Before, during, or after your workout? When is the best time to take your BCAA (Branched-Chain Amino Acid) supplement to experience the best results? There are several factors you need to consider before making that decision. It is important to understand the functions of amino acids in the body and the benefits they provide to decide the timing of consumption right for you.
No matter when you take your BCAA, you will notice a tremendous impact in your training program. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or an exercise beginner, a BCAA supplement can assist with protein synthesis, mental focus, muscle soreness, and muscle fatigue just to name a few.
Let’s dive in further and see when you should take that BCAA!
Before Your Workout
Do you struggle with fatigue during your workouts? If so, taking your BCAA supplement pre-workout may be ideal for you. Since BCAAs have been shown to combat muscle fatigue, pre-workout consumption will boost your energy levels throughout your workout. Nothing can be more debilitating than being unable to complete the training regimen you or your trainer has designed. An inability to push through until the end can be caused by decreased levels of BCAA circulating in your bloodstream.
BCAAs can fight muscle fatigue in the body by altering the chemical balance inside the brain. A neurotransmitter that is commonly linked to exercise fatigue is serotonin. Another amino acid within the body, tryptophan, is utilized to produce serotonin. When tryptophan is able to enter the brain, more serotonin is produced. This can make completing your workout a more difficult task. One study in rodents that altered serotonin and dopamine during exercise revealed a decrease in exercise performance. However, further studies with human participants must be performed to reinforce the researchers’ findings.
Not only can BCAA consumption prevent muscle fatigue, but it can provide you with an extra kick of energy during exercise. BCAAs can provide increased energy at the cellular level so you are not gassed quickly into a workout.
The number one source of energy for your muscles during exercise is glucose. When the body’s glucose levels become depleted, BCAAs can provide just enough energy to enable you to complete a workout. The simple ability to finish your workout will improve your chances of reaching optimal results in your program. According to this study, BCAAs are largely metabolized in the skeletal muscle and have the capability of being utilized as an energy source during lengthy bouts of strenuous physical activity.
BCAA consumption pre-workout has the potential to limit the amount of muscle soreness an exerciser feels post workout. One study compared the effects of a resistance exercise on those who took a BCAA supplement before the workout and after the workout. The researchers studied the amount of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and muscle damage that had been caused by the resistance exercise. After the participants performed an eccentric exercise with the non-dominant arm, the researchers concluded that there was less DOMS and muscle damage in the group that took a BCAA supplement before their workout.
Taking your BCAA before starting a workout has shown to have several great benefits. If you are prone to limiting your regimen due to muscle fatigue or lack of energy, then pre-workout BCAA consumption may be the best choice for you.
During Your Workout
How about taking a BCAA supplement right in the middle of a workout? Would there be any noticeable difference or would similar results be yielded. Even though there have not been many studies to investigate this question, early findings have not indicated any greater results from BCAA consumption during exercise. The research has been limited to higher endurance activities such as cycling and running. Future studies on those who participate in high-intensity activities need to be investigated more thoroughly to determine if similar results are found.
One study looked at this topic more in depth by doing an experiment on marathon runners. They provided the runners with a BCAA or a placebo during the race and evaluated mental and physical performance at the conclusion of the race. The researchers determined that the runners that received the BCAA made improvements in their mental performance and there was no significant difference in the placebo group.
The results were trickier when analyzing the physical performance. Runners who were categorized as slower did notice some improvements when taking the BCAA during the race. However, runners who were already labeled as competent did not notice much of a difference. It remained unclear if previously mentioned improvements were a direct result of taking the BCAA during exercise or simply taking it regardless of time.
Similar effects were investigated in cyclists when this study asked the participants to rate their perceived exertion during a workout on a cycle ergometer. The participants who had taken the BCAA had indicated less mental fatigue and less exertion than those who were given the placebo during the experiment. Although there was a substantial improvement in mental performance tests in the BCAA group, there did not appear to be a considerable change in physical performance.
Returning to the subject of DOMS and muscle damage caused by exercise, it appears taking your BCAA in the middle of your workout can provide similar benefits. One study analyzed the muscle damaging effects of a series of drop-jumps on their participants. After measuring numerous variables pre-exercise and post-exercise, the group administered the BCAA displayed less muscle soreness and recovered at a quicker pace than the placebo group. It is hypothesized that BCAA supplementation enabled protein synthesis to be more efficient and limit damage to muscles.
After reviewing further studies, BCAA supplementation can work wonders for your training regimen when taken during exercise. However, additional research is needed to determine how much of a difference taking a BCAA during a workout is compared to before a workout.
After Your Workout
You made it through another brutal workout and it is an amazing feeling. This is the time you decide to drink that BCAA mixture for optimal recovery. Is waiting until after your workout is complete the right time to finally consume those important essential amino acids?
If you are more focused on gaining muscle and having a more efficient recovery, then post-workout BCAA consumption could be for you. BCAAs provide three essential amino acids that serve as part of the foundation to protein within the body. Without a significant source of protein post-workout, you are unlikely to reach the desired results in your training program.
The targeted muscle groups of your workout break down when undergoing stress and they will not recover without a formula containing the right blend of amino acids. Supplementing with a BCAA after your workout has completed can prevent muscle breakdown in order to achieve the optimal muscle gains. BCAAs contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine. According to this study, leucine is the BCAA that makes the most significant impact on protein synthesis and the building of muscle.
An added benefit of waiting until your workout has completed before consuming a BCAA supplement is to enable the body to utilize the amino acid formula at peak efficiency. The levels of BCAA in the blood decline during exercise. If the amount of BCAAs within the blood dip too low and there is no recovery formula to replenish them, then there is a greater chance of muscle breakdown. A supplement post-workout will prevent your body from breaking down BCAAs further and you will have a greater chance of noticing the gains you desire.
Although there are tremendous benefits of supplementing with a BCAA post-workout, more research is required to determine if post-exercise consumption is more effective than pre-exercise consumption. One study analyzed the contrasting times by giving a group of trained men a protein containing BCAAs before and after a resistance workout. After the 10-week study had ended, the researchers noticed that there was not a significant difference in measurements between the pre and post-workout protein consumption. More research will have to be conducted to affirmatively determine the timing of BCAA consumption that provides the most benefits.
After looking more closely at BCAA consumption before, during, and after exercise, the best time to take it is up to you. It is wise to review your exercise needs and goals before you begin a new training regimen to determine the timing that will provide you the most benefits.
Do you struggle with muscle fatigue or mental focus? Maybe you need added energy to complete a full workout. If that is the case, then pre-workout consumption might serve you better. Is muscle gain the primary goal you have in mind? For efficient muscle building, post-workout consumption might be a better route.
If you have a preference of taking your BCAA before, during, or after a workout, then sticking to what works best for your body is an optimal plan. Develop a smart game plan and find out which benefits are most important to you!
Josh is a fitness enthusiast and part-time blogger. He has a passion for functional fitness and nutrition. In his spare time Josh loves to catch a wave at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach.