Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are an essential nutrient in our body that consists of the chain of chemicals obtained from protein. We have 20 different amino acids in our body, 8 of which are considered essential, and 3 are the branch chain aminos that BCAAs are composed of. This chemical chain includes leucine, isoleucine, and valine. We get this protein source from our food, particularly meat, dairy, and legumes. They stimulate protein’s role of building muscle. They also help prevent muscle breakdown.

By Megan Johnson McCullough 

BCAAs are a popular fitness supplement. For athletes or even the common gym-goer, these chemicals can improve performance by preventing fatigue, improving concentrating, and reducing muscle breakdown. They have been shown to reduce muscle soreness post-exercise. They can help reduce DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, which typically occurs within the initial 24 to 72 hours post workout.



Protein Synthesis & BCAAs

Leucine aids in the muscle making process. BCAAs have been shown to increase protein synthesis by up to 22%. Many protein powders contain branched chain amino acids, but they can also be found as a supplement all their own. Most protein powders have about 5 grams of BCAAs per 25 grams of protein.

BCAAs as Medicine

BCAAs are also used medicinally. They are given to people with liver disease and help the brain translate messages to the rest of the body. Additionally, amino acids impede upon faulty signaling related to liver disease, anorexia, mania, and tardive dyskinesia (involuntary repetitive body movements). When cirrhosis occurs in the liver, the brain does not signal correctly to help remove waste products and toxins from the blood. BCAAs improve appetite to help people with these diseases have better nutrition.

Bodybuilding & BCAAs

Bodybuilders like to take BCAAs as a result of the dieting process leading up to a competition. Dieting is part of stage preparation to look your best, but in this process the body is at a caloric deficit to get the lean, cut look. However, the competitor doesn’t want to lose muscle mass. Supplementing with amino acids aids protein synthesis in building new muscle while fighting the deficit’s muscle-breakdown effects.

Best Sources of BCAAs

The best food sources that contain BCAAs are meat and dairy:

  • Beef: 100 grams = 6.8 grams
  • Chicken: 100 grams = 5.8 grams
  • Whey protein powder: 1 scoop = 5.5 grams
  • Soy protein powder: 1 scoop = 5.5 grams
  • Canned tuna: 100 grams = 5.2 grams
  • Salmon: 100 grams = 4.9 grams
  • Turkey: 100 grams = 4.6 grams
  • Eggs: 2 = 3.28 grams
  • 1% milk: 1 cup = 2.2 grams
  • Greek yogurt: ½ cup = 2 grams

Food is always the best source of nutrition. Add supplementation when your body needs extra support. BCAAs are essential in our body. Anything essential needs to be had, so make sure you get the right amount of amino acids to help meet your body’s needs.