Dosage and Timings: When to Take BCAAs for Maximum Effectiveness

BCAA supplements are extremely popular among bodybuilders and athletes. They are well known for their efficacy in building muscles, reducing fatigue, and muscle soreness.

But, what is the right time to take BCAA supplement for maximum effectiveness, is a long-standing debate? Some believe it’s best to have them post-workout while others say that pre-workout intake is the best. Then there are those who keep sipping on their BCAAs in shakes during workouts.

This article will give us a closer look at BCAA supplements. How do they work and what is the best time to take them to ensure maximum effectiveness.

What are BCAAs?

Branched Chain Amino acids (BCAA) are a group of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and they are extremely crucial for the proper functioning of your body. There are 9 essential amino acids that have to be obtained from your diet as your body can’t synthesize them.

35-40 % of all the amino acids in your body are BCAAs. They have a unique molecular structure, characterized by a chain that branches off, which allows them to absorb and metabolize directly in the muscles without bothering the stomach. This means they absorb quicker than any other amino acid.

You can get enough BCAAs from a well-balanced diet. In comparison to the supplements, BCAAs acquired through foods, lead to steadier absorption rates because of the presence of other important nutrients in the food.

Why Take BCAA Supplements?

In our busy lives, it is not always possible to eat adequate amounts of quality protein. Protein powders and BCAAs supplements, in the form of capsules or powders, are an easy way to meet your protein needs. They can be purchased online easily if not available in the health product aisle of your supermarket.

BCAA supplements are convenient to carry around too. They can be mixed with water or juice and can be taken as and when needed, even in the middle of workouts or post your workout.

Most BCAA supplements contain the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, in a ratio of 2:1:1. The quantity of leucine tends to be more than the others as leucine is known for its ability to stimulate protein synthesis while suppressing muscle protein breakdown.

BCAAs are taken to boost muscle growth and optimize exercise performance. Several supplements are in the market which has shown tremendous promises and worth giving a try. Considering the effects BCAAs has on your body, anyone who exercises regularly and wishes to increase his/her rate of progress can benefit from using these supplements.

The 5 Ways BCAA Supplements Benefit Your Workouts

BCAAs are extremely effective in promoting lean muscle mass and muscle recovery after a workout (1). They help build bigger and stronger muscles. It also reduces muscle soreness and boosts your overall workout performance. Another major benefit of BCAAs is that it helps with weight loss (2).

Several studies have been conducted to find out how BCAA supplements can support your exercise regime.

BCAAs Boosts Weight Reduction While Maintaining Muscle Mass

As summer approaches, everyone wants to get the perfect beach body. The only way to achieve it is through extensive workouts such as cardio and a balanced diet.

However, depending on your present weight, most of the time you may need to go for a calorie deficit diet along with rigorous exercise, to reach your expected weight.

The calorie deficit diet can lead to glycogen depletion while exercising. The body starts breaking muscle protein into amino acids to meet this energy need while exercising.

BCAA supplements can immensely benefit you by saturating your muscles for adequate muscle energy and create an anabolic environment. This means muscle proteins don’t break down and muscle mass is maintained (3).

Thus, the BCAA supplement means greater muscle growth.

Reduces Fatigue During Exercise

When you are preparing for your peak performance, you need to maintain your energy and prevent fatigue during training (4). Fatigue can reduce your ability to perform a task or activity.

BCAA supplements reduce this fatigue and help you perform your best. Exercise fatigue occurs because of high serotonin production. BCAAs can avert this by limiting the entry of tryptophan that helps produce serotonin in the brain.

Reduces DOMS And Helps Recover Faster Post-workout

It is very common to feel sore a day or two after your workout. This is more when you are new to the exercise regime. This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS develops 12-24 hours after exercise and may last till 3 days.

The reason behind DOMS is the tiny tear in the muscles after exercise. BCAA supplements can reduce muscle damage resulting in reduced length and severity of DOMS (5, 6).

Suppresses Breakdown of Muscle Protein

Muscle proteins are constantly breaking and synthesizing in the body. The balance between the two determines the amount of protein in the muscle. When the muscle protein breakdown is more than the muscle protein synthesis, muscle wasting takes place. BCAA supplements inhibit muscle protein breakdown (7).

Serves as a Source of Energy While Working out

The main reserve of energy for your muscles is glucose. During the workout, when this reserve becomes low, the BCAA can serve as the source of energy (8).

BCAA Supplements: The Importance of Timing Your Aminos

When to take BCAAs

Now that we have confirmed that BCAA supplements help boost workout performance, the next big question that arises is “when to take it for maximum effectiveness – pre-workout or post-workout or probably in the middle of the workout? 

Several studies have been undertaken to find the answer. Let’s take a look at what these researchers found.

Pre-Workout BCAAs Supplements

Taking BCAAs as a pre-workout supplement helps increase your performance and muscle growth (9). DOMS is pretty common among the athletes who are performing unaccustomed high-intensity exercises. BCAA supplements help reduce muscle soreness and fastens your recovery process.

BCAAs can be used as fuel to improve performance when taken before a workout (10). They improve muscle protein synthesis as its metabolism occurs directly in the muscle.

A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Nutrition, reported that people taking BCAA supplements pre-workout showed less fatigue during and after the workout (11).

