Studies are showing that BCAAs can provide benefits to athletes. The question is: will supplementing be effective for you? How much and when should you take BCAAs? How do you know it’s working? Let’s answer these questions.
Who should consider supplementing?
As you know from the previous article in the series, many athletes can get their BCAAs from food. But there are a few cases when supplementing can be a good choice. For example, if you are a plant-based cyclist, BCAA supplements might help you compensate for the lower BCAA and leucine intake. Another example would be cyclists who have a hard time eating early in the morning. If you need to head out before breakfast to commute or on a long trip, supplementing with BCAAs before leaving the house is easy on the stomach and gives your muscles protection.
How many BCAAs should you take?
Studies looking at the effectiveness of BCAA use in sports typically recommend a daily dose of at least 200 mg per kg of body weight. That’s 15 grams of BCAAs for a 75-kg cyclist. These studies also say you have to supplement for at least 10 days in a row to see results.
How frequently you take the supplement may also be a factor. Studies show that splitting your total daily dose into two or more doses, such as before and after exercise, may be beneficial.
When should you take BCAA supplements?
Research has shown that BCAA levels in your blood peak 30 minutes after consuming a supplement. But there isn’t enough data to say what exactly is the best time to take it to maximize benefits. But understanding the role of BCAAs, we can say that they will be most beneficial pre-workout when your last meal is long gone.
The form of your BCAA supplement also matters. BCAAs are sold in the form of a powder. This allows you to mix it with a sports drink, which can help the amino acids get to your muscles more quickly. And you can even consume it on the bike. On the other hand, BCAAs in the capsule form are easier to transport and can be consumed both before and after training without the need for mixing.
If you’re timing your BCAAs after a ride, try to include carbs as well to kick start your recovery. And if you’re planning to use a protein powder in your post-ride recovery nutrition, then BCAAs don’t need to be added. Most protein powders contain plenty of all three BCAAs.
Run your own BCAA experiment
Now that you know how much and when to include BCAAs, the best way to find out whether they will work for you is to run an experiment. Here is a quick guide for a simple experiment any cyclist can do. And the setup works for any supplement you might want to test out.
The first step is to decide which metrics are you going to track. Here are a few examples relevant to BCAAs:
- The power-to-weight ratio
- The perceived effort of training sessions
- Weigh and body composition measurements
- Sprint performance
- Appetite before and after meals
Write down your initial numbers and then start taking BCAAs in the right quantity. Do this for at least 10 days. Try not to introduce any other changes into your training, nutrition, sleep or other habits.
Check back in with your measurements after the 10-day period. How do you feel? Have you seen a difference? Are you making noticeable progress in the numbers you’re tracking? The answers to these questions should be enough to decide whether supplementing with BCAAs is worth it for you.