Amino acids are proteins that play a crucial role in many of the body’s processes, including muscle development. As such, they are often used as a fitness supplement by those who wish to maximize their muscle size. As you can see from this research, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are oxidized within skeletal muscle fibers, acting as a high-grade fuel source.
There is a long-standing debate about when these amino acids should be used. Some people say it’s best to take them before a workout, and some say it’s best to use them shortly after a workout, while some others suggest taking BCAA’s during the workout. Today, we will search for the evidence and see if we can settle this debate.
The Benefits Of BCAAs
There is little doubt as to the effectiveness of BCAA supplements. Here is just one example of the evidence. These researchers found that BCAA supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis. This means your muscles will achieve more growth with less time. Also, the BCAAs will reduce the rate of protein degradation, which means that you will probably experience less muscle loss during cardio/aerobic exercise.
BCAAs are so effective at preventing muscle loss that they are sometimes used to treat the natural muscle loss that comes with aging. Leucine, in particular, seems to be helpful for this purpose.
All three timing options have good arguments in their favor, and also good arguments against them. Thus, the only fair way is to look at the evidence alone.
Argument One: Before The Workout
Let’s take a look at this study. Twelve test subjects were given a pre-workout supplement. One group was given BCAAs while the other group was given a dextrin placebo. It was found that the BCAA group experienced a decrease in muscle soreness. Not only that, but they also experienced an increase in their muscle endurance. While the placebo group showed a significant decrease in muscle force after a certain level of exertion, the BCAA group did not.
These researchers found very similar results. First, it was found that their BCAA group reported a lot less fatigue. They didn’t notice the endurance increase that was seen in our other study, but they did come to another interesting conclusion. If these people are correct, a good-sized dose of BCAAs can continue to reduce fatigue and soreness for up to five days after ingestion.
Argument Two: During The Workout
Although it might be kind of awkward to stop in the middle of your workout to consume another portion of supplement, some people swear by this method. Science has confirmed that this method has a basis in reality. Take this study, for instance.
Conducted on two groups of cross-country runners, this one has some interesting results to offer. First of all, they used a color and word test to measure mental acuity and memory. The test was administered both before and after the run. This was meant to determine whether or not BCAAs can improve mental performance, and they did. The BCAA group showed a reasonably large improvement in their test scores after the workout. Also, running performance was improved when taking BCAA mid-run, but only for the slower half of the test subjects.
This study was very similar, but had mixed results. Two groups of cyclists were given a dose of BCAA during an intense hour-long exercise session. The BCAA group did experience less fatigue, but the difference was only 7%. The BCAA group did experience less mental strain, but the difference was only 15%.
These researchers also used the color and word test, and they recorded better performance from the BCAA group after the workout. However, the results showed no significant difference in workout performance between the two groups.
Argument Three: After The Workout
Finally, let’s take a look at some studies in which people were given BCAA supplements after a workout. For a start, let’s look at this one. This study is an excellent argument in favor of after-workout supplementation. Take a look at the bar graphs toward the end, and you will see what we mean.
Like our other studies, this one involved two groups, one of which was given a placebo. The BCAA group showed a greatly increased level of protein synthesis after the workout. What strikes us here is that the difference is so large between the results from the placebo group and the results from the BCAA group. When measured immediately after the workout, protein synthesis was about the same for both groups. However, the subjects were tested again one hour after the workout. A third reading was taken after another hour.
It was found that the BCAA group had a huge increase in muscle protein synthesis, which began one hour after the workout and continued well into the second hour. Another study correlated these results pretty closely. Once again, the researchers noticed a huge increase in protein synthesis, which began about one hour after the end of the workout.
We went into this research project with an open mind. After all, it isn’t difficult to change the timing of your BCAA ingestion, so there’s nothing to lose here. After closely examining all the available information, we are forced to conclude that all three methods are effective. However, one of these three methods is more effective than the rest.
There is no doubt that you will see benefits from BCAA supplementation regardless of the timing. This is why we were able to find evidence for all three arguments. However, we saw the most drastic changes in those who took their BCAAs after the workout. In virtually all of the research that we found, two groups of test subjects were compared. In all these studies, the BCAA group showed improvement over the placebo group. However, these improvements were much greater for argument number three. We hope that we have solved this important question for you and that you will be able to use this knowledge to your advantage. Please feel free to follow us on Facebook to enjoy more of our work in the future.