Nutrition

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Explained

BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids are one of the best ways to build and maintain lean muscle mass. BCAAs are dairy-free and gluten-free and are the building blocks of protein.

In the simplest terms, BCAAs are like chopped up proteins, or more accurately, the components of protein, which haven’t been assembled yet. You might think that would make them less effective than full-on whey protein, but it means that they’re absorbed incredibly quickly by your muscles, much quicker than whey protein, which needs to be broken down by your body before it can be used.

Are BCAAs better than whey protein powders?

Not exactly. Most quality whey proteins will contain the three main muscle-building BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine and valine — but as anyone who’s tried chugging whey protein during a workout will tell you, it’s not altogether pleasant.

Plus, while you’ll build muscle using either whey (or another type of protein) or BCAAs, as mentioned, whey takes a while to break down. Which brings us onto one of the main draws of BCAAs.

Intra-workout muscle gains

Lots of lifters love BCAAs because they support muscular growth and muscular recovery during workouts. That constant stress-feed-grow cycle also means that muscles recover faster, because what they need to do so is right on-hand.

BCAAs for muscular rehab and recovery

Because BCAAs are so easily and quickly absorbed by your muscles, they make a great addition to your supplementation routine if you’re someone who trains a lot, or are someone who’s prone to muscle injury. Taking BCAAs is like having an express line to your muscles, down which you can send what your body needs to repair and grow.

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Another huge plus, is that because BCAAs are dairy-free, they don’t cause the dreaded churning and curdling that can occur when you try and get protein in during or right after your workout — you’ll even see gains in strength and size, and a reduction in soreness and recovery time if you take BCAAs as a pre-workout.

In summary:

  • BCCAs are the building blocks of protein
  • They’re absorbed quickly by your muscles
  • Perfect for intra-workout muscle maintenance
  • Help prevent soreness and speed up muscle recovery
  • Dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and vegan.

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Jonathan Naish

Jonathan Naish

Writer and expert