Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) consist of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are proven to support muscle growth even more than protein supplements and other amino acids.
Taking BCAA powder is one of the best things you can do to improve your gains in the gym. However, even more so than with other workout supplements, the timing of BCAA powder really matters.
How BCAA Powder Supports Muscle Growth
- Acts as fuel for muscles during exercise
- Delay brain fatigue during workout
- Directly stimulate muscle synthesis
- Boosts insulin levels, which aids in muscle synthesis
- Boosting levels of HGH
- Lowers levels of cortisol (which encourages muscle breakdown and interferes with testosterone)
Additionally, BCAA powder has been shown to have benefits for weight loss and helping you feel energized throughout the day.
Why BCAA Timing Matters
To understand when the best time to take BCAA powder is, you’ve got to understand how BCAAs are used by the body.
When you eat proteins, such as casein protein or a juicy steak, the proteins are in peptide bond. That basically means that the amino acids are stuck together. To be utilized by the body, the proteins first must be metabolized. This starts in the digestive system. There, the amino acids are separated, absorbed into the bloodstream, sent to the liver, and can finally go where they are needed.
In short, it takes a long time before most proteins start working!
By contrast, BCAAs are “free form.” They do not require digestion like other amino acids. The BCAAs get sent directly to the muscles where they can start working immediately.
Because of how quickly BCAAs take action, they can be taken before, during, or after a workout to provide benefits.
When Is the Best Time to Take BCAA Powder?
When to take BCAA powder depends on what benefit you are looking to get. In general though, most people in training can benefit from taking BCAAs before, during, and after training.
1. Take BCAA Powder before a Workout
You know the burnout that you get mid-workout? Taking BCAA powder before your workout can help prevent this.
When you take BCAAs before you start exercising, the BCAAs will serve as a fuel source for your muscle. You’ll be able to workout longer and harder without feeling burnout.
Studies like this one have also found that BCAAs taken before a workout can prevent muscle soreness, because the BCAAs act as fuel for the muscles and prevent muscle deterioration. In the study, the subjects took BCAA powder at a dosage of 100mg per kilogram of bodyweight. For a 180lb man, that comes out to about 8 grams.
BCAAs are commonly found in pre-workout supplements for this reason. The best pre-workout supplements will have higher amounts of BCAAs, as well as other energizing ingredients.
- How Much? Take 5-10 grams before you start working out.
2. Take BCAA Powder after a Workout
BCAAs are metabolized in muscle tissue, which means that they can start repairing and building muscle tissue right away.
By taking BCAA powder immediately post workout, you will speed up gains. Taking BCAAs post workout is also great for preventing muscle pains.
This is no hype. Studies like this one found that supplementing with BCAA powder post-workout for 8 weeks provided twice as many muscle gains as subjects supplementing with whey.
- How Much? Take 5-10 grams immediately after your workout.
3. Take BCAA Powder During a Workout
During intense exercise, a lot of chemical reactions are taking place in your body. These include the release of chemicals which cause fatigue, such as tryptophan.
Studies such as this one have found that BCAAs not only act as fuel for the body during exercise, but also counteract the fatigue response in the body. As a result, athletes who took BCAA powder during exercise had improved mental and physical performance.
- How Much? Take about 5 grams during training to help prevent fatigue.
4. Take BCAA Powder Immediately Upon Waking Up
A sad reality is that our bodies are breaking down muscle when we wake up. This is because sleep puts our bodies in a starvation phase which induces catabolism (muscle breakdown) as a way of providing us with quick energy.
If you want to build mass, you need to avoid the catabolic state. One way to do this is to take BCAA powder immediately when you wake up. The BCAAs will provide your body with energy so they don’t have to utilize muscle tissue while waiting for you to digest food.
There are other benefits of taking BCAA powder when you wake up too:
- Reduce hunger throughout the day
- Feel energized more quickly
- Get a mental boost
If you are feeling rundown throughout the day, you can also take BCAAs at any time to get a quick boost. However, for muscle gains, it is important that you are taking the BCAA powder upon waking up.
- How Much? Take 5-10 grams.
5. Take BCAA Powder before Fasted Cardio
A lot of people do cardio on an empty stomach (aka fasted cardio) so they can increase the amount of fat burned. However, fasted cardio has the downside of eating away at your muscle mass.
Taking BCAA powder before fasted cardio is a great way to prevent muscle loss. BCAAs serve as fuel for your muscles but your body will still be burning fat from the fasted cardio.
- How Much: Take 5-10 grams.
6. Take BCAA Powder while Dieting
When you create a calorie deficiency, your body will burn fat. However, it will also start breaking down muscle tissue as a way to get energy quickly.
As a result, many dieters lose a big portion of their muscle mass, which in turn slows metabolism. No wonder most people end up regaining the weight they lost during dieting.
To prevent muscle mass while dieting, take BCAA powders throughout the day. BCAAs prevent muscle breakdown. BCAA powders also have a lot fewer calories than typical protein supplements do.
Another reason to take BCAA powder while dieting is that leucine helps modulate blood sugar. This will come in handy when you are going through sugar withdrawal!
- How Much: 15-20 grams of BCAAs per day, spread out over the day
The Bottom Line?
Taking BCAAs at any time can provide benefits like increased muscle synthesis, increased energy, and more mental clarity. But, if it is muscle gains you are after, then make sure you are taking approximately 5-10 grams of BCAAs before and after working out.