There are a lot of acronyms used in the fitness world, but BCAA are definitely worth knowing about (even if you can’t remember what it stands for). Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) include “isoleucine, leucine and valine,”Bansari Acharya, RDN, tells Lively. “They're essential amino acids and can't be produced by the body. They have to be obtained from either food or supplements [and] are commonly taken to aid with enhanced exercise performance and to increase muscle growth.”**
Foods naturally containing BCAA include meat and poultry, milk and whey products, nuts, and certain beans. Some people may opt for a BCAA supplement because they’re having trouble meeting their goals through diet alone (which may be true for vegans) or because it’s an easy and reliable way to get a consistent amount of these vital amino acids.
“BCAA have been proven to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and help with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness),” Jamie Hickey, nutritionist and Founder of Truism Fitness, tells Lively, adding: “These amino acids are paramount to how your body rebuilds tissue, cells, ligaments, joints and muscle fiber. [Without them] your body wouldn’t be able to maintain or increase its protein synthesis which is what preserves and builds muscle.”**
Because BCAA help decrease soreness, someone taking the supplements may be able to work out more often and harder, which theoretically could lead to weight loss. They’ve also been shown to “improve your endurance during physical training by lowering serotonin levels, which in turn, reduces exercise-induced fatigue,” Anju Mobin, a nutritionist, tells Lively.**
While most moderate athletes will obtain adequate amounts of BCAA through diet, if you’d prefer a supplement, BCAA are safe, however Mobin warns they may affect sleep or blood glucose level in some people.**
What Is The Best BCAA For Women?
The best BCAA for women will vary depending on your specific goals. Most women need a minimum of 9mg of BCAA per day**, so look for a drink or supplement that can get you toward the goal (without going over). “There are so many different [brands of BCAA] out there and there is no one brand or type that is better than others. It comes down to budget and personal preference,” Melissa Morris, a certified sports nutritionist, tells Lively.
The best BCAA for women won’t contain a lot of other ingredients (like creatine or whey) that bodybuilders would take to really bulk up muscularly (unless that’s what you’re looking to do). “The majority of women aren’t looking to build big muscles; they want to tighten and tone their muscles for a slimmer look,” says Hickey. He adds that some of the purest forms of BCAA don’t contain much more than these three amino acids, gelatin and magnesium.
What Is The Best BCAA For Men?
Generally, men and women will look for similar things in their BCAA. Of course, it should contain the three amino acids— valine, leucine and isoleucine—but it may actually be best to look for a formula that includes more leucine. “Within the three amino acids, leucine may have a greater role in enhancing athletic performance by preventing the breakdown of muscle so the ratio of 2:1:1, or two parts leucine for every one part isoleucine and valine may have greater benefits,” Acharya tells Lively. She adds that it’s usually best to take the purest form of the nutrient “to avoid any confusion [about] whether the effects are coming from that nutrient or the additional ingredients.” Men (and women) should approach with caution any formulas that include artificial ingredients, colors, added sugars or added flavors. Less is more when it comes to ingredients, and often added ingredients are just a marketing gimmick, she says.
Does BCAA Help With Weight Loss?
BCAA can come in handy if you’re trying to lose weight because studies show they can burn body fat without compromising muscle mass. “BCAA enhance your fat loss efforts,” says Mobin. You won’t actually be increasing your metabolism by taking BCAA, but they “help you lose weight by increasing the amount of lean muscle you have,” Hickey tells Lively. “Muscle burns 50 times more calories than fat. The end result is your resting metabolic rate increases and it takes more calories for your body to maintain than it would if it was fat.”**
So what’s the best BCAA for women’s weight loss? You’ll want to look for one specifically designed with women in mind that ideally has little or no sugar, fat or calories. You could take a supplement or add a BCAA-rich powder to your morning smoothie. Ultimately, you know your body and the type of muscle mass you’re trying to achieve, so look for one that suits your lifestyle and your goals.
Vital note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.