Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are popular bodybuilding supplements that have been shown to increase protein synthesis and help make athletes leaner and stronger. As with any substance that you put in your body, though, the first question you need to answer is, are BCAAs safe?
The BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine, and valine — are three of eight naturally-occurring amino acids that are classified as essential, meaning that your body requires them but cannot manufacture them.
You must consume BCAAs on a daily basis, either through your diet or in supplemental form.
On the surface, then, it would seem as though taking BCAAs couldn’t present any problems for since you need them. However, when you extract substances from their natural environment to make concentrated forms of them, unexpected reactions can pop up here and there.
As it turns out, BCAAs do generate a few side effects for some people, but they’re generally more of an annoyance than a serious concern.
Side Effects of BCAA Supplements
WebMD reports that taking BCAAs continually for up to six months has NOT been linked to a high occurrence of serious side effects.
Still, some people do report the following reactions: nausea, abdominal pain, headache, fatigue, loss of coordination.
Because of these potential side effects, WebMD recommends that you exercise caution when consuming BCAA supplements before you drive. The same advice holds for other potentially dangerous activities requiring some level of manual skill — the use of power tools comes to mind.
Aside from potential unpleasant symptoms, BCAAs have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake.
That makes them a potential addition to diabetes treatment schemes, but it also means you should be careful with BCAAs if you have any kind of metabolic or blood sugar disorder.
Consult your doctor before using BCAAs, just as you would with other supplements, and especially you are a diabetic.
Safe Muscle Boosters
Branched-chain amino acids are chock full of potential benefits for bodybuilders, from reduced delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, to helping spare lean mass when dieting.
There is even some evidence that BCAAs can increase your testosterone levels!
Because BCAAs can also significantly boost the rate of and capacity for protein synthesis, the supplements are becoming increasingly popular additions to longevity regimens and muscle-wasting treatments.
In all, BCAAs present a ton of upside and not much in the way of downside for muscle-hungry bodybuilders.
If your doctor gives you the OK to start taking BCAAs, introduce them into your diet slowly. Watch for unwanted reactions and avoid operating heavy machinery right after you take your supplements.
If you’re like most users, BCAAs will give you a nice training boost with no nasty side effects.