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If you've spent any time at all in or around the health and fitness world, you’ve likely come across branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) suppllements. While many are well aware of the numerous benefits that have come to be associated with BCAAs, fewer people have a clear understanding of when to actually take them.
That's why we’re sharing our take on the best time to take BCAAs. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, let’s briefly touch on what exactly BCAAs are what sort of functions they perform within the human body.
What are BCAAs?
The protein that you take in through your diet is actually made up of amino acids (AAs). AAs are the building blocks your body uses to repair and rebuild damaged tissues, including muscle tissue.
Of the 9 essential amino acids, 3 are classified as BCAAs -- leucine, isoleucine and, valine. They're known as branch-chain amino acids because their structure contains a so-called chain of 3 hydrogen atoms and 1 carbon atoms.
When ingested in adequate quantities, BCAAs can help to promote a number of important bodily processes related to muscle growth and recovery. While you can meet all of your body's BCAA needs through food alone, adding a BCAA supplement into your daily diet is one of the easiest ways to meet your body’s requirements.
But when exactly should you taken them and is there any one specific time that taking BCAAs may be most advantageous?
When is the Best Time To Take BCAAs?
When it comes to timing, the research isn’t all that definitive on when a ‘best’ time is to take BCAAs. Some studies identify pre-workout as the best timeframe while others argue in favor of intra-workout. Furthermore, some research argues that BCAA timing doesn’t matter at all.
1. Before Your Workout
Several studies, along with numerous professional trainers and athletes like Matt Minuth, have argued that one of the most advantageous times to take BCAAs is before your workout. It is generally believed that doing so helps to increase energy levels in your muscles during your workout and decrease muscle soreness afterward.
What does the research say?
One 2010 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics investigated the effects of a pre-workout dose of BCAAs on a group of young, healthy, and untrained participants.
The researchers found that the members of the BCAA group were able to contract their muscles with significantly more force 2 days after working out in comparison to the placebo group. They argue that their findings suggest that BCAAs administered pre-workout help to reduce recovery time and mitigate DOMS after intense exercise.
2. During Your Workout
A number of experts and fitness enthusiasts have also argued that intra-workout is the best time to take BCAAs. Similar to pre-workout, it's also argued that this timeframe is best for improving your abilities during performance and your recovery afterward.
For instance, one study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology investigated the effects of BCAAs administered to participants during cross-country races. The researchers found that BCAAs taken intra-workout significantly improved both the mental and physical performances of the participants. They conclude that BCAAs aid in the transport and synthesis of certain chemicals in the brain, helping to improve focus and combat fatigue during long and intense physical activity.
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There is anything but a consensus in the research community, however, as to whether or not BCAAs taken during exercise actually improve your performance. While some have argued in favor of intra-workout BCAAs, others, such as Negro et. al., have suggested that while not detrimental, BCAAs do not enhance athletic performance.
3. After Your Workout
Post-workout is another timeframe that some experts also argue may be beneficial when it comes to taking BCAAs. It's believed by some that taking BCAAs following your workout may help to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis following intense training.
What Does The Research Say?
A 2006 study investigated the effects of post-workout BCAAs on intramuscular signaling pathways. The researchers argue that BCAAs help to activate special enzymes in your body. These enzymes play a central role in signaling your body to repair muscle proteins that were damaged during your workout.
The findings of the study suggest that compared to a placebo group, the group of participants taking post-workout BCAAs demonstrated significantly higher levels of MPS on average in the hours following training.
With that being said, other studies have taken the stance that post-workout BCAAs may not be as effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis as other dietary supplements.
For example, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Frontiers in Physiology concluded that while BCAAs did help to stimulate MPS, a post-workout dose of whey protein activated significantly more signaling pathways in comparison, resulting in higher levels of protein synthesis in the muscle.
4. When You Wake Up
While there have yet to be many studies on the subject, some fitness experts recommend taking BCAAs first thing in the morning, especially for individuals who are intermittent fasting. Some research has suggested that BCAAs may function in some ways as an appetite suppressor.
5. Before You Go to Bed
Due to their association with the recovery process, it also commonly recommended that you take BCAAs right before you go to bed. There has yet to be a study that provides concrete evidence for this argument, but the general consensus is that it definitely couldn’t hurt as sleep is the primary time in which your body recovers.
Recommendations For BCAA Timing and Dosage
While you were probably hoping for some conclusive evidence from the scientific literature, no need to worry, we’ve got you covered.
