Interested in learning more about BCCAs for runners? Then you have come to the right place.
As a runner, any supplement that can help improve recovery and performance is worth the sweat—literally and figuratively.
One of these supplements is what’s known as BCCAs, one of the most popular ones in the fitness world for quite some time now.
But should runners be taking them?
Do they have any benefits?
Are there any dangers?
Keep reading for the answers.
In this article, I’ll teach almost everything you need to know about BCCA for runners in today’s article. Most specifically, we’ll be covering the following:
- What are BCAA
- Benefits of BCAAs for runners
- How much BCCA to take
- When to take BCAA
- Should runners take BCAA in power or tablets
- Best time to take BCCAs for runners
- The side effects of BCAAs on runners
- And so much more.
Let’s get started.
What Is BCCA?
Even if you know little to nothing about BCCA, you know it has something to do with protein.
Let me explain.
Protein is a key macronutrient. The stuff is found throughout your body—not just in muscle, but in skin, bone, hair, and virtually every other tissue or body part.
Protein is composed of 21 basic building blocks known as amino acids. These include:
- Aspartic acid
The sequence of these determines each protein’s unique 3-dimensional structure and its specific role.
Although there are 21 amino acids, nine are essential as the human body cannot synthesize them but are crucial for survival.
The nine essential amino acids are:
Branched Amino Acids
BCAA consists of three essential amino acids known as branched-chain thanks to the chain form of the molecular structure. The unique molecular structure of BCAA gives them this specific name.
In other words, BCAA refers to a part of a group of amino acids that are the building blocks of protein.
BCAAs are the most important building blocks of protein. Taking plenty of BCAAs increases the number of raw materials available for muscles tissues. Having enough intake can reduce muscle soreness, improve muscle growth, enhance hormone function—and so much more.
Leucine is the most important amino acid, research shows.
Leucine levels diminish during exercise. That’s why you should replace them through your diet to aid in protein synthesis.
Since the human body cannot make BCCAs naturally, we must consume them via food—eating mainly meat, fish, nuts, dairy products, and other sources of quality protein.
BCAA can also be found in plant-based protein foods such as peanuts, quinoa, chickpeas, and whole grains—but these are not as complete as animal sources.
Why BCCAs Are Unique
The reason BCCA are so helpful is because they can be oxidized in the muscle for fuel and are swiftly utilized instead of first being metabolized by the liver. That means one thing: fast delivery.
Don’t quote me.
Research has revealed that taking BCCAs has improved total energy during aerobic activity by up to 10 percent.
Let me dive more into some of the benefits.
How BCCAs Helps Runners?
People consume BCCAs for a wide range of reasons. Some of the most common benefits of BCCAs for runners include:
Improved muscle growth
The main benefit of BCCA intake is to improve muscle growth, and this is mainly thanks to a specific amino acid: leucine. This unique amino acid is in charge of activating the switch to produce more protein, which kicks off tissue repair and growth.
Of course, don’t take my word for it.
One research has reported that consuming BCCAs over water resulted in 22 percent more muscle synthesis, which is your body’s process of recovering from muscle damage.
A 2014 review reported that BCCA supplements with plenty of leucine might increase muscle mass, which results in improved body composition.
Decrease Muscle Soreness
Runners are familiar with the feeling of being sore the day after a hard run. This is what’s known as delayed onset muscle soreness and might be caused by tiny tears in the muscle during intense training.
Again BCCA may help as research reported that they can help lower muscles soreness and speed up recovery.
How? Simple. By limiting the rate of muscle breakdown and speeding up the rate of muscle repair.
Some experts have also suggested that BCAAs may also help achieve this by limiting cortisol, or the stress hormone, which has been known to contribute to muscle breakdown.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Here are a few papers to check out:
- Study has found that supplementing with BCCA reduced muscle soreness following a hard session compared to a placebo.
- Research out the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that consuming the right amount of BCAA can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.
- Study has reported that supplementing with BCAA may reduce soreness levels by up to 33 percent in subjects taking the stuff compared to those given a placebo.
