BCAAs are fast gaining popularity among women as they help lose body fat without compromising on muscle mass.
Once an exclusive domain of men, more and more women are now entering into the world of fitness and bodybuilding. While there are professional bodybuilders among women, most of us are looking for sleek, toned, and attractive figures.
Fitness supplements such as BCAA do more than just help build stronger muscles. They help reduce the pain and soreness that we tend to experience after workouts. They help suppress appetite and promote weight loss.
Read on to find out how BCAA benefits a woman’s health and her fitness goals.
- What are BCAAs
- Why Supplement With BCAA
- 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Consuming BCAA in Women
- Side Effects of Taking BCAA for Women
- Dosage of BCAA
- When to Take BCAA
What Are BCAAs and How Do They Work?
BCAAs are a group of three essential amino acids namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They play a very important part in muscle synthesis, the process by which the body repairs the damaged muscle tissue and replaces it with new (1, 2, 3).
They are unique because unlike other amino acids, they are not metabolized in the liver but in the skeletal muscles (4). Therefore, it can be readily available for use immediately after intake. This gives BCAAs an advantage over the other amino acids making it a popular choice in a fitness plan.
Most of these BCAAs are used up by the skeletal muscles (5). BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthesis by making changes in the signaling pathways that control it.
BCAAs activate the mTOR signaling pathway that stimulates the highest muscle protein synthesis response. Not only that, but BCAAs also activate enzymes like protein kinase and initiate phosphorylation reactions that increase protein synthesis rates (6, 7).
Summary: BCAAs are made of the three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are metabolized directly in the muscle cells and boost muscle synthesis.
Why Supplement With BCAA?
High-protein foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy are an excellent source of BCAAs. Your BCAAs requirement can be easily met with a well-balanced meal.
However, in our busy lives, the majority of women are not getting enough BCAAs from their diet alone. This may lead to deficiencies, mostly in women who are undergoing a fitness or weight loss regime.
BCAA supplements are a quick and efficient way to avoid such deficiencies.
If your body doesn’t get enough BCAAs, it may lead to muscle loss, delayed muscle-repairment, low stamina, and endurance during a workout, and excessive muscle fatigue. It may also affect your brain and immune system leaving you vulnerable to diseases.
BCAA supplements come in powdered form which is easily absorbed in water or any other liquid and is easily digestible by the body. Therefore, for women who need that extra jolt before a workout, BCAA supplements can easily be the right choice.
Summary: When your food intake can’t meet your daily protein requirement, especially in women who are into strenuous exercise, supplements can be the right choice.
7 Life-Changing Benefits of Consuming BCAA in Women
Studies have confirmed the importance of BCAAs in the body, mainly in relation to body muscle in physically active women. Here are some of the benefits:
BCAA Promotes Weight Loss Without Compromising Muscle Mass
You are normally on a low-calorie fitness plan for weight loss. But along with your weight loss, your lean muscle mass also starts reducing.
In a 2011 study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, examined the association between dietary BCAAs intake and the risk of obesity in a multiethnic population. Researchers observed 4429 men and women in the age group of 40-59 years.
The risk of being overweight/obese was significantly less among those who had a high intake of BCAAs (10).
Summary: BCAAs provide very less calorie compared to other protein supplements like whey, which makes it one of the best choices for women who want to lose weight without compromising on their muscle mass.
BCAA Supplements Help Reduce Muscle Soreness
BCAAs help reduce muscle soreness after exercise. They lower the level of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase, which are primarily enzymes involved in muscle damage.
This helps reduce delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) and speeds up post-workout recovery.
A 2010 study conducted at Nagoya University, Japan examined the effect of BCAA supplementation on DOMS after performing squat exercises (11). The researchers observed 12 female subjects who were given BCAA supplementation of 100 mg/kg body weight (or a placebo) before doing 7 sets of 20 squats with 3 minute time intervals.
The researchers noted that the level of muscle soreness was significantly lower in the BCAA group. The study concluded that BCAA supplementation suppressed muscle damage.
Another study in 2013, conducted at the University of Vermont, USA, observed that BCAAs in addition to a glucose supplement markedly reduced the exercise-induced DOMS more in the female study participants than the male counterparts (12).
Summary: By lowering the enzymes that cause muscle soreness, BCAA supplements greatly reduce DOMS.
BCAA Help Improve Endurance
Supplementing with BCAAs can boost your stamina during workouts. Studies have shown that BCAA increases time trial performance, time to exhaustion, boosts to perform faster and longer, and helps you burn more calories and get fitter (13).
Serotonin, also called the happy hormone, contributes to our feelings of wellness. It has many vital functions in our body, including sleep regulation. Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan.
Exercise is known for boosting our serotonin levels, making us feel good. But high levels of this hormone reduces your exercise endurance.
BCAA intake improves exercise endurance by lowering serotonin secretion by inhibiting tryptophan transport into the brain (14).
Summary: BCAAs improve your endurance during physical training by lowering serotonin levels, which in turn, reduces exercise-induced fatigue.
Benefits Your Immune System
Exercise for a prolonged duration, such as long-distance running or an intense workout, is associated with the suppression of our immune system. This makes you more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold.
