- Fact Checked
What are the BCAA benefits for the human body? BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are the building blocks of protein. They are the essential amino acids found in certain foods, such as meat and dairy products. The human body does not produce BCAAs; this makes them unique in that they need to be consumed through food sources or other supplements (see also our article on the Turkesterone cycle).
These three essential amino acids are called branched-chain amino acids because of their chemical structure; they are also known as valine, leucine, and isoleucine. These three BCAAs (see also ‘EAA vs BCAA: What’s the Difference?‘) are essential to human life and necessary for energy production, healthy muscles, and a healthy metabolism.
Understanding the properties of these three specific types of amino acids will help you understand their benefits and why they should be a part of your diet.
BCAAs are present in protein-rich foods like meat, dairy products, eggs, fish, lentils, beans, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh. It also comes as an energy drink supplement or powder that you mix with water before or during exercise. BCAAs are also supplements available in pill form. Best taken before endurance activities, these supplements can have lasting muscle benefits.
Branched-chain amino acids are essential for muscle growth because they are a precursor to growth hormones released during exercise. BCAAs activate the enzymes responsible for building muscle. Growth hormone is the main trigger for muscle growth and repair, which means that BCAA benefits are essential for optimal muscle growth.
Studies have shown that individuals provided with a moderate dose of BCAAs had a significant increase in growth hormone compared to the placebo group. When combined with a resistance training program, BCAAs are even more effective at promoting muscle growth. Athletes combined resistance training with BCAA consumption and experienced a 300% increase in muscle growth.
Since there is no protein in BCAA supplements, they are not complete proteins. However, studies have shown that BCAA supplements can still be helpful for muscle growth because they provide the body with building blocks for protein synthesis.
Muscle soreness is a common post-workout symptom. It is a result of the stress put on muscles during exercise. While muscle soreness can be a sign of a good, hard workout, it is also a sign that muscles are overworked and damaged. Muscle soreness after exercise is normal and often sets in six to eight hours after the activity.
BCAAs are effective at reducing muscle soreness and preventing muscle damage from occurring. Individuals who consumed BCAAs before and after exercise reported experiencing significantly lower levels of muscle soreness and injury. The increase in BCAAs also helps muscles recover significantly faster after workouts and training.
BCAA benefits also improve mood and generall state of well-being. Some studies show that BCAAs can reduce anxiety. An increased amount of the amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine are associated with lower chances of depression.
The body breaks down muscle tissue when it is stressed, and this muscle breakdown is the reason why, after a workout, you can feel sore. BCAA supplements are rich in amino acids that help the body maintain and grow lean muscle mass, also known as skeletal muscle mass.
Exercise fatigue is when the body can no longer sustain regular physical activity due to muscle fatigue, mental fatigue, or both. Exercise fatigue can result in sickness or injury due to a lack of judgment during strenuous activity. The most common cause of exercise fatigue is lactic acid buildup due to over-exertion or oxygen deprivation. BCAAs won’t help athletic performance but they can help muscle breakdown during and after exercise.
Exercise fatigue also results in a reduction in physical performance and energy levels. BCAAs can help prevent exercise fatigue by reducing the amount of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a chemical that plays a crucial role in the body and affects mood, physical, and mental health. Serotonin is also believed to be a contributing factor in exercise fatigue.
Recent studies showed that individuals who consumed BCAAs before exercise experienced a reduction in serotonin levels, which reduced exercise fatigue. Serotonin is often referred to as the “feel-good” hormone because it triggers feelings of relaxation and calmness.
However, too much serotonin can lead to feelings of tiredness, irritability, and cravings for sugar. A moderate amount of BCAAs can help prevent serotonin from being overproduced, which can help reduce feelings of fatigue during exercise.
Muscle wasting is a health condition that can lead to severe complications. The role of BCAAs in muscle wasting is not fully understood. Some studies show that BCAA supplementation can help with muscle wasting, while others show no effect.
There are two theories about why these discrepancies exist. The first theory is that the different studies use different BCAA supplements and/or dosages. The second theory is that different study designs may be responsible for the discrepancies in results.
Studies show that participants who consume BCAAs experience an increase in the production of muscle proteins, which led to an overall reduction in muscle wasting.
Athletes and older adults are at a higher risk of muscle wasting because they experience a reduction in the production of muscle proteins. BCAAs can help to prevent this from happening by stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
The liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body and metabolizing proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates. When the liver overloads with chemicals or toxins, it can become inflamed. If this condition becomes chronic, it can lead to liver damage. BCAAs can help to prevent liver issues by reducing inflammation in the liver.
The liver is a vital organ that can quickly become damaged and even fail. A healthy liver keeps the body clean, supports the immune system, and helps with hormone production. Abusing drugs (see also ‘Ephedrine: Why is it Banned and What Are The Natural Alternatives?‘) or alcohol, eating a poor diet, and not getting enough exercise contribute to destroying healthy liver function.
Increasing your branched-chain amino acids has been shown to help protect the liver when exposed to toxin buildup and other stressors caused by specific diet plans (such as those with too much sugar), alcohol abuse, and drug abuse.
Individuals who consume BCAAs also experience a reduction in liver enzymes, which help to determine liver functionality. BCAAs have an added anti-oxidant effect, which can help prevent liver damage.
Fatty liver disease is a condition where too much fat is stored in the liver. Left untreated, fatty liver disease can cause cirrosis of the liver (a condition also caused by heavy alcohol use). BCAAs are often used to treat alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because of their beneficial effects of liver cell regeneration.
Vegan BCAA Sources
The vegan diet is one of the healthiest on earth when balanced correctly. There are many variations, but they all include many fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds in addition to whole grains and legumes (beans). A true vegan will not eat any animal products, including eggs, dairy products, and gelatin.
Unfortunately, vegans are at a higher risk of not getting enough BCAAs. Studies have found that vegans experience a significant depletion of BCAAs compared to omnivores, and this is because BCAAs are readily found in animal products.
You can still get BCAAs from various vegan-friendly food sources such as peanut butter, rice, soy milk, soybeans, tofu and tempeh, lentils, beans, and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, spinach, kale, bananas, almonds, walnuts, and spirulina.
The most common sources of BCAAs as additive supplements in the vegan diet are soy, hemp, and pea proteins.
BCAAs are also synthesized from carbohydrates and proteins found in plants, but it is less efficient than the synthesis found in animal products. Vegan athletes should consume higher amounts of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to see BCAA benefits.
If obtaining the needed BCAA levels recommended, you should look into supplementing with the best Vegan source, luckily we have a review on The Best Vegan BCAA Supplements Reviews and Buyers Guide.
BCAAs are essential amino acids that can be synthesized in the body from other amino acids but cannot be stored. They are vital for muscle function and growth but must be ingested through food or supplementation.
Branched-chain amino acids are essential for optimal health and performance. They can help to prevent muscle wasting, exercise fatigue, and muscle damage, as well as help prevent liver issues. BCAAs have also been shown to be effective at promoting muscle growth and can help to prevent muscle soreness.
Vegan diets can become deficient in BCAAs as vegan sources of protein are limited. A vegan diet can be truly beneficial for muscle repair, provided that certain nutrients are included. The most important of these is the amino acid leucine, which is one of the essential amino acids that vegans are less likely to be getting enough of when they don’t include animal products in their diet.
If you’re looking to optimize your health, it’s important to consume enough BCAAs. You can do this by eating more meat, dairy products, and plant-based protein sources that contain BCAAs. Alternatively, you can take a supplement to make sure that you’re getting enough of these essential amino acids in your diet to reap the BCAA benefits.