According to Dr. Marc Schneider, a practicing physician and Co-Founder here at Dioxyme, “Between 12 and 20 grams of BCAAs taken in a 2:1:1 ratio seems to be the ideal daily dosage for the average healthy adult.”
A 2:1:1 ratio refers to the amounts of leucine, isoleucine, and valine you should be taking. So if your overall goal is 20 grams of BCAAs per day, it breaks down like this:
2 (leucine) - 50%
20 x 0.5 = 10 grams
1 (isoleucine) - 25%
20 x 0.25 = 5 grams
1 (valine) - 25%
20 x 0.25 = 5 grams
We recommend taking 5-7 grams of BCAAs (in a 2:1:1 ratio) prior to physical exercise. The remainder of your BCAAs can be taken at any other time throughout the day.
Benefits of Taking BCAA Supplements
Okay so we’ve gone over timing, but why take BCAAs at all?
There are numerous benefits associated with adding BCAA supplements to your diet. While we are not going to dive too deep into the subject in this article, here are a few widely accepted benefits.
⫸Increase Muscle Protein Synthesis
One of the most popular reasons people take BCAA supplements is to build muscle. Approximately ⅓ of all the proteins that make up your muscles are in turn made up of BCAAs.
Your body uses BCAAs (along with other types of amino acids) for something known as Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). In basic terms, MPS is a continuous process through which your body rebuilds and even adds new muscle tissue.
Your muscles grow when the number of proteins synthesized within them is greater than the number that are broken down during and after physical activity.
Supplementing BCAAs into your diet helps to promote increased levels of MPS in your body, which in combination with proper nutrition and regular resistance exercise, will increase the overall size and strength of your muscles.
⫸Prevent Muscle Protein Breakdown and Enhance Weight Loss
BCAAs can do more than just help you pack on lean mass. They can also help you to avoid muscle loss, which becomes an increasing risk as you age and when you restrict your calories.
The proteins that make up your muscles are going through a constant state of being broken down and rebuilt. Physical activity, whether it’s a casual walk or an intense workout session, breaks down older proteins in your muscles which, in turn, must be replaced with new ones.
If your body does not have an adequate supply of new proteins to replace the damaged ones, it may ultimately lead to muscle loss. Weight-loss diets, in particular, can put you at an increased risk of losing muscle.
Supplementing BCAAs into your diet during a weight cut, however, helps to maintain your lean muscle mass by increasing the rate of muscle protein synthesis in your body. In combination with resistance training, BCAAs can help to attenuate muscle loss during a calorie-restricted diet, forcing your body to more exclusively focus on burning fat to meet its energy needs.
⫸Decrease DOMS & Promote Recovery
Another common reason for taking BCAA supplements lies in mitigating Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Anyone who has had a seriously intense workout can attest to the muscle pain and stiffness experienced days later.
DOMS occurs within 24 hours following intense exercise and can last for up to 3 days! It is believed to be caused by microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. It is most common in:
- Individuals who are new to working out or who have taken significant time off from training
- People with substantial training experience but who are experimenting with new movements that their bodies aren’t used to
- Anyone partaking in extreme high-intensity physical activity such as competitive sports
Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, however, found that BCAA supplementation can help to decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and protein breakdown.
In simple terms, taking BCAAs can help to expedite the recovery process following your workout, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness and maximizing your performance day in and day out.
Who Should Take BCAA Supplements?
The short answer is that almost anyone can benefit from supplementing BCAAs into their diet. There are some people, however, who may find it especially advantageous.
BCAAs & Body Recomposition
Whether you are trying to lose fat or build muscle, supplementing with BCAAs can help you to build and reveal lean muscle mass. As we’ve already discussed, BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the central process involved in repairing and rebuilding muscle.
Additionally, BCAAs also help to mitigate protein breakdown and muscle loss, which is perfect for cutting weight. Supplementing BCAAs into your diet can be an effective means of targeting fat and sparing muscle during weight loss.
BCAAs & Competitive Sports
BCAAs are also important for anyone in competitive sports. One of the most widely accepted benefits associated with BCAAs is their recovery promoting properties.
Performing at your best in the big game means training at your best day in and day out. Supplementing BCAAs into your diet will help to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness, meaning you can recover quicker from intense performances.
When it comes to the best time to take BCAA supplements, the research isn’t all that definitive. The general consensus is that there may be a number of different times that are advantageous to take them, including before, during and after a workout.
We recommend taking a daily dose of between 12 and 20 grams of BCAAs in a 2:1:1 ratio. Doses should be split up into around 5-7 grams per serving. One serving should be taken before intense exercise and the other(s) at another point throughout the day.