1. They are a protein
Protein is an important nutrient that plays a role in athletic performance, weight control and general health. It is needed for the growth and repair of all human tissues, and is needed for the manufacture of hormones, antibodies and enzymes.
is made up of building blocks called amino acids, of which there are 22. The body can manufacture 13 of these amino acids itself, while the other 9 are known as essential amino acids, because they must be obtained from your diet.
Different protein based foods contain different combinations of amino acids, and few foods (except meat and eggs) contain all 22 amino acids.
Three of the 9 essential amino acids are known as branched-chain amino acids
(BCAAs), so called due to their chemical structure.
2. BCAA’s have health benefits
Research suggests BCAA’s are a key nutrient for the building of proteins in the body, reducing muscle damage, and improving recovery from exercise.
This was demonstrated in study
published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
which compared participants who took either BCAA supplements, or a placebo.
Participants took supplements for 7 days, then performed a series of explosive vertical jumps on day 8, which also included pre and post workout supplementation on the day.
Muscle soreness peaked around 48 hours after the workout in all participants. However, the level of residual muscle soreness was reduced in the subjects who supplemented their diet with BCAA’s.
The researchers also found that BCAA supplementation improved the recovery of muscle function after a strength based worked in men compared to a placebo group.
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3. There are three types of BCAA’s
The three specific types of BCAA’s are called leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Technically, the molecular structure of BCAAs is different to other amino acids in how the carbon atoms link and branch off.
This difference allows your body to mobilise BCAAs directly into the bloodstream, while other amino acids are subject to a more complex processing.
Put simply, they are easier for your body to absorb. They can be metabolised directly in the actual muscle, while other amino acids are metabolised in the liver.
4. They are found in everyday foods
Unlike some other amino acids, your body must obtain BCAAs from dietary sources. However, planning your meals around specific BCAAs is not necessary.
Animal foods such as beef, lamb, veal, chicken, pork, seafood, eggs and dairy all contain what's called complete proteins, meaning they provide all the amino acids (including BCAA’s) that your body needs.
Some plant-based foods
also contain all the essential amino acids (such as quinoa and soy), while others (such as nuts and legumes) have a mix of only some amino acids.
Its best to eat a wide variety of protein-based foods spread evenly throughout the day to ensure your BCAA needs are met. Aim to including a moderate amount of foods containing protein with every meal and snack.
5. They are also available as a supplement
If you exercise intensely, are vegan
, or like to limit your meat intake, you may benefit from BCAA supplementation. It’s thought the ideal ratio is 50 percent leucine, 25 percent isoleucine, and 25 percent valine, so look for supplements which provide that.
To obtain the health benefits outlined in the study above, subjects took:
- 10 grams of a BCAA supplement twice a day (morning and night) in the 7 days prior exercise
- 20 grams one hour prior to exercise
- 20 grams immediately after exercising
- 10 grams of a BCAA supplement twice a day (morning and night) in the 4 days after exercising
Speak to your doctor, nutritionist or naturopath if you have any concerns, or would like further advice on BCAA supplementation.