Hi Dr. Bell, I’m really confused about when is the best time to take BCAA’s. I used to take them during the workout and sometimes before cardio. I keep reading different things. My goal is not to lose muscle mass; I’m just trying to cut. Please advise!

BCAAs – Branched Chain Amino Acids are Essential Nutrients (Essential in nutrition means that it must be consumed in the diet, the body has no mechanism to manufacture it. Non-essential can be manufactured in the body from other nutrients) that must be obtained from proteins you absorb from the foods you eat. The best sources are from Grass Fed, Drug and hormone Free eggs, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish (wild caught, smaller-cold water varieties: i.e.: Salmon). There are proteins contained in Legumes, but the ratios of amino acids are less efficacious than animal source proteins, thus the vegetarian recommendation of “Food Combining.”

Branched Chain refers to their chemical structure. The BCAAs are amino acids having aliphatic side-chains with a “Branch” (a central carbon atom bound to 3 or more carbon atoms), these are Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.

Medically, BCAAs are used to treat burn victims, ALS patients, brain conditions due to liver disease, Tardive Dyskinisia, McArdle’s Diease, poor appetite in the elderly kidney failure or cancer patients and to slow muscle wasting in bed-ridden patients. Doctors have used BCAAs to prevent fatigue and improve concentration. Much of what we know about BCAAs protective effects on muscle come from the experience of medical patients.

BCAAs are purported  to stimulate the building of muscle proteins and reduce muscle breakdown. Athletes use BCAAs to improve exercise performance and reduce muscle protein breakdown during and immediately following exercise.

Question: Do you take BCAAs before, during or after exercise?

Answer:   YES!

Recommendations: It is typically recommended that you take BCAAs Before, During and After exercise due to different qualities of BCAAs.

Taken Before Exercise: BCAAs are purported to improve mental and physical performance. Since exercise increases Trytophan synthesis, which increases Serotonin production, which causes fatigue, BCAAs are thought to reduce Serotonin build-up, this reduces perceived exertion and mental fatigue.

Taken During Exercise: BCAAs are purported to enhance protein synthesis in both liver and muscle cells. Since BCAAs can be oxidized in the cell’s mitochondria, it is possible for BCAAs to provide energy for exercise. Studies have shown that BCAAs improved insulin resistance, glucose tolerance, beta cell function and energy metabolism.

Taken After Exercise: BCAAs are thought to speed repair of micro tears in muscle cells caused by exercise; Improves anabolic hormone profile(to build muscle) and reduces incidence of DOMS(Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

Keep in mind that there is still a great deal of conflicting research as to the efficacy of the use of BCAAs as an exercise supplement. This can be a result of the typical issues surrounding supplementation: i.e.: Individuality, manufacturing quality, quality of the individuals’ diet., etc. Your best bet on determining if BCAAs work for you are: HOW DO YOU FEEL? You may also have to try a few different manufactures to find the right one for your body chemistry. Some nutrition experts will tell you if you have adequate protein intake at about 2.0 grams/Kgrm of Body Weight, BCAAs are not necessary.

Side Effects: BCAAs seem safe for most people up to 6 months of use. Side effects can include fatigue and loss of coordination. Excess protein increases nitrogen excretion causing a loss of water leading to dehydration and kidney stress. To avoid this, consume more water, keep your urine clear or nearly clear and calculate your BCAA intake as part of your total protein and do not exceed 2.8g/Kgrm of Body Weight. I recommend you take BCAAs only on workouts days and split your desired intake: 1/3 20mins before, 1/3 during and 1/3 immediately after your exercise session.

If you are trying to get the most out of your workouts, any experienced athlete will tell you “Nutrition is 80% of your Battle!” To help you WIN Your Battle, the IFPA has developed the IFPA Sports Nutrition Certification Course, The IFPA ADVANCED Sports Nutrition Certification Course and other Advanced and Specialist Certification Courses all designed to help you become the Best You can BE!

Train hard, but even more importantly, Train Smart.

Good Luck!

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