Ask Keri: Will Taking Branched-Chain Amino Acids Help Me Build Muscle?
Keri says: Lots of our favorite trainers—like Brett Hoebel and Adam Rosante—swear by branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs) for muscle building. And there is some evidence that they could help you pump up your triceps. Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Nine of them are called “essential” because the human body can’t make them on its own. You have to get them from your diet. Three of those nine—leucine, isoleucine and valine—are BCAAs. While other amino acids are metabolized in the liver, these are metabolized in skeletal muscle tissue, meaning they’re involved in muscle synthesis.
Will Branched-Chain Amino Acids Help You Build Muscle?
Okay, so we know they play a role in the way your body creates muscle, but whether or not supplementing with BCAAs leads to strength gains is a different question.
Some (very!) small studies have shown positive effects. In one, participants who supplemented with leucine while following a resistance training program gained more muscle than those given lactose. In another, participants who took BCAAs before a squat regimen had significantly less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) compared to those taking a placebo, suggesting BCAAs could help with muscle recovery.
But other research contradicts those results. One small study showed BCAAs are not as effective at muscle building on their own, without the other essential amino acids. And a recent review of the research found BCAA supplementation alone “doesn’t promote muscle anabolism.” (Anabolism is a fancy science word for growth.)
Essentially, we know BCAAs are involved in muscle synthesis, but research hasn’t totally explained what taking them alone, as a supplement, will do for your body.
I say for the average person just trying to get a little stronger, make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet, especially right after your workouts (in the form of whole foods or a high-quality protein powder), and you’ll be getting plenty of BCAAs that way.
But if you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, there’s no harm in trying supplementation (from a high-quality source!) to see if it will increase your #gainz.
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