Whether you want to pack on muscle mass or you want to boost your recovery time in order to get yourself back in the gym faster, branched-chain amino acid supplements or BCAAs are there to help.
Made up of three key amino acids, BCAAs are a beneficial supplement to use inside and outside of the weight room.
If you’re a newcomer to supplements or you simply want to make sure that your BCAA purchase is justified, this quick guide to BCAAs will help.
Let’s take a look at what BCAAs are, the benefits of BCAAs, and how you should be timing your intake.
What are BCAAs?
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are the building blocks of muscle tissue. In total, there are 20 amino acids; however, only nine of these are considered essential amino acids because they must be obtained from outside food and supplemental sources.
BCAA supplements focus on three of the nine essential amino acids:
Benefits of BCAAs
The reason that BCAA supplements focus on only these three has everything to do with their fitness-related benefits.
Arguably the most popular of the three BCAAs, Leucine has been the subject of various studies. It can be found in all types of supplements, most notably pre-workouts, intra-workouts, and nighttime recovery agents.
A popular study published in the Journal of Nutrition demonstrated that when you supplement with Leucine on a daily basis, you may experience the following benefits:
- Boost in protein synthesis
- Greater gains in lean muscle mass
- More energy during workouts 
Isoleucine plays an important role inside and outside of the fitness realm. This unique amino acid is required to produce specific functional proteins in the body. From a fitness standpoint, Isoleucine is key to recovery and the following benefits:
- Protects muscle from protein breakdown
- Supports lean muscle gains
- Boosts intra-workout energy levels
Just like with Isoleucine, this amino acid has several important functions outside of the weight room. Valine is commonly recommended post-surgery as a way to improve recovery. Taken as a part of your workout program, Valine may be able to provide the following benefits:
- Dramatically boosts recovery
- Enhances muscle mass growth
- Supports overall energy levels    
When to Take BCAAs
The timing of BCAA consumption is going to be important to achieving your fitness goals. When you want to build muscle, protect the muscle you already have, or boost performance recovery, there are three key times to consume BCAAs.
- First is in the morning as soon as you wake up. This is especially useful if you are following an intermittent fasting diet. Taking BCAAs as soon as you wake up will help to protect muscle from catabolism while promoting anabolism.
- The second key time to take BCAAs is during a workout as this will prevent protein breakdown and give the body a head start on recovery.
- Taking a BCAA supplement before bed will help to support recovery and promote an anabolic environment during the night.
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6. Doi M, Yamaoka I, Nakayama M, Mochizuki S, Sugahara K, Yoshizawa F. Isoleucine, a blood glucose-lowering amino acid, increases glucose uptake in rat skeletal muscle in the absence of increases in AMP-activated protein kinase activity. J Nutr. 2005 Sep;135(9):2103-8.