The Wonders of BCAA in Muscle Mass Retention


Branched-Chain Amino Acids, or known as BCAA has in recent years gained a reputation among the fitness and bodybuilding community as a must-have supplement if one is looking to gain muscle mass. But one of the wonders of the said supplement that many people are not aware of, is just as important as gaining muscles—maintaining them even if you’re in a calorie-deficit diet.

Despite having an awesome, shredded body caused by dieting, one danger it entails is that it can also take off a chunk out of your muscle mass. Studies confirm that BCAAs counter the catabolic effects of dieting, helping you protect your hard-earned muscles! Read on to find out more about it.


Branched-chain amino acids are essential amino acids that must be in our diet because our bodies do not produce them. The term ‘branched-chain’ just refers to the molecular structure. Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein and have various functions related to energy production during and after exercise so they are needed in adequate amounts, but not excessive. BCAAs are classified separately from other amino acids. The three amino acids in this category are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are the major amino acids that are oxidized or broken down in skeletal tissue during ATP production.

Most people use BCAAs to prevent fatigue and improve concentration, but the most relevant reason is to improve exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown, which we’ll discuss in detail as you go on.


Muscle mass equals the rate of protein synthesis minus the rate of protein breakdown. When the rate of synthesis equals the rate of breakdown, you don’t gain or lose muscle. If the rate of synthesis exceeds the rate of breakdown, you gain muscle. When the rate of breakdown exceeds the rate of synthesis, you lose muscle. If you’re dieting, you may be elevating muscle breakdown and reducing protein synthesis. BCAAs are metabolized differently than other amino acids, and can be oxidized in the muscles during exercise for energy. BCAA levels can increase the availability of carbohydrates and help protect the muscles from exercise-induced protein breakdown. Having BCAAs in your diet may help support optimal muscle size, strength, and performance.

Muscle loss occurs because the body increases protein breakdown (catabolism) in order to liberate muscle amino acids for fuel. As the body gets leaner, the more likely it is to lose muscle mass as the body tries harder and harder to hold onto body fat stores, so the body turns to muscles to satisfy the energy needs. Muscle loss is compounded by the fact that levels of protein synthesis will also decrease due to reduced energy intake. BCAAs are often touted to help repair damaged muscles, decrease muscle soreness and increase muscle function. Some data shows that BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis. It promotes an anabolic hormone profile (causing muscle repair after workouts) while also decreasing the likelihood of training-induced muscle damage.

Since BCAAs improve protein synthesis, and thereby improve the extent of secondary muscle damage associated with strenuous resistance exercise. Working out compounds the metabolic effects of dieting, so the leaner one becomes, the more lethargic one can be. Decreased energy intake and decreased glycogen storage make for some rough training sessions. If you’re too tired or weak to lift as heavy as your body was getting used to, your muscles will adapt, and they won’t use as much energy to get the work done. Your body won’t increase lean muscle mass and it might use lean muscle for energy because you aren’t using it to lift a heavy load. Even so, one doesn’t have to worry since BCAAs prevent that from happening. Experts believe it’s possible to consider BCAA as a useful supplement for muscle recovery. BCAAs also increase synthesis of the cellular machinery responsible for carrying out the process of protein synthesis. Thus, BCAAs not only increase the rate of protein synthesis, but they also increase the cell’s capacity for protein synthesis!

Primarily, BCAA decreases the activity of the components of the protein breakdown pathway, and also by decreasing the expression of several complexes involved in protein breakdown like decreasing the amount of mRNA produced from the gene that codes for these components.

Therefore, increasing synthesis and decreasing breakdown will equate to muscle gain/maintenance, and that’s what BCAA does.


Exercise causes an increase in serotonin levels, which are believed to cause fatigue. When serotonin levels rise, it can increase the perception of fatigue which may result to a less intense workout. But BCAAs are believed to reduce serotonin levels, by competing with the amino acid tryptophan for entry into the brain, where tryptophan can be converted to the neurotransmitter serotonin and thus cancel out the fatigue and actually enhance exercise performance.

There have been many studies that promote this exact ability: Subjects ingested either BCAA or a placebo before taking an endurance cycle ride in the heat. The BCAA group cycled 153.1 minutes on average, while the placebo group averaged only 137 minutes. A more recent Japanese study looked at the effects of a BCAA mixture on athletes during a one-month training stint and found that indices of blood oxygen-carrying capacity were increased.


Some skeptics suggest one should just consume more whey protein to get more BCAA since BCAA supplements are overpriced. But they couldn’t be any more wrong.

BCAAs in supplement form are require no digestion, are free-form and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, in contrast to BCAAs found in whey that are peptide-bound to other amino acids and, in order to be effective, must be liberated through digestion and then absorbed into the bloodstream. It still takes several hours for all the amino acids to be liberated and absorbed into the bloodstream, even though whey is relatively fast-digesting. BCAA supplements spike blood amino acid levels to a much greater and faster extent than peptide-bound aminos in whey. A few grams of free-form BCAAs will spike BCAA plasma levels to a much greater extent than 30 grams of whey protein. Therefore BCAA in supplements have a more immediate impact on protein degradation and synthesis.

BCAAs can be used as an immediate energy source during your workouts since they bypass the liver and gut and go directly into your blood stream. Valine and isoleucine are considered glucogenic amino acids that can be converted to glucose and serve as an important energy source during exercise to help fight off fatigue.


BCAAs are important to muscle function in more ways than one. Whether as recovery aid, or to retain muscle mass despite dieting to lose fat, or simply to boost our workout performance, BCAAs are surely important. Taking them before you exercise can slow down the rate at which your muscles fatigue, and can also help prevent muscle damage as well as muscle soreness. BCAAs are a smart buy, either by themselves or incorporated into a broader supplement. Bottom line is, more muscle mass retained, and a greater percentage of lost body fat is what BCAAs can give you. I encourage you to check it out and reap the benefits.