Amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of protein that are integral to muscle development.

Supplementing them helps to maintain your ‘amino acid pool’ (or stored aminos) throughout the day, alongside protein shakes and your regular meals. The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine are central to muscle protein synthesis, which is why they’re of high importance to any training routine.

Forming part of the essential aminos, the term ‘branched-chain’ refers to their unique chemical structure. Since our bodies cannot make BCAAs, we need to obtain them from food and supplements. In particular, leucine is said to dominate muscle growth, thus it will often feature in protein shakes to provide further nutritional support.

The function of BCAAs is to help increase both the rate and capacity of muscle protein synthesis. BCAAs also work to reduce muscle breakdown (catabolism), and so they’re ideal for use with ‘fasted’ training – i.e. first thing. They can also help to fight fatigue and improve stamina; it’s believed they do this by dominating entry to the brain over tryptophan – the precursor amino to serotonin. Being a neurotransmitter that controls mood, sleep patterns and much more, serotonin can cause a dip in energy levels at unwanted times of the day.

It’s been argued that taking BCAAs separately is not necessary, owing to naturally occurring BCAAs in protein foods, whey, and so forth. Whilst intake of such is not to be overlooked, it’s important to note that that the BCAAs present in proteins are bound between peptide bonds and other aminos; uptake will be delayed somewhat by the process of digestion.

BCAA supplements contain free-form leucine, isoleucine and valine, which have an ultra-rapid absorption rate and potency. You’re likely to get the most benefit if you take them just prior to, during and after exercise. With this in mind, many BCAA products are available as a powder which you simply mix with water to create a delicious and refreshing beverage. Factoring these into your routine introduces a degree of ‘damage control’, and helps to achieve an anabolic (muscle-building) state. Alternatively, you can get them in capsule of liquid form.

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