BCAA Guide: When is the Best Time To Take BCAA’s?

Elite HRT

Written by Elite HRT on September 07, 2021

Medically reviewed by

Camille Frecking, Regulatory Affairs Specialist, MEDICAL ADVISOR

BCAAs have been a fitness trend for a while and they’re typically taken as a powdered supplement. However, you may be surprised to know that they can be administered as an injection or consumed through protein-rich foods. 

BCAAs have been known to support muscle growth and recovery to maximize gains after a workout. Keep reading this BCAA guide to learn more about what they are, when to take them, and how they work in the body.

What Are BCAA’s?

BCAA’s or branched-chain amino acids, are three amino acids that are essential nutrients needed for muscle energy. These three amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

Amino acids are the small building blocks that make up proteins in the body. Each of these amino acids plays a different role in the body and works together for the same goal of supporting muscle health and other tissues. They are considered nutraceuticals, or substances that help to support health. 

Many amino acids are created and used in the body, but these three are not made in the body and need to be consumed from outside sources so that your body can use them to their full advantage. 

How Do BCAA’s Work in the Body?

Isoleucine, leucine, and valine are all amino acids that work slightly different to achieve the same goal in the body. 

Something special about all of them is that they are mostly oxidized in the muscles of the body instead of in the liver. They help to build up muscle in the body, aid muscle repair, and support overall muscle health. 

They also have an important role in bringing glucose into the cells of the body for energy. By limiting tryptophan’s ability to enter the brain, BCAAs may reduce the production of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin can cause exercise fatigue, so BCAAs may help athletes and fitness lovers of all levels improve their workout endurance.

Isoleucine

Isoleucine acts as a trigger for the cells to bring in glucose, which they use for energy and fuel. It also helps the body to hold on to proteins during exercise and prevents protein breakdown so you can hold on to as much protein as possible. Also, since all amino acids are building blocks of proteins, isoleucine works to help build up proteins as well. Isoleucine is an essential amino acid for the body.

Leucine

Leucine also helps with building up proteins and muscle. It actually plays a very direct role in recovering the muscles after exercise and building up muscle tissue. After leucine is broken down or oxidized, its job is not over yet. It is oxidized into acetyl-coenzyme A and acetoacetate, which are important for processing energy from glucose. 

Many BCAA blends are actually made with a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine to valine and isoleucine because it is so effective in stimulating the synthesis of protein.

Valine

Valine is another amino acid that helps the body prevent the muscle from being broken down. It also plays a role in supplying the muscles with extra glucose for the muscles during exercise, which may be helpful to enhance stamina. Valine also plays a role in the recovery of the muscles after they are stressed during a workout. It helps to build up the damaged muscle tissue so you can recover quicker and get back to your workouts again. Valine can help with nitrogen balance in the body, which can support metabolism and growth of the body. 

How Can You Take BCAA’s?

BCAA’s come in many forms, so you have options when it comes to picking which works best for you. Each form has its pros and cons, so make sure to really understand both sides to make a personalized decision. 

Injections, powders, and foods are all options for you to get BCAA’s into your body. 

Injections

Injections are one option when it comes to BCAAs. These injections can be placed into the muscle or the subcutaneous tissue, which is the fatty tissue layer just below the skin. Since they are directly injected, you do not have to worry about being able to digest the amino acid or the effects your metabolism may have on its potency. 

It also is going directly into the muscle or right outside of it so there is less travel to the skeletal muscles.

Also, since many foods do not have high levels of these essential amino acids, the BCAA injections offer a concentrated source of the BCAAs, meaning you don’t have to eat massive quantities of foods to get the same amount. 

The only downside to the injections is that many people simply do not like receiving shots. The setup and prick can be really off-putting for some, but most people find that these shots end up feeling like a little pinch, and over time become barely noticeable. 

Powders

BCAA powders are probably the most well-known form of BCAAs that is out there. Many people take BCAA as a workout powder and pair it with water or a protein shake to get hydration and nutrition at the same time. 

BCAA powders can be a handy and easy way to get your BCAAs, but there are some downsides as well. You will have to prepare and mix the powders in a liquid. Many people do not like the taste and texture of these powders because they can be chalky and have a mineral taste to them. Also, over time, the powders can get expensive since you have to have a pretty large serving on a consistent basis in order to see effects. 

If you can get over the prep, taste, and cost, then the powders may be a good option for you. They’re a great way to help support your muscle mass and build muscle, especially if you include about 8 grams of BCAAs per liter of water.

Foods

Since foods have BCAAs in them it would only make sense to get them straight from the source, right? Eating foods with BCAAs is always a good option, but, when you are looking to consume high levels of them for health benefits, food is not always the best way to do so. 

Foods can add up to be very expensive, especially if you need a very high quantity of certain foods to get the same amount of BCAAS than you would from an injection or powder. 

Some foods that have relatively high levels of BCAAs are almonds, eggs, fish (tuna, tilapia, and salmon), and meat (chicken, beef, and turkey). If you are on a plant-based diet you can look for foods with beans, such as soy products and lentils, as well as whole grains. 

When is the Best Time To Take BCAA’s?

Choosing the best time to take BCAAs is important so that you can get the optimal effects. 

Unfortunately, there is no clear evidence as to when the best time is to take BCAA injections or powders. 

For powders, you have the option of taking them pre-workout, during your workout, or post-workout. Ideally, you could take them before and after for maximum effect, or you could simply take it one time per workout. Some say it’s best to take BCAAs on an empty stomach, but so far there have only been small studies that have shown varying effects of the time of administration. 

Overall, there is an overarching theme that, no matter the time that the BCAAs are taken, there is an increase in muscle growth.

As for BCAA injections, you should always follow the instruction of your healthcare provider that has prescribed these injections. The instructions for each person will be different based on your own health and scenario. 

What Are the Benefits of BCAA’s?

BCAAs are most well-known for their support of physical fitness goals like muscle growth and strength, but there are also other benefits as well such as liver health. However, muscle health remains the primary reason most people look to add BCAA’s into their routines. 

Muscle Health

The essential amino acids in BCAAs have a direct role in helping to build up proteins in the muscle. Therefore, when you take BCAAs, you are offering the muscles a form of fuel to build up the muscle and help improve strength over time. 

BCAAs also help the cells get more access to the glucose in the body, which the body uses as energy to work out and recover faster and better. They may even be able to help decrease muscle soreness after your workout. 

Overall, the main focus of BCAA’s as a nutraceutical is to support the muscles during and after exercise. 

Conclusion

BCAA supplementation can be a great option for many people regardless of the form whether you choose injections, powders, or certain food sources. These powerful amino acids can be very helpful in helping muscles work their best and recover after a long, hard workout. 

BCAAs are generally safe, but there is always a chance that you may be allergic. Always check with your healthcare provider to ensure that this is the best option for you and that it will be safe for you and your health needs. 

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Resources:

A Primer On Branched Chain Amino Acids

Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men

Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?