Seven components make up a healthy, balanced diet: carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and water. Of these components, the macros - carbs, proteins, and fats - are the easiest to track. Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals can be trickier, as you might not know what or how much you need. Dietary supplements come in handy when you don’t consume enough of a particular component through your diet. They are a great way to fill in the gaps in the quest to living a healthier lifestyle. BCAA supplements are no exception to this and can come in handy for athletes looking to maintain and increase lean muscle mass.
BCAAs, or branch-chain amino acids, are a group of essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins make up the structures in your body, like muscles and organs. The word “essential” indicates that your body cannot produce them on its own, so you must consume them in your diet. Essential amino acids are opposed to “non-essential,” meaning your body can manufacture some amino acids with the help of proper nutrition. Three amino acids comprise the group known as branch-chain amino acids. They are:
“Branch-chained” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids; their carbon atom configuration is nonlinear or branched. The three branch-chain amino acids make up approximately 35% of your muscle mass. These essential amino acids also play a role in stimulating new muscle growth and preventing muscle breakdown. If consumed before exercise, the body uses these BCAAs as an energy source.
Considering that your body cannot produce branch-chain amino acids on its own, yet they account for more than a third of the protein in your body tissue, it is vital that you consume enough through your diet.
Many dietary components that are available in supplement form are abundant in the foods we eat every day. Your body gets branch-chain amino acids naturally from:
A person that has no interest in building or maintaining muscle mass most likely gets all the BCAAs they need from diet alone.
A person interested in building or maintaining muscle mass through diet and exercise may benefit from taking a BCAA supplement. During heavy lifting or prolonged exercise, your body breaks down its muscle fibres. Your body then increases its muscle mass by repairing these broken muscle fibres. This process also leads to lactic acid build-up that contributes to the muscle fatigue and soreness you feel during and after your workout.
Branch-chain amino acids are unique because most amino acids are metabolized through your liver, but BCAAs bypass this process and go directly to the muscle tissue via the bloodstream.
Taking a BCAA supplement before or during exercise floods your muscles with these vital amino acids. This rush tells your body to keep producing muscle tissue, as opposed to breaking down the fibres during your workout.
The rush of branch-chain amino acids to the muscle also provides a readily available energy source for your workout. An added energy source contributes to increased muscle performance and endurance, helping you have a better workout. Along with delayed muscle fatigue, BCAA supplements may also delay central fatigue or brain fatigue by blocking tryptophan from reaching the brain. Tryptophan is the same amino acid responsible for the drowsiness you feel after a big turkey dinner.
Some studies suggest that taking a BCAA supplement after your workout can reduce how sore you feel after a tough workout, and how long that soreness lasts.
Other studies tell us that consistent use of BCAA supplements can improve performance over time in both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Regular use of BCAA supplements can also help support your immune system because the intestines can use these unique amino acids as fuel. This process allows the intestines to repair damage more effectively, and protect itself from harmful bacteria and pathogens. A healthier immune system means less time sick and recovering outside of the gym, and a healthier life in general.
Scientists have conducted multiple studies on the dosage and timing of BCAA supplements. Most studies use between 4-20 grams of BCAAs, usually in multiple doses throughout the day. Powders and capsules typically have five to ten grams of BCAAs per serving.
Some studies stress the importance of taking BCAA supplements before and during your workout. This is thought to capitalize on the flood of amino acids to your blood. However, most studies seem to indicate that as long as the amino acids aren’t competing with other nutrient absorption, timing is not as crucial as once thought. In short, when you take BCAA supplements is not as important as taking them on their own - not with a meal or protein shake. Before or during a workout, you’re not likely to have a full belly. Another great time to take BCAAs is first thing in the morning or between meals.
BCAA supplements are available as capsules or powders. For the most part, your choice comes down to personal preference. However, there are some pros and cons to each option.
Capsule BCAA supplements are more convenient than powders, but they can cause digestive issues for some people when consumed before intense exercise. Capsules are also slower to digest.
Powder BCAA supplements are absorbed into the bloodstream and muscles quicker than capsules. The inconvenience might not be an issue when you consider you get a tasty intra-workout beverage. Another benefit to consider is the flavour. Many BCAA supplements have great taste with little or no added sugar, and minimal calories. Taking a flavourful BCAA beverage in between meals can help to curb sweets cravings.
EAAs are similar to BCAA supplements in that they are composed of essential amino acids. The difference between the two supplements is while BCAA supplements contain just the three branch-chain amino acids, EAA supplements contain all nine essential amino acids. EAA supplements include the branch chain amino acids.
The essential amino acids found in EAA supplements are:
Supplementing with EAAs as opposed to BCAA supplements can benefit you in the same ways, but some research seems to indicate that in humans, a complete amino acid profile is most helpful to achieve the desired results.
BCAA supplements are the best option for you if you regularly hit your protein goals. Use them as insurance on your muscle gains, to make sure you’re preventing the most muscle breakdown possible. EAA supplements are a good option for people who struggle to hit protein recommendations and might require more amino acids from their diet to hit physique goals. Another instance where using EAAs may be more beneficial is in those that are maintaining a calorie deficit in order to lose bodyweight.
Supplement Superstore supplies a variety of BCAA supplements. Some have additional ingredients that can be helpful, depending on your goals.
As straightforward as you can get, this BCAA supplement has no fluff or extras. You get six grams of micronized BCAAs per scoop for more efficient absorption. Available in tropical punch, blue raspberry, or pineapple flavour, PVL’s BCAAs are banned substance tested, and pharmaceutical grade.
For a BCAA supplement with added hydration, check this one out. It has 7.2 grams of BCAAs and includes electrolytes and trace minerals from Himalayan sea salt and coconut water to keep your body hydrated to the max. ANS’s BCAAs have no artificial flavours or colours, and are available in superfruit splash, blue bombsicle, grape blast, pink lemonade, peach mango, sour gummy blast, or lemon iced tea.
If you need a little energy boost with your BCAAs, try this one from Beyond Yourself. You get six grams of BCAAs combined with 1200 mg of Alpha GPC to increase mental focus and alertness, and 100 mg of caffeine for an added boost of energy. Amino IQ is available in delicious candy shop flavours; watermelon candy, tangerine jelly bean, banana ice pop, tangy peach rings, cotton candy gum, red, white, and boom, and green gummy.
If you want the added benefit of a proven fat burner with your BCAA supplements, check out this one. With all the benefits of BCAAs, you will also help your body convert fat to fuel with the addition of L-Carnitine. Available in blue raspberry flavour.
If you want the benefit of all nine essential amino acids, Supplement Superstore has you covered there, as well.
The no-frills option for EAA supplements is here. Get 8.65 grams of essential amino acids to promote muscle recovery and growth and inhibit muscle damage. Available in fruit punch, candy peach, and Swedish very berry flavours.
It has essential amino acids plus added hydration in one supplement. You get seven grams of BCAAs, one gram of EAA, and an electrolyte blend to keep your body hydrated while you work out. TC Nutrition’s EAAs are available in red or blue slushie, watermelon candy, or peach rings flavours.
The EAA supplement with added energy is here. Amino complete has added B vitamins for energy along with its seven grams of EAAs. This EAA supplement also includes electrolytes for hydration and BioPerine for better absorption. PVL is always rigorously tested, and available in tropical punch or sweet iced tea flavours.
This one-of-a-kind EAA supplement gives you a full dose of essential amino acids while also giving you four grams of greens, the equivalent of eight servings of fruits and vegetables. Everyone can benefit from eating more veggies, and with Beyond Yourself’s GrEAAns, you receive that, along with the muscle-building power of EAAs. Available in citrus green tea, mixed berry, or tangy peach ring flavours.
For your convenience, many protein powders now include added BCAAs in their formulas. This way, you get the most bang for your buck. Check out these trusted protein powders with added BCAAs.
Vega is a vegan brand, and this supplement has 30 grams of plant-based protein and six grams of BCAAs in one serving. It also contains probiotics for gut health. This protein powder is no sugar added, and available in chocolate, vanilla, berry, or mocha flavours.
This protein powder comes from egg whites, nature’s most complete protein source. One serving has 25 grams of protein with eight grams of BCAAs. Egg white protein is as effective, or more effective, at building muscle than whey protein. Proven Egg is available in chocolate or salted caramel flavours.
Casein protein is a slower digesting option compared to whey protein, making it a great bedtime dose of protein. Gold Standard also includes five grams of naturally occurring BCAAs in a serving. It is available in chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, or chocolate peanut butter flavours.
Many things go into a healthy, balanced diet. As with most things in life, the best way to get the nutrients you need is directly from whole food sources. Unfortunately, most people find that hitting all of their micro and macronutrient goals is a huge challenge. They simply don’t have the time or knowledge to track everything their body needs.
Supplements are a great way to bridge the gap and make sure your body receives what it needs to thrive. Beyond your fitness goals, sports supplements can help improve your general wellness.
Supplement Superstore believes in the power of dietary supplements, and we know how important it is to find brands you can trust. We put in the work to vet our supplement brands, so you can be sure when you visit Supplement Superstore, you’re browsing a collection of Canada’s best and most trusted sports and dietary supplements.