These athletes can benefit tremendously from taking BCAA supplements. These supplements reduce the release of chemicals that are responsible for inflammation, thereby boosting the immune system (15).
They are also crucial in the synthesis of immune cells like lymphocytes. BCAAs help these cells to respond to stimulation and fight microbes.
Summary: Exercise for a prolonged duration may suppress the immune system. BCAA supplementation helps boost the immune system by suppressing inflammation and strengthening the immune cells.
Helps Manage Your Appetite
Another way BCAAs help with weight loss is by suppressing your food cravings (16).
This is particularly true for Leucine as it activates mTOR, an enzyme that not only regulates cell growth but is also important for protein synthesis.
Summary: BCAAs activate mTOR enzymes in the body that can suppress appetite by sending messages to the brain that your body is already fed and satiated. This helps in managing your appetite and food cravings thus helping reduce your weight.
Supports Healthy Hormonal Balance
Hormones play significant roles in both weight gain and weight loss. An imbalance of hormones in your body increases the risk of not only gaining weight but also losing muscles (19).
Although testosterone is considered a male sex hormone, women also produce them in small amounts. Along with other female hormones like estrogen, testosterone plays an important role in their growth and maintenance.
Supplementation with BCAAs boosts the release of testosterone. When taken pre-training, it may have a positive impact on your work-out. By reducing the cortisol production, BCAAs inhibits protein breakdown.
Summary: BCAAs help maintain a healthy hormonal balance that promotes muscle synthesis in the body.
BCAA Boost Strength
By optimizing testosterone levels in women, BCAAs can help boost their muscle and bone strength (22).
Studies have shown that supplementing with BCAAs before resistant exercise can reduce the harshness of muscle damage.
Summary: BCAAs boosts testosterone hormones that give the extra strength and power for physical activities like a workout.
Side Effects of Taking BCAA for Women
It is absolutely safe for women to consume BCAAs. No serious side effects have been observed in women from taking such supplements.
But there certain factors to be taken into consideration before taking BCAA supplements:
- As BCAAs suppress the release of serotonin, it may interfere with your sleep. Hence, it is better not to take it at night.
- BCAAs affect blood glucose levels and should not be taken by those who are prediabetic or diabetic.
- Supplements of BCAAs will only work in those who are deficient in dietary protein, especially if they lack adequate intake of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. In other words, supplements are unnecessary if you are consuming adequate amounts of quality protein in your diet.
Summary: Women who eat sufficient protein but need the extra surge for an intense workout, may take the BCAA supplement. It is mostly safe, however, do keep in mind that it may affect your sleep and blood glucose level in pre-diabetic and diabetic.
What Should Be The Dosage of BCAA?
The BCAA dose for a woman depends on her body mass, activity level, and dietary intake. In general, the recommended BCAA dosage for women is 9g per day.
This is considered a sufficient amount to reap the desired effects without worries of side effects.
For women athletes, 10-20 g per day is recommended. When buying a BCAA supplement, make sure that the ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine is 2:1:1.
Summary: Generally, the BCAA dosage is 9 g per day for women. However, for women athletes, 10-20 g per day is suggested.
When to Take BCAA and What is The Upper Limit of BCAA Consumption?
When to take your BCAA supplement depends on your fitness goals whether you are trying to gain muscle, or improve your endurance or trying to reduce weight.
During the night, your body is under a fasting condition. 6-8 hours of sleep without any protein can push your body into a catabolic state. This burns off some of your muscle mass.
Breakfast is the first meal taken after this long fast. If you are trying to gain muscle mass, then you must have BCAAs first thing in the morning with your breakfast.
BCAA supplements can not only get back your body into an anabolic state but also kick your growth hormones (HGH) into gear. This hormone production and muscle protein synthesis help in gaining muscle mass.
Just remember not to exceed the daily safe upper limit of BCAAs more than 550 mg per kg of body mass.
BCAA supplements before your workout boost your exercise by providing energy. It increases endurance and reduces exercise fatigue. BCAA supplements post-workout help in muscle recovery and reduces soreness (25, 26).
Summary: Your BCAA intake depends on your fitness regime. BCAA supplements, pre-workout boosts your energy needs, and post-workout helps muscle recovery and reduce exercise-related soreness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I Need to Take BCAAs with Food?
BCAAs can be taken with food as well as in an empty stomach. In fact, taking it on an empty stomach may actually increase digestion. However, if you have any gastrointestinal symptoms, then it is better to take with food.
Can I Take BCAA on Rest Days?
BCAA supplements should be taken on rest days as well as on workout days, to gain the maximum benefit from it. It can help meet your essential amino acid requirements and aid in muscle recovery during your rest days.
How to Take BCAA?
BCAA supplements are available in two forms- tablets and BCAA powder. Tablets can be taken with water while powder can be mixed with any liquid such as water, juice, or shakes.
The Final Note
Women, in general, require a healthy supply of essential amino acids.
However, most of the time the diet is not sufficient. In addition to that, your fitness goals may increase your protein requirement which includes BCAAs.
BCAAs have been shown to impart strength, stamina, endurance, muscle recovery, and muscle protein synthesis during work-out.
9 g of BCAA supplement for women is safe and sufficient for most women and exerts tremendous health benefits.
BCAAs can make you look as well as feel good and help in reaching your goal.