BCAAs: A Health Acronym You Need to Know

POPSUGAR Photography | Ericka McConnell
POPSUGAR Photography | Ericka McConnell

When I first started training for my upcoming half marathon, a friend told me, "Make sure you're getting your BCAAs!" Instead of asking "WTF is that?" I did a bit of research and realized I had, in fact, already been getting them. Not sure what I'm talking about? Let's dive in to branched-chain amino acids, why they're important to recover, and how to get your daily dose. It's time to get sciencey!

What Are Amino Acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Our bodies need amino acids to work properly, and they're crucial to metabolic function. Some amino acids are made by the body, and others come from your diet. Typically, when you consume a protein, your body breaks it down and what's left is the amino acid.

What Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids?

"Branched-chain" refers to the chemical structure of particular aminos. Specifially, the three BCAAs are are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They're three of the amino acids that are not manufactured in the body and must be consumed in a diet.

Why Do You Need Them?

Because BCAAs are essential to rebuilding muscle, growth, and repair, athletes take BCAAs in many forms to prevent muscle damage and breakdown and soreness. In other words, getting branched-chain amino acids after a workout (and getting enough before) can help you recover better and more quickly with less discomfort.

BCAAs have a number of medical uses as well. They are used to treat ALS and certain muscular and genetic diseases, and they can help with appetite for kidney failure and cancer patients. They also help brain function for people with advanced liver disease, mania, tardive dyskinesia, and anorexia.

Where Do You Get Them?

If you're getting enought protein, you're likely getting your BCAAs. If you're not sure what you should be eating for BCAAs, focus on the folowing foods:

  • Chicken
  • Lean beef, red meat
  • Dairy
  • Canned tuna
  • Wild salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Turkey breast
  • Eggs
  • Roasted peanuts

You can also get BCAA supplement powders to make into a recovery drink or blend into a smoothie. If you've been drinking a recovery drink or powdered drink, check the label: you might be getting BCAAs already, and if you're not, it might be time to switch it up.

However you choose to consume your BCAAs, make sure you're getting enough before and after your workout to prevent any damage from intense exercise and curb soreness. This is especially important for big training events and races (half, full, and ultra marathons). More BCAAs, better feeling body.