By Michael Martin
Whether you are looking to slim down or bulk up, BCAAs — or branched chain amino acids — can be a worthwhile addition to your fitness plan. Ensuring that your body is getting enough of these amino acids is an important step toward building or maintaining lean muscle, which helps keeps your metabolism humming and your body's fat-burning furnace firing. Knowing when to take BCAAs may help to maximize their effectiveness.
Get in your BCAAs with a scoop of Ladder Whey Protein or Ladder Plant Protein.
When supplementing with BCAAs, how much should you take, and how often?
That's a bit of a tricky question, mainly because the advice on optimal BCAA supplementation has run all over the place in recent years.
Here's what we know. BCAAs are three of the nine essential amino acids:
“Research shows that BCAAs play an important role in muscle repair and growth," says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, fitness and nutrition content director at Openfit.
Here are some considerations for deciding when to take BCAAs.
Maybe, but science has yet to determine the absolute best time to take BCAAs in relation to working out. Until we know more, your best course may be to hedge your bets. "Ingesting them pre- and post-workout will help ensure that you maximize the benefits of supplementation," says Thieme. "But it's also important to make sure that you're eating enough protein throughout the day."
"Some research shows that when we have an excess of amino acids circulating within our blood, BCAAs can help with facilitating muscle protein synthesis long after working out," explains Emily Tills, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Syracuse, New York.
This protein synthesis is what helps build muscle after a workout.
"We see an increase in our metabolism and muscle protein synthesis when in an anabolic [muscle-building] state, up to 48 hours post-workout. Therefore, if you are taking BCAAs, it [can also be beneficial to take] them during and after your workout."
That's where a post-workout supplement such as Ladder Whey Protein and Ladder Plant Protein comes in. Both contain BCAAs, in addition to 26 and 21 grams of protein respectively. "This can help you optimize your results from training when taken consistently after exercise," says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Openfit's director of fitness and nutrition content.
There are no official recommendation for BCAA intake, and the optimal amount for supplementation is not known.
Some studies show that taking supplemental BCAA helps with muscle building and reduces post workout fatigue, while other studies actually indicate that they don’t do much to enhance athletic performance.
“Studies to support supplementation of BCAA to enhance athletic performance have conflicting findings,” confirms Smith.
“As with any supplement,” says Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Media Spokesperson, “you should consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to decide if they are a good fit. An RDN can also help you optimize your diet to get appropriate carbohydrates for energy during exercise. Consumption of carbohydrates during exercise can help maintain the tryptophan (another amino acid) and BCAA ratio, thus helping avoid central nervous system fatigue.”
Here, too, the science isn't definitive, but research suggests that when taking BCAAs — just like anything related to fitness — consistency is key.
"It is difficult to make generalizations without more research, but it may be that taking BCAAs consistently and for a long enough time to see benefits is more important than specific timing," says Thoms.
BCAAs are available by themselves or as part of a formulation like Ladder Whey Protein and Ladder Plant Protein. They're also a component of vegetable and animal proteins, including whey, and are especially beneficial when taken to help optimize performance and recovery in a comprehensive exercise routine.