Amino Acids: The 9 That Really Matter

Ever pop a BCAA supplement just because everyone else is doing it? Everyone with even the slightest interest in fitness and wellness has heard of BCAAs at least once, but most of us don’t know what the letters stand for and why we even need them in the first place. It’s time to get the formal introduction to the building blocks of protein: branched chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs.

What Are Branched Chain Amino Acids?

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are universally known as the “building blocks of protein.” There are 9 essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own, so we need to consume the essential amino acids. Aside from the 9 essential amino acids, there are also 11 non-essential amino acids, which you can find being synthesized internally but also through food. However, a total of 23 proteinogenic (protein-building) amino acids exist, and over 100 naturally occurring amino acids have been recorded.

The nine essential amino acids to commit to memory are: 

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine
  • Histidine

Amino acids obviously play an integral role in many biological processes, such as aiding in cell structure, storing and transporting nutrients, and building muscle tissue. Amino acids can also help with healing wounds and repairing micro-tears in the muscle.

Now, BCAAs refers to a key trio of essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The aliphatic side-chains of the branches account for 35% of the amino acids in our muscles. In other words, these are the three amino acids that contribute to muscular growth over time. Leucine, however, is the one that reigns supreme with creating gains.

Leucine not only helps with retaining muscle while dieting, it regulates blood sugar levels and moderates insulin before, during, and after exercise.

Isoleucine is formed from leucine and assists in regulating blood sugar as it’s burned for energy and nitrogen growth in muscle cells.

Valine is necessary for muscle growth and repair. Plus, valine supplies the muscles with extra glucose to maintain physical performance.

As you can see, the essential amino acids, particularly the aforementioned trio, are crucial to peak physical performance, muscle repair, and growth.

What Are The Benefits of BCAAs

What Are The Benefits of BCAAs?

The main reason you will want to take a BCAA supplement is if you are worried about muscle catabolism during restrictive diets. Because BCAAs help prevent muscle breakdown, those who are trying to lose weight while putting on muscle, or those who would be considered elite athletes with vigorous workouts every day and little chance to rest would benefit from a BCAA supplement.

One study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that participants in the study maintained lean body mass while supplementing with BCAAs during a calorie-restricted diet. Even when the participants were not eating the recommended 2-3 grams of BCAAs per sitting, taking supplements helped with muscle retention.

Branched-chain amino acids also provide extra fuel for extended periods of activity. During intense bouts of exercise, the structure of BCAAs gives them greater bio-availability to you muscles.

In short, BCAAs best benefit those who might not be getting enough from their standard diet.

What Are Sources of BCAAs?

So, how do you determine if you are getting enough leucine, isoleucine, and valine in your diet? Double check your diet. You can get enough BCAAs from a quality whey protein, pea or rice protein, chocolate milk, whole foods, as well as BCAA supplements.

Here’s a quick list of sources for BCAAs: 

  • Leucine – found in cheese, beef, pork, seeds, nuts, tuna, seafood, beans, whey and plant proteins, soybeans, and so on.
  • Isoleucine – found in soy, fish, meat, dairy, eggs, cashews, almonds, oats, brown rice, legumes, chia seeds, and lentils.
  • Valine – found in cheese, chicken, pork, nuts, legumes, broccoli, spinach, beans, chia seeds, whole grains, figs, blueberries, oranges, cranberries, and avocado.

It doesn’t matter what your dietary restrictions are. You can eat foods that are rich in BCAAs and be able to get an adequate source of amino acids to aid in your muscle-building efforts.

Recommended BCAA Supplements

Interested in BCAA supplementation? Look no farther. Here are some of the formulas that cover a broad range of nutrition needs and fitness goals:

Gaspari Nutrition BCAA 6000

Lacking in leucine? BCAA 6000 is a unique formula that uses a “leucine heavy” dosage—a 4:1:1 ratio. The amino acids used in the tablets are pharmaceutical grade and have been clinically evaluated to ensure the quantities are effective, no matter your needs. Every tablet also contains vitamin B6, an essential vitamin that is needed for brain and body health, energy, performance, as well as in easier absorption of other vitamins and nutrients.

Gaspari Nutrition HyperAmino

Your muscles need help jump-starting muscle growth. That’s when you need HyperAmino, a rapid release formula paired with extended-release components to give your muscles continuous nutrition and invigorated recovery. Ideal for promoting enhanced performance during extended bouts of exercise and much more active recovery after workouts, HyperAmino accelerates protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Gaspari Nutrition AminoMax 8000

Formulated for elite athletes and bodybuilders is the specially designed whey protein with a broad spectrum of amino acids, including L-leucine and L-taurine. There are over 8 grams of amino acids per serving. This innovative formula is crafted with hydrolyzed protein, di- and tri-peptides, and contains a low molecular weight. The fast-acting peptides allow for rapid absorption to feed your muscles when they need it most.

Gaspari Nutrition AminoLast

Ready for a great tasting BCAA supplement free from synthetic colors? The clean taste of AminoLast by Gaspari Nutrition is as refreshing as the formula, which combines quality amino acids with AMINOJECT technology. You get a high dose of leucine peptide amino acids, electrolytes, and AMINOJECT to reduce lactic acid and prevent the onset of muscular fatigue. Workout longer, stronger, and get better results.


Branched-chain amino acids are essential to your muscle recovery and growth, especially if you are bringing it to the gym every single day. Athletes, bodybuilders, and those who are trying to shed fat while gaining muscle will benefit from the 9 essential amino acids by eating BCAA-rich foods and using a quality supplement to accelerate your gains. You’ve got nothing to lose.

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