Your body requires three branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine typically gets most of the attention because of its ability to stimulate muscle growth, but each offers key benefits. Isoleucine helps regulate blood sugar and create hemoglobin (proteins that carry oxygen within your body), while valine acts as a mild stimulant.
Taken together — and combined with an appropriate nutrition and training plan — they can be a powerful tool for muscle health, performance, and recovery, says Paul Kriegler, RD, program development manager at Life Time in Chanhassen, Minn.
The body is unable to produce BCAAs on its own, so it’s critical to get them through food. Red meat, eggs, and whey protein are common sources.
If you don’t consume much animal protein, or if you have a hard time digesting food before or after a workout, a BCAA supplement can be helpful. Kriegler recommends mixing one scoop of a flavored BCAA powder in 6 to 8 ounces of water and drinking it within 30 minutes either before, during, or after your workout. It’s useful as a pre-, post-, or intra-workout beverage, he says, so don’t stress too much about timing as long as it’s near your workout time.