during, and after an exercise routine. But growing evidence suggests they are particularly effective when taken before you work out.
You should look in detail at the best way to take BCAA supplements before you begin using them. But if you do start taking BCAAs before your exercise routine, they can help you to improve your performance. According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, runners who pair BCAAs with caffeine and carbohydrates can increase their endurance by a period of up to two hours.
Another study, published by the National Library of Medicine in 2017, tested the effects of taking an equal dose of BCAAs immediately before and after exercise on hypertrophy, muscle strength, and body composition changes. The study involved twenty-one men that were divided into two groups. One group took 25g protein and 1g carbohydrate immediately before they exercised, while the other group took the same dosage post-workout. The men engaged in three weekly resistance training sessions over a period of ten weeks. By the end of the study, it was discovered that both groups had similar improvements in hypertrophy, strength, and body composition, suggesting BCAAs can be beneficial when they are consumed both pre and post-workout.
Decreased Muscle Soreness
Another study, published by the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, also compared the effects of taking BCAAs before and after exercise. But rather than looking at performance, the researchers were interested in seeing the effect BCAAs have on exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness. For the study, fifteen young men were given either a BCAA or a placebo. The men were divided into three groups. The first group took the placebo before and after exercise, the second group took a BCAA before exercise and a placebo after, and the third group took a placebo before exercise and a BCAA afterward. During the workout routines, each man performed thirty reps with the non-dominant arm. The results of the study showed that BCAAs taken prior to doing exercise were beneficial for both exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness. So, it would seem BCAAs really are essential before you engage with your exercise routine.
However, other research suggests BCAAs can help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness when they are taken after a workout routine. DOMS develops between twelve and twenty-four hours after exercising, and the soreness can last up to seventy-two hours. When BCAAs are taken after working out, they could help reduce the length and severity of DOMS. That is because BCAAs decrease protein breakdown and decrease levels of creatine kinase, which indicates muscle damage. So, while studies suggest BCAAs are highly effective at improving performance and reducing exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness, taking BCAAs after exercise routines can also help to reduce the latter.
Optimal BCAA Dosages
It seems clear that BCAAs can help in various ways when taken before and after exercise routines. But it is also important that you take the right dosage. The amount of BCAAs you take matters just as much as the timing for both increasing your performance and reducing prolonged muscle damage. Typically, experts agree an effective dose of BCAAs is around 7g. But if you are taking BCAAs solely for benefitting your performance, a smaller dosage could be effective.
BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, alleviate muscle soreness, and decrease muscle fatigue. In a hospital setting, BCAAs can even be used to prevent or slow muscle loss and improve symptoms of liver disease. Studies show BCAAs are effective when used both before and after workouts. But when taken before your exercise routine, they can especially help exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed onset muscle soreness. While many protein-rich foods, such as chicken breast, eggs, and Greek yogurt, can provide you with BCAAs, it is often simpler to take a BCAA supplement. When you combine BCAAs with a healthy diet and a regular workout routine, you can be assured you are providing your body with what it needs to improve your performance and protect you from muscle damage.