BCAAs Are Essential If You Are Physically Active: Here Is Why

John HeissPhD – Sr. Director of Sports and Fitness, Worldwide Product Marketing

What is your fitness goal? In my experience, I’ve found that both high-caliber athletes and average adults often share a common body composition goal: improve muscle mass while reducing fat mass.

The number one tip to accomplish this is to match your food intake, in terms of the number and source of calories (i.e., carbs, fats, proteins), to your lifestyle. A balanced combination of high-quality protein and carbohydrates can help you follow such guidance, thus achieving your fitness goals and improving your performance.

But why do these particular nutrients matter for physically active people?

Energy Intake and Muscle Building

Anyone who is engaging in regular physical activity should eat the right foods to support the adaptations that results from training. This includes:

Post-workout nutrition is equally important. It should focus on repairing and refueling the body, which is when protein and a special kind of amino acids, called BCAAs, come in handy.

What Are BCAAs and Why Are They Important?

During hard workouts, you’re basically tearing down lean tissue. That’s why in the days following a workout you might have muscle soreness, reduced range of motion, and even some swelling.

This is where protein, which is made up of building blocks called amino acids comes into play. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are a family of amino acids referred to as BCAAs and act as not only as building blocks of muscle, but also as a trigger to switch on muscle synthesis (building). A normal diet with a mixture of good protein types will contain a proper amount of all amino acids.

BCAAs are found in particularly high levels in dairy protein, which is one reason why athletes have long used whey as a post workout protein source. Soy, beef and chicken contain about 80-85% as many BCAAs as whey. Most plants contain even less BCAAs, and this is one reason vegans or vegetarians might want to supplement their diet with BCAAs.

Don’t Forget the Carbs!

While BCAAs and protein help you build muscle, carbohydrates are important for refueling our energy supplies, providing energy to our brains for quick and accurate decision-making, and supporting overall recovery. Carbs are the primary and preferred source of energy in the body.

This doesn’t mean to gorge on a post-workout pizza either! A reasonable target is about 25 grams of protein and, for most workouts, 20-30 grams of carbs. That’s about equivalent to a piece of fruit worth of carbs.

Furthermore, eating enough food post-workout with carbs and protein will hopefully reduce some potential cravings – meaning you’ll get a better recovery and unlikely overeat later.

Whether you’re working out in the gym or competing in a race, remember that good nutrition will help you get the most out of your activity.