At the gym I would always see people shaking their blender bottles full of amino acid supplement powder. Many of these people wouldn’t dare to work out without supplementing with their amino acids—seriously—and it made me wonder if I was missing out on something because I wasn’t doing the same. I am not the type of person to follow a health trend just because everyone else is doing it, which led me to research the validity behind why these avid amino acid drinks were just so avid about it! The question I needed answered: Are amino acid supplements just a fad and a waste of money, or do they play a key role in my health and fitness successes? Keep reading to see what I found!
What Are Amino Acids?
Let’s start by discussing what amino acids actually are, because to be completely honest with you, as much as I had talked about them, I didn’t exactly understand what they were. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
Your body breaks protein down into amino acids and then uses them for different processes and functions. There are 20 different amino acids, and they are divided into two main types: essential and non-essential. Nine of the 20 are classified as essential, as your body cannot produce them on its own, making it “essential” for you to consume them through your diet. The remaining 11 are non-essential, as your body is able to produce these amino acids on its own.
There is one more type of classification of amino acids, called conditionally essential amino acids. These amino acids are essential under certain conditions and in times when you’re unable to produce as many as your body requires.
Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered complete proteins and are best for building muscle and seeing results from your workouts. Foods like meat, eggs and dairy products are all complete proteins. While plant-based foods contain amino acids, only a handful are considered to be complete proteins. You can check out this post for a few of my favorite plant-based foods that are complete proteins.
Nuts, seeds, beans and grains are considered incomplete proteins, but when you include a wide variety into your diet, they will combine together to form complementary proteins, which provide the same benefits of complete proteins. These incomplete proteins do not need to be eaten together at the same meal to form a complete protein.
What About Branch Chain Amino Acids?
The avid amino acid drinkers at the gym are not just supplementing with amino acids, but branch chain amino acids specifically, most commonly known as BCAAs. Out of the nine essential amino acids, three are classified as BCAAs: valine, leucine and isoleucine. They are called branch chain amino acids due to their structure, but what makes them so special is that they get broken down differently than the other amino acids. BCAAs go directly to your muscles to be broken down, rather than first being sent to your liver and then to your muscles. When being broken down directly in your muscles, BCAAs hold many amazing benefits!
Why I Supplement with Amino Acids
After much research, I came to the conclusion that I could really benefit from supplementing with BCAAs. Check out my top three reasons why I now always supplement with BCAAs:
1. BCAAs Boost Muscle Repair and Growth
The number one reason why I decided to start supplementing with BCAAs was because of the amazing effect they have on boosting muscle repair and growth. So you’re actually not building muscle during your workout. Believe it or not, you are doing the exact opposite.
When you work out, you are tearing your muscle fibers, literally breaking them down. Your muscles grow after your workouts and your body uses BCAAs in order to do so. One study showed that people who drank BCAAs after resistance training experienced a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis, your body’s process of creating protein to repair your broken-down muscle fibers from your workout, over those who drank the placebo drink.
Basically, the better your body is at repairing your muscles, the better able you will be to grow your muscle and the more lean muscle mass you will have. And you know what more muscle mass means? Less body fat. Yes, please!
2. BCAAs Reduce Your Muscle Soreness and Recovery Time
Another amazing benefit of BCAAs is that they’ve been shown to help reduce muscle soreness, which helps reduce your recovery time between workouts. For me, there is no worse feeling than wanting to completely crush my workout but being too sore from the day before to give it everything I have. This is due to DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness, which normally kicks in about 12 to 24 hours after an intense workout, but the feeling can last up to three days! (I know you know what I am talking about and experience it regularly, but you probably didn’t know the scientific term for it.)
I’ll be honest: Since supplementing with BCAAs regularly, I have noticed a huge difference in my recovery time between workouts! Why? Because BCAAs help decrease the amount of protein that gets broken down during your workout, which causes less muscle damage, which means it takes less time to rebuild. You’ll want to supplement with your BCAAs pre-workout to really help speed up your recovery process.
3. BCAAs Increase the Intensity of Your Workouts
There is limited storage space in the muscles for glucose, which is usable energy from carbohydrates and also your main source of energy during exercise, especially during high-intensity workouts. BCAAs can be converted into glucose, so when your glucose storage runs out during an intense workout, if your muscles have available BCAAs, your body can use them for more energy to push harder and longer. For me, I regularly experience the “I just hit a wall” effect in the middle of my workout, and once I started supplementing with BCAAs pre-workout, I noticed this effect not only disappeared, but I was able to crush my workout even harder!
How I Supplement with BCAAs
Some people supplement with BCAAs pre-workout, while others supplement during their workout or post-workout. There are many articles out there arguing which is best. My philosophy is that people love to overcomplicate health and fitness, when it really doesn’t need to be that complicated! People get so hung up on the timing of when to eat, what to eat and what to supplement with, but in actuality, they’re getting hung up on doing things so perfectly that it slows them down or completely discourages them.
If you want to reap the benefits of BCAAs, just supplement with BCAAs; don’t overcomplicate it. I personally prefer to supplement with mine right before my workout using this pre-workout supplement packed with BCAAs. When I supplement with it right before I hit my workout, I feel it kick in right when I need that extra burst of energy to finish strong. I prefer mixing one scoop with eight to 12 ounces of water, which also helps keep me hydrated for my workout—another key player in muscle growth and recovery.
With all of this being said, BCAAs only work if you work! They’re a great supplement that supplements hard work. You won’t experience the perks of BCAAs without putting in the work behind it. Go ignite your workouts with BCAAs, crush it harder than you ever have before and see the best results you’ve seen yet!