Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 15, 2021

After almost a decade in the fitness and nutrition industry, I've found one thing that both fitness enthusiasts and trained athletes swear by — branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

BCAAs can help you build muscle and reduce exercise fatigue.

Today I'm going into depth on BCAA supplements — from what are BCAAs, what are their benefits, to most importantly, when should you take BCAAs.

When To Take BCAAs - The Studies

measuring tape, jar of pills and a water jug

You’re not sure when’s the best time to take BCAA supplements to achieve optimal results? Here’s what scientific studies have to say.

Study #1: BCAA Intake Is More Advantageous Pre Exercise

15 young men were given a placebo or BCAAs before and after exercise in three groups:

  • The control group — Were given a placebo
  • The pre-group — Were given BCAAs before and placebo after exercise
  • The post-group — Were given a placebo before and BCAAs after exercise

The study aimed to compare BCAA supplements before and after exercise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD).

The study found that taking BCAA supplementation before exercise had a better effect on the men and more benefits than supplementation taken post-exercise [1].

Study #2 And #3: Pre Workout & Post Workout BCAA Intake Has Similar Results

The second research focused on men who do endurance training and resistance training. Twenty-one men were assigned to two groups. The first group took 5 g protein and 1 g carbohydrate before workouts, and the second group took the same post workouts.

The protein had 5.5 grams of BCAAs per serving.

"What makes BCAA potentially beneficial for increasing skeletal muscle mass is the BCAA, in particular leucine, 'turns on' muscle protein synthesis."

 

- Pamela Hinton, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri

The researchers found similar results in strength, muscle building, and energy levels in both groups, which indicates that the post-exercise anabolic window is several hours long and depends on when the meal was taken [2].

The only other research available for comparison included young athletes, who were given 25 grams of whey protein (5.5 grams of BCAAs) immediately before or after weight lifting and resistance training for ten weeks.

The research found that both groups had the same results.

Based on these two studies, it’s unknown if it makes a difference if you take BCAAs before or after a workout.

Take Them at Different Stages of Workout

A measuring tape, black water bottle, and a supplement jar

If you’ve decided your exercise routine is missing some amino acid supplements, here’s when to take them for optimal exercise performance:

1. Pre Workout

Taking BCAAs pre-workout has benefits no matter what kind of training you do. For best results, take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs depending on your weight half an hour before the workout.

This will help you with endurance, energy, and post-exercise muscle recovery.

2. During Workout

Take BCAAs during workouts if you’re doing resistance training. Also, having a dose of BCAAs during workouts can help you see it through to the end if you have longer workouts.

If you’re doing endurance training, such as getting ready for a marathon, this is the optimal time to take BCAAs. Studies on people marathon training showed that BCAA intake during the exercise improved runners' mental and physical performance [3].

3. Post Workout

Same as with pre-workout training, taking BCAA post exercising has benefits, no matter what kind of exercise you do.

Amino acids proteins will lessen muscle damage and contribute to muscle maintenance.

If you can't decide which BCAA brand to take,  here are our recommendations:

Take BCAAs at Different Times of Day

jar of pills, water jug and a jumping rope

1. In The Morning

Another option for BCAA intake is in the morning. My clients who practice intermittent fasting to reach their weight loss goals have found that taking BCAAs in the morning is a great appetite suppressor and will boost energy and stop them from feeling fatigue.

In case you’re a bodybuilder or do faster cardio workouts, I’ve found that taking BCAAs prevents extended muscle catabolism, which can happen when existing muscle tissue repairs newly torn tissue.

In this case, it’s best to have BCAAs in the morning before workouts.

2. In The Evening

Experts also recommend taking BCAAs before you go to bed, as it aids the recovery process.

Because sleep is the time when our bodies recover, by taking BCAAs before going to bed, I’ve discovered that I feel much better the morning after.

Note: If you combine BCAAs with other supplements, such as caffeine, avoid taking BCAAs before bed. While caffeine is an excellent supplement for pre-workouts, it should be avoided before bed, as rest is crucial to help your muscles repair.

How They Work

green dumbbells, measuring tape and a jar of pills

Branched-chain amino acids make up protein synthesis. There are 20 of them, 11 of which the body manufactures. But, because the body can’t make the other 9, they have to be taken through diet or supplements.

This is where BCAAs are essential.

Branched-chain acids consist of three essential amino acids — leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

We call them branched because of their side chains which branch off, and essential because the body can’t make them.

1. Leucine

Leucine is the most important part of the BCAAs, and it’s the muscle repair star player, as it can kick start the muscle protein synthesis.

If you’re a regular gym-goer, your muscles will benefit from leucine intake because it can help repair and grow muscles and bone tissue.

2. Isoleucine

Isoleucine has similar characteristics to leucine, hence its name. But, the way they function is different.

The metabolic pathway — how amino acid is turned into a nutrient — of leucine is fat, but it can be through carbohydrates or fat for isoleucine.

People who do higher volume exercise will benefit from isoleucine, as it gives fuel to muscles.

3. Valine

The main benefit of valine is that it gives more energy to the exercise.

It can help with improving the immune system and brain functions.

If you have trouble sleeping, take BCAAs before going to bed, as valine can help you sleep better.

While everyone should take BCAAs, they are very important for weight lifters, as they can help with muscle growth and maintenance.

