Should Cyclists Use BCAAs – Food Sources

By Jiri Kaloc

BCAAs are said to protect your muscles during exercise, improve recovery, and even help with sprint performance. Can you get enough BCAAs from food to enjoy these benefits? What are the best food sources? Let’s dig in!

The good news is that BCAAs are amino acids that are commonly available in almost all high-protein foods. This means that getting sufficient protein around training should ensure a decent intake of BCAAs as well. Let’s get more specific.

Low-carb bowl
Should you experiment with BCAAs this year? © Profimedia

How do I get BCAAs in my diet?

All three BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine are most abundant in animal sources of protein. If your pre- and post-workout meals include something from the following food groups, you are likely getting a good dose of BCAAs.

  • Meat
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Protein-rich dairy (milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, mozzarella, Swiss cheese)

When it comes to plants, there are also several good BCAA sources. Overall, plant sources tend to be lower in one of the three BCAAs, leucine, which means you might need a higher quantity of plant protein to get the same amount of BCAAs as from animal foods.

  • Soy, tempeh, tofu
  • Peas, chickpeas, lentils, beans
  • Nuts

Protein powders can help

Protein powders, especially those based on whey, are another great way to get more BCAAs into your diet. Although you don’t need protein powders to have a healthy diet, there are scenarios in which they can help a lot.

  • When you don’t include protein-rich foods into your diet regularly. Protein powders can help you fill that gap and supply BCAAs at the same time. Not sure if this is relevant to you? If you’re not getting 1-2 palm-sized protein sources per main meal, it very well could be.
  • You’re trying to lose weight. Extra protein every day can help you stave off hunger when trying to adjust body composition as well as boost BCAA intake.
  • When you’re older than 65. Protein needs go up as we age. Some older people also feel less hungry and have trouble chewing and digesting certain protein foods. All of this makes it more difficult to get enough protein and BCAAs from food alone.

Should vegan or vegetarian cyclists take BCAAs?

Vegans and vegetarians reduce or completely cut out dairy, meat, fish, and eggs. These are some of the best BCAA food sources. Plant-based foods, on average, have lower concentrations of BCAAs, especially leucine. This means that vegetarian and vegan athletes may often be getting fewer BCAAs from their regular diet.

One solution to this would be to increase the overall protein intake. But depending on the type of plant protein, it could mean having to double plant-protein intake to compensate for the lower leucine content. This would be too much for most.

Another solution is to use BCAA supplements. Supplements can be a very effective way of getting these amino acids for everyone, regardless of diet. The next article will be all about how much BCAAs to take, when to take them, and how to know if you’re getting any benefits from them.