A lifter needs BCAA like a carpenter needs a hammer.
They’re simple, yet you need them for almost every job. They lay the foundation for all of the fancier, speciality stuff, and without it, the house won’t stand.
But can your timing with BCAAs make a difference?
It’s a valid question, given that BCAAs are sold as pre, intra, and post-workouts. Which one is better? Why would you choose one over the other?
The truth is – it really depends.
And much like a hammer, just because you pick it up once, doesn’t mean you’ll never benefit from it again.
In this article, we’ll break down what exactly BCAAs do, why you want to take them, and confront some myths about BCAA timing. By the end, you’ll know when to take your BCAA supplement for maximum benefits.
What are BCAAs?
As you probably know by now, BCAAs stands for branched-chain amino acids. Even though all amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, there are three with an ideal chemical structure for muscular growth.
The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They make up almost half of your amino acid pool, from which the body pulls as it needs.
As essential amino acids, you can only get them from your diet. Therefore, you need as many BCAAs as you can get, especially during times of high demand.
Why take BCAAs?
Despite meeting general protein requirements, BCAAs start a whole series of anabolic processes. Leucine is the primary instigator, with isoleucine and valine as accomplices.
Together, they kick off your mTOR signaling pathway.
This process triggers muscle protein synthesis to lay down bigger, better, and stronger tissue. Moreover, isoleucine and valine contribute to glycogen uptake.
After a tough workout, therefore, BCAAs refill your glycogen stores. The better you can refuel and recover, the harder you can train tomorrow. Using BCAAs, you make small, incremental gains in the right direction, allowing you to train harder and harder each workout.
BCAAs also help push you during your workout.
By stimulating insulin release, they help your muscles uptake sugars for energy. Assuming you have available blood glucose, that is. They’ve also been shown to contribute to increased mental endurance during sustained exercise.
When to take BCAAs – before or during your workout
Taking BCAAs 20 minutes before a session nor an hour into a session will make you into the Hulk.
While it’s true BCAAs signal muscle protein synthesis, that’s assuming your body requires any protein to synthesize in the first place. Work hard in the gym first, then count on a good BCAA to help you rebuild.
That being said, there are a few cases where slightly altering your timing can make a difference.
Studies show that plasma leucine levels peak within 30 minutes of ingestion. Even further, consuming isoleucine and valine allowed for other plasma amino acid levels to rise within half an hour, suggesting that BCAAs might enhance the effects of other nutrients.
When it comes down to it, nutrient timing depends on how you’re expecting to train.
You see, the availability of BCAAs in the bloodstream highly influences amino acid and glucose transport. By simply providing these nutrients, you’re signaling protein synthesis.
The question then becomes, when do you need those new proteins?
The Timing of BCAAs – What does your training look like?
Everyone agrees that physical prep for a marathon differs from a powerlifting meet. Why would your nutrition be an exception? (Hint: It’s not).
Below are some guidelines on how to base your BCAA timing on your subsequent demands.
Training method #1 – Extended cardio
If you’re hitting the treadmill for an hour, BCAAs might be better as an intra-workout, assuming your stomach can handle it. You won’t need a protein recovery drink, as you likely won’t have caused too much muscle damage.
However, since BCAAs help with glucose metabolism, casually enjoying a shake while you run can keep energy levels up. As it takes about 30 mins for blood BCAA levels to peak, start at the beginning and continue to drink throughout.
It’ll provide an extra source of energy when your glycogen stores are running out, especially in cases of fasted cardio.
Training method #2: High-intensity interval training
Take BCAAs as a pre-workout before HIIT. We prefer BCAAs that come in capsule form for this, as it won’t sit heavy on your stomach when taken before exercising.
HIIT tends to last less than 30 minutes at best, so you’ll reap the rewards of protein synthesis just as your work is done. That effect helps your body recover as quickly as possible.
You’ll be less sore the next day, and boast some muscle growth to boot.
