bcaa powder

What is BCAA?

Whether you love following home workouts or prefer an intense gym session, we all know how important exercise is for our physical health and wellbeing.1 As a population, we’re not as active as we used to be, but more and more of us are looking for ways to take care of our activity level2,3 From taking out gym memberships to heading out for a jog, a large proportion of the population regularly take part in exercise and fitness activities.4 As we look for ways to improve fitness, it’s no surprise that many of us look for ways to enhance our workout routines and results too.5 BCAAs (or branched-chain amino acids) are becoming a popular sports supplement.6 But are they really worth it? We’ve got everything you need to know below.

What are BCAAs?

Branched-chain amino acids are essentially the building blocks of protein. Protein contributes to the maintenance and growth of muscle mass.7 There are actually 20 amino acids that make muscle protein, nine of which are considered essential (they’re known as Essential Amino Acids or EAAs). These amino acids can’t be produced by the body, which means we have to get them from our diets.8 The remaining 11 amino acids are called Non-Essential Amino Acids (NEAAs), and the body can produce these on its own. Of the nine EAAs, there are three that usually take the spotlight: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are what we call Branched-Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs.9

What do BCAAs do?

BCAAs play a significant role in building muscle protein. However, there are thought to be other benefits too.

Some of these may include:

  • Resistance to fatigue10
  • Reduced muscle damage11
Research is still underway, and there is a lot we don’t know about how amino acids interact with our bodies.12

Dietary sources for BCAAs

If you follow a healthy and balanced diet, there’s usually little need to take BCAA supplements. Most of the time, we can get all the amino acids we need from eating certain types of food.

Some of these foods might include:

  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Soy products
  • Legumes13
Some people choose to take BCAA supplements as well. It’s worth bearing in mind that research into BCAA supplements is quite limited, and we don’t know precisely how they interact with the body. There are some promising studies, but it’s always best to proceed with caution and be aware of any potential side effects.14,15,16 It may be worth speaking to your doctor before taking BCAA supplements to be sure that they’re the right approach for your individual needs and goals. Remember, a healthy and balanced diet is likely to be the best way to get all the nutrients you need to fuel your workouts.17

Last updated: 6 November 2020