What are BCAA supplements and will they help me train longer?

Rachel Hosie
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With protein powders having successfully crossed over from niche bodybuilding product to the mainstream, the next supplement being pushed by the fitness industry to the average gym-goer are BCAAs.

These are Branched-Chain Amino Acids, and according to MyProtein, are rapidly growing in popularity amongst more mainstream health and fitness consumers.

Usually consumed in the form of a powder which is added to water to create a translucent liquid, gym-goers can be seen downing BCAAs pre-, during and post-workouts, and also sipping throughout the day.

But what are they for? And do you really need them?

What are BCAAS?

BCAAs are made up of three of the nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine - they account for approximately 35 per cent of essential amino acids in muscle proteins.

“Protein itself is made up of around 20-22 amino acids, nine of which are classed as ‘essential’ because we can’t make them in the body,” MyProtein registered nutritionist Jenny Blow explained to The Independent.

“We therefore need to get these nine amino acids from protein sources in the diet. We can make the non-essential amino acids in the body. BCAAs can be broken down in muscle, whereas the other essential amino acids are broken down mainly in the liver.”

Blow says BCAAs may be helpful for those who wish to maintain or increase muscle mass, but not all experts are convinced.

What are BCAAs supposed to do?

The idea behind BCAAs is that they will help build muscle, prolong exercise capacity and spike muscle protein synthesis (due to the leucine in particular).

Many fitness fanatics swear by BCAAs, sipping them throughout the day, during workouts and after a heavy gym session.

“BCAAs have become an essential part of my workout,” 24-year-old Lara told The Independent. “If I don’t take them, I find I get way worse DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness].”