Training method #3: Heavy resistance training
As true, heavy strength sessions can last up to three hours, BCAAs are probably best as an intra workout. You’re going to be going hard for a while, and need that extra push at the halfway mark.
Plus, due to the amount of rest, resistance training naturally builds in space for an intraworkout. The anabolic effects will kick in around 30-40 minutes after ingestion, so you can start your recovery while you’re still throwing around weight.
As heavy resistance training already signals an anabolic response, BCAAs are just the icing on the cake.
Regardless of the type of workout, general length and intensity should be considered. Sure, you can lift weights for four hours. But if two of those hours are spent on your phone, are you really training for that long? In that same vein, 45 minutes of a brisk walk varies greatly from 45 minutes of a triathlon. Generally, the more intense your workout, the more you’ll rely on carbs and breakdown muscle.
Therefore, BCAAs become more critical as intensity and duration increases.
Additionally, we can’t take BCAAs as an isolated ingredient. What you eat before and after your workout equally affect your recovery. If you just ate a protein-dense meal, and are headed to the gym in 30 minutes, you probably don’t need BCAAs.
You’re getting them from food like you’re supposed to. For those with a busy schedule, however, BCAAs can be a quick solution to break the fast. If you can’t eat real food before or shortly after a workout, definitely drink some BCAAs both before and during a workout. You’ll kick off anabolic processes and set yourself on the path to recovery.
The Best BCAA Supplement: Performance Lab BCAA
Regardless of when you take your BCAA, quality matters. That’s why we recommend Performance Lab Sport BCAA for the best results. Their top-end manufacturing processes combine with elite ingredients and third-party testing for an elite product.
Performance Lab Sport BCAA uses sunflower lecithin to create a BCAA the body accepts as real food. Through plant fermentation (via their patented process called Nutrigenesis), they pull pure amino acids for direct delivery into your bloodstream.
Their Nutrigenesis BCAAs paired with Ajipure BCAAs creates a combo that we believe is the best on the market.
Moreover, the company prides itself on serving supplements free of synthetics, additives, GMOs, gluten, and artificial sweeteners.
How do they know? First of all – they don’t put any in at the start. But to be extra sure, each product is tested by a third-party lab before sold to the public.
In fact, Performance Lab BCAA comes in capsule form (their capsules are made from prebiotic fiber too instead of the usual gelatin or cellulose). So you can be sure that it’s the cleanest BCAA you’ll find out there.
Performance Lab BCAA Supplement Facts
Performance Lab Sport BCAA contains three ingredients – leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
While this might seem like a no-brainer, most supplements toss in filler and fluff. Performance Lab goes in the opposite direction because they can.
Their BCAA comes in prebiotic capsules, so you don’t have to worry about sweeteners to enhance the flavor of a drink. Their two-to-one ratio of leucine to isoleucine/valine provides evidence-based results every time.
By regularly taking their BCAA, you can expect:
- Improved muscular protein synthesis during and after training
- Strong bioavailability (meaning the amino acids go directly to the target tissue)
- Less fatigue during your workouts
- Release of insulin-like growth factor for muscle size
- Enhanced immune system
For just $30, you can buy a month’s supply of BCAAs from their website. Even better…the more you buy, the cheaper it gets.
Getting two bottles saves you 5% while buying three comes with a 10% discount.
Conclusion – When should you take BCAAs?
Take your BCAAs around your workout. Period. Slight variations in timing work for specific situations. The length and intensity of your workout will likely determine whether you can (or should) use an intra workout.
There’s no need to stop, run to your bag, and down a few pills because the label says “intraworkout”.
Just take some before, finish them afterward, and you’ll be fine. BCAAs are at maximum potential 30-45 minutes after ingestion, so use that as your guide. At the end of the day, a clean, effective BCAA supplement is more important than small adjustments in timing.
Remember to work hard and refuel with real food, and you’ll be well on your way to results.