Remember that BCCAs have been widely used to improve healing following procedures such as musculoskeletal injury or sugary since new body issues need to be swiftly made.
Dealing with fatigue? BCAAs may help.
The staff might help by doing the following:
BCCAS may reduce fatigue during exercise by helping maintain glycogen stores. This can come in handy for long-distance runners.
BCCAs may function as energy during exercise and be distributed more efficiently to the muscles.
The stuff acts as an energy source during training by preserving glycogen stores and using them as fuel. Exhausted glycogen stores would lead to fatigue.
By maintaining your glycogen stores, you’ll help limit fatigue during prolonged training.
High levels of BCCAs may also help hinder the entry of tryptophan into your brain, which is a chemical that converts to serotonin. This can help as tryptophan is a key ingredient in the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter linked to fatigue during exercise.
A small study of college-age males reported that subjects who consumed 20 grams of BCAAS before a workout had lower levels of serotonin post-exercise compared to those given a placebo.
Improved Weight Loss
Now it’s clear that BCAAs help improve muscle mass.
But did you know the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, thanks to the increased metabolic rate?
Yes, that’s why strength training is one of the best ways to speed up fat loss. BCAAs happen to help you make the most gains out of your training.
Research has reported that participants who took 14 grams of BCAAs per day shed about 1 percent more body fat and piled on 4.4 extra pounds of muscle than those who took whey protein.
However, keep in mind that the participant’s diets were not monitored, impacting the results.
For more on the benefits of BCCA for athletes, check the following resources:
- The Effects of BCAAs on Insulin Resistance in Athletes
- Oral Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation in Athletes
- Association of Genetically Predicted BCAA Levels with Muscle Fiber Size in Athletes Consuming Protein
- The efficiency of branched chain aminoacids (BCAA) in the nutrition of combat sport athletes
- The Ameliorating Effect of Branched-chain Amino Acids Ingestion on Different Types of Muscle Soreness after Swimming and Full-marathon Running
Will BCAA Make You A Faster Runner?
This is the more pressing and important question.
Since the staff can help you recover and build muscles, can it make you a faster runner?
Here’s the truth. The research is still inconclusive.
One example is research out of Tokyo that assessed 28 subjects who were given BCAAs during a 100K ultra-marathon.
The subject’s finish time remained unchanged, and it was the same as the athletes who were given a placebo.
This means that even though supplementing with BCAAs increases muscle protein synthesis, the stuff won’t make you any faster as a runner.
But in another study, researchers reported that supplementing with BCCAs for ten weeks resulted in a 19 percent increase in all-out sprint power and a 4 percent increased power relative to body mass.
The Side Effects of BCCAs
BCAAs are a natural ingredient in the human diet. Thus, there’s typically little risk of side effects, especially if you’re following common-sense guidelines.
In general, BCAAs are safe, and some of the following side effects are seen in rare cases.
- Feeling nauseated or sick
- Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea
- Loss of coordination
- Increases insulin resistance
- Kidney failure—in super rare cases.
If you’re dealing with a medical condition or under medication, consult you’re your doctor before supplementing to ensure their safety.
How To Get BCAA
Now that you know a thing or two about the importance of BCAAs for runners, let’s look at some of the ways you can consume more of them.
Diet is the natural source of BCAAS. The stuff, as well as other essential amino acids, can be found in most forms of complete proteins.
Natural food should always be your default option and building the right eating habits is key before considering supplementation.
Overall, following a well-rounded diet should provide you with the essential amino acids needed to build muscle. In fact, eating plenty of high-quality protein foods such as eggs, meat, and daily can help provide the full spectrum of essential amino acids for your body.
Virtually all animal-based proteins contain leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Dairy products such as cottage cheese, milk, and whey protein.
You can also find BCAAs in plant-based foods such as:
- Legumes and lentils
- Pea protein
- Nuts like cashew, almonds, etc.
If you train at the low to mild intensity and run shorter distances, you’ll likely be able to get enough BCAAS through your diet.