You can indeed get everything your body composition needs through food sources, but taking a protein supplement as BCAAs is one of the easiest ways to meet body requirements.

Also, BCAAs can help you lose body fat. Because of their unique chemical structure, they’re absorbed directly in the muscles as they bypass the gut and liver and go straight to the bloodstream.

FAQs

green dumbbells with measuring tape on it

How much BCAA should I take per day?

You should take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs.

What foods are high in BCAA?

BCAA food sources are eggs, soy, meat, cheese, fish, milk, poultry, cashews.

Food is also a great source of protein intake and will contribute to your body mass.

Should I take BCAA powder or tablets?

You can take either BCAA powder or tablets. Both products are a great supplement option.

The powder can be plain or flavored, and you can mix it into a liquid, but some protein powder products can have a bitter taste.

Tablets are easier to carry, and you can use them before and after training.

Should You Take BCAA Before Or After Workout?

No matter what time you take a BCAA supplement, it’ll be effective in helping you build muscle. Try out different timings and see what works best for you.

Don't forget — regularity is key to success. Use BCAAs even on non-exercise days, and always take an adequate supplement dose of protein-based on your body weight.

Try it out for a couple of weeks, and let us know your research results in the comments below.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28944645/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28070459/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1748109/

About the author

  • Wow!!! This is so great! Such an amazing resource for beginners like me. I like this particular product I tried a sample of, but the tub is so expensive I don’t think i can maintain it! So I looked for ways on how to do it yourself and this is probably the best one I have found! So detailed and so much useful stuff! I will definitely try making one for myself this weekend — so excited to try it out! If this goes well, then I don’t need to buy that expensive product ha ha so wish me well!

    By the way, I’ve been reading your blog the whole day today. I love it. Definitely makes me think about my lifestyle choices! Not in a judgmental way though, but more on an educational way, he he! Will bookmark your page and read more of it, im sure there’s a lot more value in here that I haven’t touched

    • Hi Fern, I hope you read my comment (the one after this lol) i know you want to save some money but trust me, the effort isn’t worth it haha there are cheaper products out there that you can buy and will last for a month or two, those should be good!

      • Hi Yosef, thank you! I actually realized that as I was researching for the ingredients. Haha those ingredients are difficult! They are difficult to spelll and difficult to find lol thank you for your insight. There’s this product that I enjoyed but I guess I will have to substitute something cheaper. It ‘s sooooo expensive, like a hundred bucks for a month’s supply like ?????? that’s just too much for me. i am a student and do not have much in the bank, i work part time so I save what I can. yeah, need to research more for a cheaper product

  • I also don’t recommend making your own, just buy the stuff on the grocery or online and you’re good. It takes too much time. Also, I don’t have all the ingredients on my local grocery so I would have to research still on where and how to get those especially the ones that sound so foreign to me. If you have the time and resources, sure go ahead and do it, but I think it will still end up being costly considering that you can’t buy those things on a per serving basis! You have to buy them in pouches that maybe has 1kg of it, and you won’t be needing that much. So personally, it’s not worth my time and money. I’ll just shell out $40 and there, I have my product. It’s that easy!

    • 100% agree with you, brother. I tried doing this on my own and straight up failed, it was chunky and tasted like an expired chalk, imagine that, it’s not that an unexpired chalk tastes good. And regarding the ingredients, they are not readily available anywhere, so I looked online and found some but most of them were expiring in a few months’ time 🙁 I was only able to make a few servings that lasted me almost a month, after that, my ingredients have all gone bad. That’s one of the downsides of buying online, most of them are almost expired, more so if they’re being sold at a low price! such a sad experience. i ended up spending over 60$ instead of just getting a tub for half the price. that’s a lesson learned, and i hope everyone reading this listens to me lol i don’t want to you to go through the hassle i went through

  • Hi, i have a question, where do i get these ingredients? Do i get them from the drugstore? or my local grocery? not sure about them, tried searching online and can’t seem to find any info on where to buy cutruline malate or whatever that is.

    • Hi Madison, most drugstores have those, GNC or anywhere that sells the same products. However, as most people here have commented, making your own isn’t going to a walk in the park. It’s time consuming and i find that a tiny mistake in measurement can mess up the entire thing (not that I experienced it, oh yes i actually did and mine tasted like crap). So you are going to have to be careful with that if you want something good. You also have to use the same exact tools and measurements all the time. There’s no estimating in here everything has to be to a T. I don’t know, i don’t have the patience for that, but may be you have.

      • Thannk you for your insight, Oakley! I appreciate it. I actually just called my local GNC and sadly they don’t have these things so I might have to look somewhere else. I have a favorite one that i take all the time but i thought this would be a good way to switch things up, like an experiment! Ha ha, i will definitely take your advice into consideration. As soon as I have everything I need, i’ll make one and will let you know of the outcome! If it turns out great, then good, but if not, then i’ll just remember it as a funny experience lol. Thanks!

        • Sounds exciting, do let us know what happens! Excited to hear about it. If anything, I’ve tried it once before and it went well, the second try did not. THat’s why I mentioned consistency in measurement and everything else. I agree with you though, it’s a fun experience, albeit messy and tasted awful lol. I have a feeling you’ll go back to your favorite brand but whatever happens, we won’t judge, hehe all the best to you!