As someone who is ALWAYS an advocate of getting what you can from food, I have been having a lot more fun with BCAAs recently because I have found out some nerdy info that I wanted to share.
The quick run-down is that BCAAs, or brainched-chain amino acids, are composed of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, 3 essential amino acids that cannot be produced by our body. We must consume them. They are in protein rich foods like salmon, beef, chicken, and eggs, but when they are free-form, or in a supplement form that I’m talking about today, they bypass the digestive tract and are immediately in our bloodstream. That means they can be quickly absorbed and used for energy in workouts. 35% of our muscles are made from these 3 essential amino acids, and although post-workout protein shakes are the way to truly BUILD muscle, many studies have proven that BCAAs prevent muscle breaking down so quickly and can prevent muscle loss.
Injured? Take them to slow down any muscle breakdown and maintain lean muscle mass. Fatigued, need food, and still need to workout? Take them for energy to push you through. Want an edge or OPTIMAL performance in your workout? Sip them before or throughout your reps and sets.
They are even incredible for people cutting sugar and converting to be more of a FAT BURNER.
However, the best part of what I have found recently after talking to Dr. Stacy Sims in my recent EmFit Radio podcast, is that LEUCINE specifically can be incredible to cross over the blood brain barrier and help us with mental fatigue and focus. If you read my recent post on coffee and adrenals, you know that I am all for alternatives to caffeine when we are mentally sluggish. Sometimes it’s fantastic- but sometimes it’s a crutch that is keeping us further from weight loss and cortisol balance.
I have two approaches in diet that BCAAs will be great for:
- Intermittent Fasting: legit fasting. From 12:30-8:30, or whatever your chosen eating window is, becomes the only time you can eat. This has been shown to support lean muscle mass fairly effortlessly in a healthy individual without compromising strength. Honestly, as much as I love the idea of IF, this approach is extremely hard for me because I have personally struggled with fasting for the wrong cause (aka eating disorders). If I start to feel binge and purge-y, or I go CRAZY in those 8 hours because I feel deprived, then I’m not doing my body any good. However, if I can go a long time without eating, add in BCAAs throughout the morning instead of eating breakfast, and then eat 2 good meals and a post workout shake within that time frame, then the benefits are high. Again, I don’t suggest this for people with a history of eating disorders OR if someone is in high stress or has adrenal/cortisol issues, as we need to really regulate blood sugar and eating a high quality breakfast as discussed in number 2 will do.
- High fat diets that simulate intermittent fasting: lower carb breakfasts that are high in fat and good in protein, or my favorite bulletproof/butta coffee. If you avoid any glucose and insulin hits at your first meal, you force your body into more of a fat burning state. If you are one of my Challengers and are trying to cut sugar and convert to fat-burning, taking BCAAs can be a great way to keep you motivated and on track!
Ok, now the question you will ask: WHERE to get BCAAs, especially ones that aren’t full of crap and are Challenge approved? Well, I’m still working on finding the perfect one. I used to take just L-Leucine, but I have recently wanted to combine the 3 together as long as there is double the amount of leucine, since that is what all studies that prove the benefits of BCAAs are based on.
Good pre-workouts have Leucine, and this is my favorite pre-workout.
If you more of a capsule person, these are easy and balanced appropriately.
BUT the best one I have found, even though I wish it had more leucine, is HERE. All Challenge approved and yummy.
For more info on meal plans, macros, carbohydrates, and fats, be sure to sign up for my 21 Day EmFit Challenge!