This content is from the experts at Men's Fitness magazine.
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It’s easy to think of every protein source as being essentially the same thing, but meat, yogurt, chicken and that weird water that cottage cheese comes in are not all created equal. The reason? Each of these protein-rich foods contains different types and amounts of amino acids – which play a crucial role in your body repairing and building new muscle tissue.
There are 21 different amino acids in total, including both essential and non-essential varieties (the former your body needs to obtain from food as it can’t synthesize on its own, while the latter it can). Of these, there are three that you need to pay particular attention to: leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are defined as BCAAs (branched chain amino acids). Eating foods rich in BCAAs and taking them in supplement form can be of great assistance to your gym efforts. Read on for our complete guide to BCAAs
The theory is that they can help prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue during intense exercise. They also increase the release of human growth hormone.
‘If you lift weights regularly, supplementing with BCAAs can be extremely beneficial,’ says strength coach Gregg Marsh, ‘preferably in capsule form rather than tablet or liquid.’ There's little evidence that BCAAs will improve performance among endurance athletes, though.
‘Anything less than 20 capsules per workout is a waste of time,’ says Marsh. ‘Many professional rugby and football clubs have seen huge improvements in performance, using 40 caps of BCAAs every workout.’
‘Studies have shown that taking BCAA supplements during and after exercise can reduce muscle breakdown, while taking them before resistance training reduces delayed onset muscle soreness [DOMS],’ says Marsh. They might also be beneficial if taken last thing at night - but the evidence here is sketchier.
Most people find it hard to keep food down if they eat before working out, let alone trying to stuff your face during a gym session (hence why supplements are so useful). That said, eating plenty of BCAA-rich foods in your daily diet is definitely a good idea anyway, even if you don’t lift weights. Eggs, beef and turkey are all good places to start, as they’re ‘complete’ protein sources – so-called because they contain the full range of essential amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine and valine.