BCAA powder is one of the food supplements most consumed by athletes, especially in bodybuilding , because of its many benefits. In fact, a question often comes up on this subject. Can taking BCAAs on off days help?
We will see that BCAAs are probably not the preferred dietary supplement and that there are other alternatives on the market, including one that is more effective in achieving the results you are looking for.
At the end of this article, you will be able to know if you have any interest in consuming it during your days off, which is the most appropriate food supplement , to what dosage and at what time of day is best to take.
Here is the summary:
What are BCAAs?
Before getting to the heart of the matter, it is essential that I briefly tell you about amino acids in general.
Amino acids are molecules which, when assembled, form a protein . Finally … It is only when the chain of amino acids is long, that is to say greater than 10. Below 10, we are talking about peptides . There are a very large number of amino acids, but only 20 of them are essential for the body because they are involved in metabolic processes, including the transport and storage of food.
Some can be made by the body and other amino acids, known as “essential” , can only be provided by food. 8 in number, we find in particular the branched amino acids :
- Leucine .
- Isoleucine .
- Valine .
These are the famous BCAAs ( Branched Chained Amino Acid ).
Finally, isolating the BCAAs is a bit like breaking down a house to collect only the bricks.
Why are they interesting?
In any case, all amino acids are interesting (we will see it later), but we mainly retain BCAAs for several reasons:
- They constitute 1/3 of muscle proteins .
- These are the first amino acids broken down during exercise.
- Leucine is the most potent amino acid for anabolism .
- Leucine oxidizes in the muscles, so it is a source of energy .
As a reminder, anabolism corresponds to the phase of (re) construction, in particular muscle mass. In contrast, catabolism breaks down muscle tissue to provide energy. Hence the importance of nutrition, you need to provide your body with enough nutrients to avoid draining the reserves, namely, muscle.
Where can we find branched amino acids?
First, you should know that BCAA on their own is not enough. Therefore, it is necessary to provide all the amino acids that your body needs.
All foods have a higher or lower content of branched chain amino acids . To know the values, just consult the aminogram of the food in question. By the way, if you eat protein powder, you may have seen that the aminogram is written on the jar.
In the diet in general, it is therefore foods rich in protein that provide the most:
- Meats: beef, chicken…
- Milk …
Namely that the holy grail is whey protein. Its biological value is 96%, that is to say, it is extremely well assimilated, in addition to that, 1/4 of these proteins are from BCAAs.
What are the benefits of BCAAs?
Consequently, this explains why this food supplement is popular among athletes. You can always reap benefits, both for strength sports and endurance .
Let’s do a checklist of all the benefits of BCAAs :
- Delays fatigue (therefore more endurance).
- Promotes muscle gain : more powerful anabolic response (higher protein synthesis).
- Fight against catabolism (muscle wasting).
- Accelerates the speed of muscle recovery .
- Promotes fat loss .
- Strengthens the immune system and reduces muscle stiffness (to a lesser extent).
The BCAA requirements are even higher for athletes. The effort consumes it, sweating increases the losses and the maintenance of a consequent muscle mass requires to have more of it.
Which ratio to choose?
You can find everything on the market from 2: 1: 1, 4: 1: 1 to 20: 1: 1! But ultimately, what does this ratio mean? Take as an example 2: 1: 1:
- The first number (2) represents the content of leucine
- The second number (1) corresponds to isoleucine
- The last (1) is valine
This means that for 4 grams of powder, you will have 2gr of leucine, 1gr of isoleucine and 1gr of valine.
As said before, amino acids must work in synergy to be effective. Therefore, limit yourself to the 2: 1: 1 ratio , the rest is completely unnecessary and is just a commercial argument based solely on the benefits of leucine.
What are the limits for BCAAs?
In view of all the benefits, this seems to be the ideal dietary supplement for building muscle quickly and effectively. Unfortunately, there is a but.
The problem is, BCAAs need the other amino acids to produce complete proteins , and thus build muscle mass . And yes ! remember, amino acids work in synergy! The body will then try somehow to restore balance by going to seek the missing materials directly in your muscles . Finally, it can even be a brake on the process of muscle growth .
In addition, amino acids alone are absorbed much less quickly than di or tri-peptides (chain of 2 or 3 amino acids), Julien Venesson has also devoted an article on the effectiveness of peptides compared to acids amino alone.
Alternatives to BCAAs
Alternatives exist on the market:
- EAAs (includes all essential amino acids ).
- Peptopro (or hydrolyzed casein) which, despite its price, remains a safe value (includes 20 amino acids).
Peptopro is a predigested protein rich in di and tri-peptides. As a result, assimilation is extremely fast (compared to a conventional protein powder), which is why this supplement can cause diarrhea in some people. It is therefore advisable to take it during training , to replenish the stock of amino acids.
Therefore, the consumption of BCAA is especially preferred for its anti-fatigue effect during your bodybuilding session, and not for its action on anabolism or catabolism.
Do you need to take BCAAs on your days off?
A priori, given its limitations, there is no point in supplementing with BCAAs during your days off .
On the other hand, some people need to take in more amino acids:
- The elderly: the turnover (degradation / reconstruction) of proteins is negative, unlike the young.
- During a diet (calorie restriction): Consumption of amino acids is not sufficient, which results in muscle wasting .
The alternatives to BCAAs are not the most interesting to overcome this problem. Let’s see together which are the most suitable food supplements.
Which food supplements to favor during your days off?
A priori, peptopro, BCAAs or EAAs are rather supplements intended to be consumed during training. The goal is simple, you need to get enough amino acids in your body on your days off to limit catabolism and promote anabolism .
The most suitable food supplements to fulfill these functions during your days off are still whey and casein .
Whey is absorbed faster and is rich in BCAAs, the level of amino acids quickly rise in the blood before falling again a few hours later (promotes anabolism). There is a lot of whey on the market, from concentrate to hydrolysates, I personally have a preference for whey isolate dairy (native or bioactive) with few additives.
Casein is absorbed more slowly, the level of amino acids in the blood remains stable over time (fights against catabolism). As with whey, Casein is sold in different forms. I recommend micellar casein , much easier to assimilate with a longer duration of action than sodium caseinate (which probably should not have existed).
When to take these food supplements?
First, it’s best to have these two supplements if you have the budget. Thanks to this, you will be able to adapt your snack, according to the time of day. It is always good to remember that if your diet is already rich in protein and you respect the fundamentals of sports nutrition , the investment is unnecessary.
To keep it simple, here’s how you can do it:
- In the morning when you wake up: after a long night without eating, it is better to consume a whey shaker to provide the missing amino acids more quickly.
- Between two meals: in this case, it is interesting to make a 50/50 mixture of whey and casein to take advantage of the anabolic and anti-catabolic action .
- At bedtime: To fight against nocturnal catabolism it is more appropriate to consume only casein.
Regarding the dosages, they will be specific to each. The main thing is to get closer to your daily protein needs, which is around 2gr / kg of body weight for a bodybuilding practitioner . It is still better to bring 25 to 30 grams of protein per snack, not to mention a source of carbohydrate and fat if you are not on a diet, a homemade gainer can do the trick.
To summarize, yes BCAAs can be interesting only during your workouts for its anti-fatigue effect or to reduce muscle stiffness, in this case, 5 to 10 grams to consume throughout the session are enough. For its equivalent, your best bet is still opt for peptopro if your wallet allows it. On your days off, it’s best to consume whey or casein, depending on the time of day.
Food supplements don’t work a miracle anyway. As the name suggests, it complements your diet, and that’s it.