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Your Guide To Building Muscle With BCAAs

It's a fact that your muscles cannot grow without protein. All protein is comprised of amino acids, and of these amino acids, there are a class known as Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) that are essential for muscular growth and development at a molecular level.

While many fitness-targeted supplements promise to promote muscular growth, the benefits of BCAAs go beyond just building lean muscle mass. It also does wonders for your personal performance, and many pro-athletes and bodybuilders swear by it.

Photo credit: muscleandstrength

What exactly are BCAAs?

Proteins are made up of 20 different amino acids, of which eight are unable to be produced by the body. Known as essential amino acids, these include BCAAs, which are three amino acids called valine, leucine, and iso-leucine. As a full amino acid profile is needed to allow your body to maximise its fitness potential, BCAAs are integral, and must be achieved through dietary supplementation.

SEE ALSO: Your Guide To Getting Lean With Creatine

What do BCAAs do?

A study by Dr Jim Stoppani proved that weightlifters who took BCAA supplements pre and post-workout for eight weeks gained two times the strength and muscle mass than those who only consumed whey protein. Enhancing your body's ability to build muscle is a given with BCAAs, as it also helps you work out longer. When you ingest regular protein, your liver processes it first to break it down into the varying amino acids, before it gets directed to your muscles. BCAAs, on the other hand, go directly to your muscles and are used as fuel to grow and repair the muscles. BCAAs also improve muscle protein synthesis, which helps you increase muscle bulk, allowing you to grow bigger. It increases the natural levels of growth hormones in your body, and decreases the levels of cortisol — a component which breaks down your muscles during workout. BCAAs also delay fatigue, allowing you to reduce physical exhaustion so you can work out harder, longer and reap greater results. Fat loss is another significant aspect of BCAA intake. In the same study by Stoppani, lifters ingesting BCAAs lost twice as much body fat as their whey protein supplemented counterparts.

How much BCAAs should I take and when?

The daily BCAA requirements for someone looking to build muscle can be calculated by taking your body weight minus your body fat percentage x .44g BCAA per kg of lean bodyweight. For example a 70kg person with 15% body fat would require 70kg - 15% = 59.5kg x .44g = 26g BCAA per day. This total BCAA requirement would be accumulated from your food and supplement intake per day, and an ideal supplement dosage is 5-10 grams each time. See the chart below for a rough gauge on the BCAAs you can get from food.

It is imperative that you take BCAAs before and after your workout. BCAAs can also be taken when you wake up, to reduce the muscle breakdown that occurs during sleep, but only do so if your goal is to build mass.

Can I take my BCAAs with protein?

Sure you can. Whiles some protein contains BCAAs, the level is usually quite low, so adding BCAAs is extremely complementary to help you achieve your goals. Whey builds muscle and helps increase your size, speeding up post-workout recovery, while BCAAs assist to amp up your recovery rate and reduce fatigue — this spells being able to workout harder and gain better results. Post-workout is the optimum time to mix BCAAs with protein. Combine your usual dosage of protein powder with 5g of BCAAs, and shake away.

What BCAAs should I purchase?

BCAAs come in two forms — capsules and powder. Depending on your preferred ingestion method, you can try the MusclePharm BCAAs 3:1:2 capsules, or MusclePharm BCAA 3:1:2 powder, which contains a ratio of 3 parts leucine, 2 parts valine, and one part isoleucine. Leucine is the key to boosting muscle growth, so a higher ratio entails better gains. If you're an athlete who prioritises performance improvement above increased muscle gains, the BPI Sports Best BCAA is a good option for you. For ladies who aren't keen to bulk excessively, but would like to enjoy the lean mass-gaining benefits of BCAAs, try out the Lush Protein BCAA 2:1:1 — the lower ratio of leucine is what helps achieve your lean, toned physique goals. 

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