But if you log plenty of miles every week and/or lift weights hard (with the purpose of building muscle), you’ll need an extra amount of BCAAS, which can be nicely met via supplementing.
How Much Should you Take
BCAAS needs are a personal affair. It’s individual specific and depends on a host of factors such as your age, weight, gender, training experience and goals, exercise duration, type.
Talk to a professional before trying out supplements to determine what might work for you.
Ideally, shoot for 10-20 grams of BCAAs and three to four grams of leucine per meal. I’d also recommend that you take BCAAS with carbs for faster recovery, and it is regarded as the ideal post-workout drink.
How to Use BCAAs
How much BCCA to take vary based on a few factors.
Most companies provide dosing guidelines with their products, which gives a rough idea of how much to consume based on activity level and body weight.
Ideally, I’d recommend combining a scoop of BCAA powder with water, mixing it thoroughly, then drinking it.
Of course, capsules are also an option.
When Should You Take BCAAs
You can add in BCAAs supplements to your plan before and after training and sporadically throughout.
BCAAs supplements are available as powder or tablets – it’s really up to you and your preferences which form of BCAAs to take.
Overall, the powder is considered more powerful and comes in a wide range of flavors, which can be added to water, drinks, or whatever.
If you work out on a regular basis, I’d recommend that you take BCAAs around your runs—30 to 60 minutes on either side of the session.
How To Find Quality BCAA
Now that you know more about BCAA than the average person, let’s look at how you can find quality stuff.
Here’s what to look for in a BCAA.
Powder Vs. Pills
BCAA products come in powder or capsule form.
The powder form is the most efficient, especially since companies can add more essential amino acids into each serving.
Prefer taking a pill? Then keep in mind that you might need to swallow more than a few to come close to the same amount found in the powder form.
Additional resource – The full guide to electrolytes for runners
Quality matters, and it matters a lot when it comes to supplements.
That’s why I urge you to choose a product that a third party has tested.
The supplement industry isn’t heavily regulated, and a lot of companies are making products that may contain potentially harmful ingredients or that have misleading labels or promises.
Go for a supplement manufacturer that invests in testing to make sure their product delivers and are of high quality.
Check out companies such as Consumer Lab or Labrador as they perform regular and thorough reviews.
Some nutrition groups, such as Informed Sports and NSF provide a trustworthy certification for all supplements brands. This should help you make the right decision when it comes to choosing the best BCCA supplement that money can buy.
Be Wary of other Ingredients
Beyond the three amino acids, you should also consider the other ingredients used in the supplement.
Pay attention to other ingredients and be wary of sweeteners, fillers, artificial flavors, and coloring. Which ingredients were used to add flavor or sweeten the supplement? Is it made with gluten or sugar? You don’t need to put all of these extra chemicals into your body.
You should also check the label and see if it contains other essential amino acids such as Threonine or Tryptophan?
Want to err on the side of caution? Go for unflavored.
When choosing a BCAA powder, go for a product that mixes well in water. It really sucks when the water and powder supplement won’t mix.
This is another thing to pay attention to—flavor matters.
BCAA powder comes unflavored or in flavors such as lemon-lime, fruit punch, grape, etc.
Choose whatever makes your taste buds happy.
BCAA supplements aren’t regulated.
What’s more? Although BCAAs don’t have any known unwanted side effects, be wary about where you buy them, the ingredients in the product, and how much you’re taking.
Also, remember that although the stuff helps with muscle building and recovery, it may not actually improve your overall performance.
BCAAs are not cheap. Keep in mind that you have other convenient and cheaper options to provide not only the three essential amino acids but other essential ones as well.
Whey protein, for instance, is a complete protein with all the nine essential amino acids. It’s also cheaper and quickly digested.
As you can tell, BCCAs are not just helpful for strength buffs, but runners as well, as they can help improve your performance.
The stuff has the ability to help improve your energy output and reduce fatigue during training, aid in muscle growth, speed up recovery—and so much more.