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Supplement Series – BCAAs

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See the original post at CSFitLife.

Remember, we are looking at nutritional supplements and how they can benefit us in and out of the gym. Also, remember that if your diet, sleep, and recovery are crap… supplements are a waste of money!

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For week 3, I thought we would breakdown BCAAs!

If you don’t care about the “why” and just want the cliff notes, I included a “Key Points” section at the start of the article and a “My Take” section at the end.

Let’s Giddy UP!

Key Points:

  • BCAAs are the rock stars of amino acids.
  • BCAAs can increase strength and muscle and decrease fatigue.
  • BCAAs can aid in maintaining performance levels when trying to reduce bodyfat or overall bodyweight.
  • The preferred ratio of BCAAs is 2:1:1. That is 2 grams of leucine to isoleucine and valine.
  • Thirty minutes prior to training and immediately following, consider taking 5 grams of BCAAs.

BCAAs… What the…???

Okay, we read during the first week that protein is super important. I gave you tons of reasons why we need more. Now, if you remember back to junior high science class, we were told that protein is made up of amino acids. What you probably weren’t told is that all amino acids are not created equal.

Our bodies can produce certain amino acids and others have to be derived from our diet. The amino acids that have to come from our diet are called “essential amino acids.” Of the essential amino acids, there is a group that stands above the rest. Collectively, the group is called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Specifically, the BCAAs are: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They make up about 1/3 of muscle protein and are important to many metabolic processes.[i]

BCAAs are different from other amino acids for two main reasons. First, they are called branched-chain amino acids because of their unique structure. The have a “side chain” that causes them to look like branches. Clever name, huh?

Second, the body handles them differently than other amino acids. The fate of most amino acids is directed by the liver or the gut. The liver will decide what it thinks the most beneficial use of the amino acid is. The liver may decide to use the amino acids for immediate fuel instead of sending them to muscles for repair. [ii]

This is not the case with BCAAs. They bypass the liver and are absorbed directly into the blood stream and are sent to our muscles.[iii] The muscles can then decide what to do with them. The muscles may decide that the most important need currently is repair, or they may decide that energy for the current training session is more important. Either way, the liver doesn’t control the fate of the BCAAs like other amino acids.

This is great news!

So… how can more help me?

Glad you asked! Here are some of the benefits of taking BCAAs:

  • Decreased bodyfat, increased muscle, and more strength[iv] – taking BCAAs and weight training has shown a greater decrease in body fat, increase in lean mass, and better strength gains than taking just whey protein or a sports drink.
  • Decreased fatigue and better cognition[v] – BCAAs have been shown to decrease fatigue signals sent to the brain which can help you crank out another rep or two on the squat or finish the sprint with a little more gusto!
  • Increased protein synthesis following resistance training[vi] – think more muscle!
  • Improved endurance[vii] – a study showed that six weeks of supplementation with leucine (one the three BCAAs) improved endurance and upper body power.
  • Weight reduction while maintaining performance – BCAAs have been shown to allow for bodyfat and body weight reduction while maintaining high performance levels.[viii]
  • Increased Growth Hormone (GH) levels[ix] – higher GH levels can lead to muscle growth and bodyfat reduction.
  • Better regulation of blood sugar levels[x] – level blood sugar makes it easier to lose bodyfat and maintain a constant energy and mood level.

 Translation: BCAAs can help us recover faster, get stronger, and lose more bodyfat!

How much do I take and when do I take it?

If you read the previous posts, you know I am a huge fan of Dr. Jim Stoppani’s dosing methods for most supplements. BCAAs are no different. Why do I trust Dr. Stoppani’s recommendations? First, he tests them in the lab and the gym. Second, he is a nerd and really digs into the research and translates that to real world application. Third, he is jacked and has some really badass tats!

When it comes to BCAAs, Dr. Stoppani is pretty specific on his dosing recommendations. Remember, there are three BCAAS: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Of the three, leucine is the rock star! So, he suggests going with a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to isoleucine and valine. Once you have the preferred ratio, he recommends taking 5 grams of BCAAs 30 minutes prior to training “to maximize energy levels and blunt fatigue during the workout” and another 5 grams following training to kick start recovery.[xi]

My Take…

BCAAs are beneficial to losing bodyfat, training, and recovery. So, a good place to start might be Dr. Stoppani’s recommendations:

  • Thirty minutes prior to training, take 5 grams of BCAAs in the 2:1:1 ratio discussed above.
  • Immediately following training, take another 5 grams in the 2:1:1 ratio.

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[i] “All About Branched Chain Amino Acids.” Precision Nutrition. 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 15 May 2015.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Berardi, John, and Ryan Andrews. “Macronutrients.” The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition, 2015. 161. Print.

[iv] Stoppani, Jim, Timothy Scheett, James Pena, Chuck Rudolph, and Derek Charlebois. “Consuming a Supplement Containing Branched-chain Amino Acids during a Resistance-training Program Increases Lean Mass, Muscle Strength and Fat Loss.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6.1 (2009): 1. Journal of the International Societ of Sports Nutrition. Web. 15 May 2015.

[v] Blomstrand, Eva. “A Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Reducing Central Fatigue.” The Journal of Nutrition 136.2 (2006): 5445-475. The Journal of Nutrition. Web. 15 May 2015. <>.

[vi] Blomstrand, Eva, and Bengt Saltin. “BCAA Intake Affects Protein Metabolism in Muscle after but Not during Exercise in Humans.” The American Journal of Physiology 281 (2001): E365-374. The American Journal of Physiology. Web. 15 May 2015. <>.

[vii] Crow, MJ, and JN Weatherson. “Effects of Dietary Leucine Supplementation on Exercise Performance.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 6 (2005): 664-72. Web. 15 May 2015.

[viii] Mourier, A., Ax Bigard, Eric De Kerviller, B. Roger, H. Legrand, and C. Guezennec. “Combined Effects of Caloric Restriction and Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Body Composition and Exercise Performance in Elite Wrestlers.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 18.1 (2007): 47-55. Web. 15 May 2015. .

[ix] De Palo, EF, R. Gatti, E. Cappellin, C. Schiraldi, CB De Palo, and P. Spinella. “Plasma Lactate, GH and GH-binding Protein Levels in Exercise following BCAA Supplementation in Athletes.” PubMed 20.1 (2001): 1-11. Web. 15 May 2015. .

[x] Ibid, “All About Branched Chain Amino Acids”.

[xi] Stoppani, Jim. “Best BCAA Ratio.” 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 May 2015. <>.

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