Building Muscle with BCAAs (Branched-chain amino acids)

Building Muscle with BCAAs

Led by King Leucine, the BCAAs trio has continued to gain ground in the world of sports nutrition – and rightfully so! The research pointing to the muscle-building benefits of BCAAs in nothing less than compelling, despite what some critics may say.

Like we’ve mentioned in the past, the three BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) have seen an incredible surge in popularity over the last few years.

Quick Recap: What are BCAAs?

BCAAs (or branched-chain amino acids) are amino acids that have a specific, “branched” molecular structure. As we’ve already mentioned, the BCAA family consists of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine – which have all been recognized as being proteinogenic or “protein building” proteins (which is a large part of the reason why bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough of these particular aminos).

How do BCAAs help our bodies build muscle?

Great question! While current research suggests that BCAAs may help our bodies build muscle in a number different ways, these are two of the most regularly cited factors:

Reducing the Breakdown of Skeletal Muscle

When it comes to the relationship between BCAAs and skeletal muscle, there are dozens of studies worth reviewing – and for a number of those studies, the results have pointed to the same conclusion: BCAAs may play a strong role in preventing the breakdown of skeletal muscle during physical activity.1-6

So why is this important for those looking to build muscle? In case you haven’t gotten here already: If BCAAs can slow or reduce the rate of skeletal muscle breakdown, then (at least in theory) that means that the body will have the ability to take the resources that would’ve have been used for replenishing or replacing those skeletal muscles and put them towards generating new muscle cells.

Increasing Lean Body Mass

Along with potentially reducing the breakdown of skeletal muscle, research has suggested that BCAAs may be key players in building lean body mass.

In one particularly compelling study, researchers took thirty-six strength-train male participants (all of whom had a minimum of two years resistance-training experience) and performed a randomized, double-blind study to evaluate the effectiveness of BCAA supplements over the course of an 8-week resistance-training program. After comparing the effects of BCAAs, whey protein, and carbohydrates, researchers found that BCAA group experienced “a significantly greater lean mass [gain] than the whey group…and the carbohydrate group.”

What’s more, the researchers also found that the BCAA group saw in a significant increase in over all body mass and a significant decrease in body fat when compared to both the whey protein and the carbohydrate groups.

The Takeaway 

BCAAs are here to stay. As the scientific community continues to publish promising studies exploring the benefits that BCAAs, it seems more than likely that the demand for BCAA supplements will continue to rise over the next few years. For fitness enthusiasts and dietary supplement brand owners alike, it seems like we’re entering the golden age of BCAAs.


  1. Louard RJ, Barrett EJ, Gelfand RA.Overnight branched-chain amino acid infusion causes sustained suppression of muscle proteolysis. Metabolism 1995;44(4):424-9.
  2. MacLean DA, Graham TE, Saltin B. Branched-chain amino acids augment ammonia metabolism while attenuating protein breakdown during exercise. Am J Physiol 1994;267:E1010-22.
  3. Greer BK, Woodard JL, White JP, Arguello EM, Haymes EM. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation and indicators of muscle damage after endurance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007;17(6):595-607.
  4. Coombes JS, McNaughton LR. Effects of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on serum creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase after prolonged exercise. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2000;40(3):240-6.
  5. Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Nakai N, Nagasaki M, Harris RA. Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise. J Nutr 2004 Jun;134(6 Suppl):1583S-1587S.
  6. Tang FC. Influence of branched-chain amino acid supplementation on urinary protein metabolite concentrations after swimming. J Am Coll Nutr 2006;25(3):188-94.

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