Another study published in The International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism in 2010, done by scientists in Japan, worked on 12 participants. The group was divided into two. Half of them had a BCAA supplement and the other group had dextrin placebo (12).

It was observed that the BCAA group showed less fatigue, increased muscle endurance, and decreased muscle soreness.

Summary: Taking BCAAs pre-workout, can lead to better performance by increasing endurance and decreasing DOMS and muscle fatigue during workout.

BCAA Supplements During Workouts

It may sound a bit awkward to stop in the middle of a workout and drink your supplement shake or pop a capsule. But, some studies have actually proved its efficacy in the most scientific way.

In a 1991 study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, participants were given BCAA supplements during a 30-km cross country race or a marathon. Their mental and physical performances were measured.

The mental performance of these runners was measured by the Stroop Colour and Word Test (CWT), both before and after the run. It was seen that the performance of the runners taking the supplement improved, speed and endurance increased mainly in the slower runners on the final few kilometers. The BCAA group also showed a large improvement in their mental test score (13).

Some studies though had mixed results. Two groups of cyclists were studied this time and were given BCAA in an hour-long exercise session. Even though fatigue was less and mental acuity was better in the BCAA group, in comparison to the other one, it was pretty low. The difference was only 7% for fatigue and 15 % for mental strain (14).

More studies need to be conducted for some concrete conclusions.

Summary: BCAA supplement intake in the midst of the activity has also shown tremendous benefit during and after the performance. This is mostly true in the long-distance runners as it helps them to improve on their speed and endurance.

BCAA Supplement During Post-Workout Window

Taking BCAA supplement post-workout supplies your body with essential amino acids that help build muscles.

In a 2018 study conducted by the Department of Kinesiology and Health, Rutgers University, United States, the study subjects were divided into two groups. One group had a BCAA supplement and others had a placebo. Protein synthesis was measured immediately post-workout, one hour after that, and in the second hour as well (15).

Measurements immediately showed similar effects on both groups. There was no remarkable change immediately, but when it was checked an hour later, a significant increase in muscle protein synthesis was observed in the BCAA group which continued well in the second hour when compared to the control group. Many other studies have confirmed the same.

Summary: BCAA supplements are quite effective in promoting muscle recovery when taken post-workout. It supplies the essential amino acids required for muscle building.

What is the Best Time to Take BCAAs Supplements?

Evidently, taking BCAAs before, during, or after workouts all have their own share of benefits. But which of these is the best time to take BCAA supplements?

When compared to all the studies and timing, BCAA proved to be the most effective when taken post-workout. Post-workout intake of the BCAA supplement ensures increased muscle recovery in less time. It supplies the amino acids that help synthesis new muscles.

But the best time to take BCAA supplements depends entirely on your fitness goals, the timing, and the duration of your workouts. Supplementing in the middle of your workout may be beneficial if you are working out for extended periods.

If you are a bodybuilder or into cardio training whilst fasting (fasted-cardio-training), you may prefer taking BCAAs before your workout to prevent muscle breakdown. Even though you are in a fasted state, the BCAA supplements offer an energy boost that helps you workout at an optimum level.

Summary: Though post-workout BCAA supplementation is considered most effective for increased muscle recovery and muscle building, it may be better for you to take it pre-workout if you are working out in a fasted stage.

What is the Right Dosage of BCAA Supplements?

The amount of BCAA supplements is extremely important like the time it is taken. Several studies compiled together have stated that 4 gms taken before a workout should be good enough to improve performance, but in case you are focussing on both performance and muscle recovery, 7 grams of BCAA is recommended.

In a study, 10 grams BCAA was taken before conducting a strengthening exercise for the non-dominant arm amongst 15 young men. When compared with the ones who took it post-workout, the pre-workout group experienced lesser DOMS and exercise -induced-muscle-damage (EIMD) (16).

If you are taking BCAA in post-workout, then take 5-10gms on your own or in a post-workout shake. A point that needs to be noted is you must have BCAA supplements every day without fail if you want to see the results. This includes non-performance days as well.

Considering your requirements, you can supplement up to 10-20 gms daily. Athletes may benefit from that amount (17).

What is the Recommended BCAA Dosage for People Doing Cardio?

People doing cardio multiple times in a week, twice a day, have been shown to be beneficial with BCAA supplements. This is even more true amongst people doing HIIT cardio routines, with a low-calorie diet.

Intense fat and muscle burning during exercise can be avoided by adding 5g of BCAA to your shake and taking them throughout the cardio process.

What is the Upper Limit on BCAA Supplements per Day?

BCAA supplements generally don’t cause any side effects in most people. But, it should be known that several studies have confirmed that the safe upper limit of BCAA is between 15-35 grams per day (18, 19).

The Final Note

BCAAs, the potent amino acid trio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are crucial for the human body to function effectively. It helps with muscle recovery and decreases muscle damage after workouts. It also aids with your fat loss efforts.

BCAAs can easily be obtained from a balanced diet if you can put in the time and effort for it. But supplements have shown to be more productive in ensuring optimum level intake in this busy world.

It is safe to take and does not trigger any side effects that you need to worry about. The dosage and timing of BCAAs, whether to take it, before, during, or after your workout actually depends upon your fitness goal.

Unless you are doing workouts in a fasted state or you are performing endurance exercises, BCAA supplementation is best-taken post-workout.

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