What Are BCAAs – and Do You Need Them?

BCAAs. No matter where you first encountered it – at the gym, an aerial yoga class, or a random advertisement right before your YouTube video – the term probably rings a bell. The only thing is … while you may have a rough idea of BCAAs, you don't know how they work. Or if they work at all, even. Good news: that's what this article is for!


Here, you’ll get answers to all the questions you’ve been wondering about BCAAs (e.g. “What does BCAA stand for?”), but never actually got around to finding out.

First things first. What are BCAAs?


It's impossible (ok, maybe close to impossible) to explain what BCAAs are without first knowing what its acronym stands for. So here goes. BCAAs stands for branched-chain amino acids. A quick refresher on amino acids: they are the 'Lego blocks' of protein, which helps your body build and repair muscle, regulate immune function, among other things. While there are 20 amino acids in total, your body can only naturally produce 11 of them (these are also known as non-essential amino acids). So you must get the other 9 amino acids – aka 'essential amino acids' – from your diet.


Still following? Awesome. Of these 9 essential amino acids, there’s an important trio when it comes to the all-important task of muscle mass growth and maintenance: isoleucine, valine, and leucine. There you have it … these ‘Three Musketeers’ responsible for inhibiting muscle protein breakdown are also known as BCAAs. 

Do BCAAs work?


Perhaps the most important question of all. And the answer may be a little more nuanced than you’d have thought. See: one of the most hyped-up benefits of supplementing with BCAAs is that it helps increase muscle growth. A brief look at research done on the topic turns up many studies supporting this belief. Take, for instance, this 2017 study published in Frontiers in Physiology. Those who'd consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs post-resistance training experienced a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who’d received a placebo drink. 22%! By the way, find out if it’s truly necessary to drink protein immediately after working out here.


So, that settles the discussion, right? 22%’s hardly anything to argue about. Well, not so fast. There’s a catch to this finding. As it turns out, this increase in muscle protein synthesis is approximately 50% less than what was observed in other studies where participants consumed roughly the same amount of BCAAs – but in the form of a whey protein shake, which FYI: contains all essential amino acids. Takeaway? Yes, BCAAs can indeed increase muscle protein synthesis. But (and this is a crucial 'but') they can't do so maximally without the other 6 essential amino acids. In other words, you need a complete protein source.

Take BCAAs along with complete protein sources for best results


Don’t be mistaken. This doesn’t (emphasis on ‘doesn’t’!) mean that BCAAs are useless! On the contrary, research shows that BCAAs can help reduce muscle damage during exercise – effectively decreasing muscle soreness after a workout. What’s more, BCAAs can also help reduce exercise-induced fatigue, which can improve your mental focus during your workout session. And that could potentially translate to improvements in exercise performance (i.e. lifting more or running longer distances).


Bottom line? BCAAs do work. You need to be careful about consuming them in the presence of the other 6 essential amino acids; that's where you'd see the most benefits. Not entirely sure how you could do that? Lean Blend makes it easy for you. Our delicious, light, refreshing Protein Water range is a complete protein source packed with BCAAs. By the way: we’ve just added a new crisp, grape flavour. It’s so juicy – you’ll feel compelled to throw away your usual gluggy, clumpy protein shakes. You’ve been warned.