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Nutrition and Diet

Can BCAA be used as a Pre-Workout Supplement?

BCAAs, short for branched – chain amino acids, have become one of the most sought after supplements in recent times.

Most fitness pros and strength trainers swear by BCAA supplements which contain the three vital muscle building amino acids with a branched – chain structure- Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.

These 3 branched-chain amino acids are being touted as the best way to build muscle, maintain muscle, and increase your metabolism rates especially when taken pre-workout.

But do BCAAs really do all of the above? And do they help you increase lean muscle mass, workout intensity and cut down on recovery time?

Let’s find out.

Fortunately we are living at a time when a lot of research has already been done on BCAAs and their role in muscle building, so we do know for a fact that-

  • Your body, especially your skeletal muscles, uses BCAAs as energy during exercise. Your muscles are infact designed to burn BCAAs for energy.
  • The longer and harder you workout, the more is the requirement for BCAAs in your muscle for energy.
  • There is also conclusive proof that 3% to 18% of all workout energy is provided by the BCAAs.
  • And your body’s need for Leucine is 25 times greater than other amino acids in your blood which are waiting to be used.

Related Article: What is BCAA? And Why should you use it

Why BCAAs Benefit as a Pre-Workout?

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BCAA is one of the best pre-workout supplements because of one amino acid – LEUCINE.

Leucine is the most anabolic, muscle-building amino acid out of all amino acids.

Leucine has been shown to increase protein synthesis by up to 145% so when BCAAs which contain leucine in high quantities are taken pre-workout, they stimulate muscle growth due to the muscle-building effects of leucine.

If you are trying for the shredded look and are on a low-carb diet, BCAAs and leucine have the most important role to play as pre-workouts as they-

-Help prevent your body from breaking- down muscle for energy hence preventing hypertrophy and muscle-loss. Or in simple words, you prevent muscle loss by taking BCAAs pre-workout.

You can take about 20 gm of BCAAs pre-workout which will provide approximately 6 to 10 gm of leucine to achieve the shredded look.

Point to note here is that as you age your requirement of BCAAs goes up to maintain your lean muscle mass. Requirements also climb –up with your stress levels and in the presence of hormonal imbalances. So as a younger bodybuilder, you may require just 10 gm of BCAA pre-workout and this requirement may increase up to 20 gm for doing the same exercises for the same period of time to get similar results, when you hit 35.

  • Leucine also regulates blood sugar levels, providing energy to muscle cells and supports brain function to keep you focused and motivated for a long and heavy workout if taken as a pre-workout.
  • According to research, leucine supports the function of insulin which helps to transport nutrients like glucose to your muscles. This helps in making available more energy to your muscles when BCAAs are taken pre-workout.
  • As insulin also inhibits the breakdown of muscle and encourages the uptake of BCAAs by your cells, BCAAs are one of the best pre-workout supplements to prevent muscle catabolism.

Other factors inimical to leucine also make BCAAs precious as gold when taken pre-workout is the fact that leucine supports muscle development and therefore it increases the basal metabolic rate of your body, which means you lose body fat and get the shredded look faster.

And that’s not all, as a part of BCAAs leucine gets absorbed into your blood stream very fast as compared to any other supplement that you can think of like whey or a protein powders. This gives you a tremendous pre-workout punch.

Perhaps the best reason to include BCAAs as pre-workout is that  your body does not have to break any peptide bonds to release the muscle-building leucine- It’s found in a ’pre-digested’ state in your BCAA supplement. This means, leucine is more quickly absorbed and broken down to nitrogen in your muscle cells.

Most other pre-workout supplements or simply protein supplements have to be digested before they can start acting when taken pre-workout.

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When taken Pre-Workout, BCAAs have also been found to:

  1. Improve endurance by inhibiting the production of the brain chemical serotonin, which often rises during exercise. Serotonin increases the feeling of fatigue which means you tire easily during your workouts. This means you can work out for longer and push harder towards your goals.
  2. Improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness after workouts.

One of the best BCAA you can use for all the above benefits is MFF BCAA 5000. This product provides 2500 mg pure Leucine per serving and has a ratio of 2:1:1 for muscle growth and recovery, and for preventing muscle breakdown.

