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Published on May 11, 2021

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Understand How Branched Chain Amino Acids Can Help Your Workouts

Do you ever find yourself stuck in the never-ending aisles of nutrition supplements, protein powders and pre-workout blends? You’ll find branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in this mix, but what are they?

What Exactly Are BCAAs?

In general, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Branched chain amino acids are essential, meaning that we need to obtain them for our diet because our body cannot make them on their own. These amino acids are called branched due to their “branched” chemical structure. The three BCAAs are leucine, valine and isoleucine.

What Do BCAAs Do?

The role of these amino acids are many. Two spots where they do the most is growing muscle and reducing sore ones.

Muscle Growth

BCAA supplementation during strength training may improve muscle growth and minimize breakdown of muscle. BCAA together with the other essential amino acids (found in protein sources) have the greatest impact on muscle.


BCAAs are shown to help speed up recovery and muscle soreness after a workout. BCAAs are absorbed in the small intestine and sent straight to the muscles (unlike other amino acids that are metabolized in the liver). As the body breaks down muscle during strength training workouts, BCAAs in the muscles work to help repair muscle quicker.

Should I take BCAAs?

If you eat plenty of protein in your diet, then BCAAs are not a necessary supplement. Protein sources that contain BCAAs include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu and legumes. BCAAs can help supplement your diet if you have troubles meeting protein recommendations. BCAA supplements can be consumed before, during, or after exercise. There is not significant evidence that BCAA provide more energy or strength during workouts, but they do increase protein stores for muscle growth and minimize muscle breakdown.

If you do choose to take BCAA supplements make sure they are third-party tested meaning they are safe and legal to take. For adult women the recommendations are 9 g/day and adult men are 12g/day. BCAAs can be found in the form of powder, pills, sport drinks and bars. For high school and college athletes, there has not been enough significant research done on BCAAs to recommend supplementation.

By Kelsey Kessler, dietetic intern with the Avera Human Performance Center.

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