Related Article: BCAA Dosage: When, How Much and How to Take?

Is BCAA supplement different from other Pre-workout Supplements?

Standalone pre-workout supplements are available in the market to cater to your pre-workout goals. These contain BCAAs and a slew of other ingredients to improve your workout experience.

These are:

  • Caffeine to increase energy, focus, and motivation during your workout.
  • Vitamins to improve endurance and focus.
  • “Power molecules’ like betaine and beta-alanine to increase strength, endurance, and muscle growth.

Both, a pre-workout supplement and BCAA do a similar job ie. help you work out more, and get more benefits from working out! However, pre-workout supplements in general are not designed to optimally help in muscle growth and regeneration unlike BCAA supplements.

Caffeine, for example isn’t a very good ingredients as it has a vaso-constricting effect on your body which may cause your muscles to slump in fatigue faster rather than later.

Should BCAAs be taken Pre or Post Workout?

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When you are cutting down calories to get a lean muscular look your body shifts automatically into a catabolic state. This means that it starts to break down tissues like fats and muscle, rather than making them, a process called anabolism.

Muscle loss also hits you in a catabolic stage as cutting down on calories in the diet forces your body to use the amino acids as energy source which would have otherwise been utilised for protein synthesis and building muscle.

If you want to build muscle you have to ensure that your body’s rate of protein synthesis is greater than the rate of protein breakdown. If you’re unable to do so, muscle loss occurs.

This is why taking BCAAs as a pre-workout is so effective. This ensures that your body is in an anabolic state and building muscle even after your workout.

BCAAs as pre-workout also help in healing muscle after a heavy workout due to the leucine.

Furthermore, BCAAs have been shown to reduce muscle soreness which means that you cut down on recovery time and can work out more frequently.

Taking 6-10 grams of BCAAs before your workout can lead to less soreness and a quicker recovery.

We know that BCAA supplements help reduce tiredness which makes it excellent as a pre-workout as well, especially if you are doing endurance-based exercise.

Intra-workout BCAA supplementation could be extremely beneficial for you too, especially if you want to enhance fat utilization, if you are training in a fasted state, or are on a low-carb diet.

We suggest that you have some whey post- workout in the recovery phase. Whey contains BCAAs to heal muscle micro tears and a lot more amino acids in higher amounts for long- term healing and recovery.

Many people still argue that you can get the same muscle-building benefits the BCAA supplements offer from other sources, such as whey protein and real food.  However, the problem with this argument is that though whey is an excellent source of fast-absorbing protein, it doesn’t have the same effect on the muscles as a concentrated source of BCAAs and leucine.

The amino acids in whey have to be broken down, therefore they are not as efficient as taking BCAA supplements.

When consumed in the diet, the BCAAs are only released after protein sources are digested and broken down, which takes a long time!

Similar Article: The Many Benefits of a BCAA Supplement

Which Supplement can you take with BCAA in your Pre-workout?

Creatine is a common pre-workout ingredient which is often used by athletes to increase both power output and lean mass. Decades of research on this molecule has conclusively proven that it can help you build muscle and improve strength. It has also been proven to improve endurance and reduce post-workout muscle damage and soreness.

So, if you want to build lean muscle, creatine and BCAA are a bloody great pre-workout combination.

For creatine to absorb and influence your performance you need to take it atleast an hour before you hit the gym. What it will do when absorbed is to enter into your muscle cells to participate in respiration to power your gym routine.

Start with 5 gm of creatine along with your daily dose of 10-20 gm of BCAA supplement taken depending on your age and workout intensity. You can take this an hour before your workout.

One thing is clear where pre-workout supplementation is concerned- never follow the latest trend.

Design, mix – and-match and tweak your pre-workout based on your individual needs, goals, physical and mental health and well-being.

So do your homework and understand why you want to supplement and last but not the least , listen to your body and do it’s bidding.

For any other query on pre-workout supplementation, get in touch with us. We shall answer all your queries, we promise.

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Shikha Gandhi

The author Shikha Gandhi

has covered health as a TV journalist. She is a health freak with a passion for fitness, diets, and healing. She writes on health and makes programs and focuses on the subject too.
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