Vegetarian BCAA Supplements: Benefits and Limitations

  • By Abigail Roberts
  • 3 minute read
Vegetarian BCAA Supplements: Benefits and Limitations

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are known to be a staple supplement for gym-goers, particularly in the world of bodybuilding!

Out of the 20 amino acids (9 of which are essential), the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the ones that make up BCAAs. These are the amino acids involved in optimizing muscle growth and repair.

This article will help bring you up to speed on the latest research and how this supplement can maximize your gains while discussing the benefits and limitations of vegetarian BCAA supplements.

But first, to fully understand how BCAAs work, it’s key to delve a little deeper into amino acids in general!

Amino Acids: A Brief Overview

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are a group of 20 organic compounds that all play a foundational role in the normal functioning of our body.

Amino acids are split into two groups:

Essential amino acidsYour body cannot naturally produce some amino acids, so they must be obtained from food or supplementation.

Most of us can get these amino acids through diet alone, but there may be specific reasons or scenarios to supplement them. Three of the nine essential amino acids are BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

Nonessential amino acids These are a group of amino acids which your body can produce naturally, meaning we don’t require to obtain them through an external source.

What are BCAAs?

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) refer to the three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They make up about one-third of the protein found in muscle.

These three are often isolated from the other amino acids as they play a key role in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) - the process of repairing and rebuilding muscle.

BCAAs are present in high levels in animal protein such as meat and dairy, though supplementation has been shown to make a big difference in the body’s ability to grow muscle and recover optimally from training.

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While BCAAs play a key role in muscle growth and repair, are there any additional benefits to supplementing? And what scenarios would supplementation be most effective? Let’s take a look!

The Benefits of Vegetarian BCAA Supplements

Increase muscle growth

The main use of taking BCAAs is to help increase muscle growth. Leucine, one of the 3 BCAAs, plays a crucial role in stimulating MPS, the process of making muscle. This is the main reason why BCAA supplements are typically taken to maximize muscle growth.

However, this benefit is most effective when combined with adequate daily protein intake, as all essential amino acids are called upon to increase muscle growth!

Improves muscle recovery and athletic performance

Good news for anyone who regularly suffers from muscle soreness after training - BCAAs are thought to reduce these feelings of soreness following an intense weight training session.

Alongside consuming adequate protein and hitting your daily calorie goal, BCAAs could provide additional relief from your sore muscles, thus improving your time to recover and ability to perform to your maximum potential.

Preserve muscle mass

BCAAs ability to enhance muscle protein synthesis and reduce muscle breakdown would help preserve muscle mass.

However, this is particularly true for those who tend to train in a fasted state. BCAAs would be useful for those who want to train unfed without compromising lean mass, which may happen without sufficient protein intake before a workout.

Optimizing low protein meals

While BCAAs may support muscle growth, repair, and performance alongside an adequate protein and energy intake, this is sometimes not possible for people in certain circumstances.

One of the most significant uses for a vegetarian BCAA supplement is that it’s suitable for vegetarians, or plant-based dieters alike, a population that naturally lacks animal proteins.

Consumption of BCAAs has been shown to optimize a low protein meal, ensuring you raise your muscle protein synthesis rates.

The Limitations of BCAA Supplements

There are some limitations to consider with BCAA supplements:

Many BCAA supplements in powdered form contain artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners, which is what gives the vibrant colors and tastes. If you’re seeking a cleaner, healthier supplement, capsules may be a better form to consider.

The majority of BCAA supplements contain animal by-products such as gelatin, which are not suitable for vegans. So, it's important to give the ingredients list a scan through to ensure there is nothing you are actively looking to avoid.

How to Take BCAAs

You can take BCAAs at regular intervals throughout the day or as an addition to a low protein meal. Though there are other timing strategies to consider:

Before and during your workoutTaking BCAAs before or during your workout would be beneficial in retaining your lean muscle and helping to prevent muscle fatigue, allowing you to train harder for longer - particularly for endurance sessions and if you’re in a fasted state.

After your workoutTaking BCAAs after your workout will help restore and reload tired muscles allowing you to recover faster and more efficiently in time for your next session!

Final Key Points: Vegetarian BCAA Supplements

  • BCAAs are the go-to supplement among bodybuilders and gym-goers alike
  • BCAAs are made up of the three amino acids; leucine, isoleucine, and valine, the key amino acids involved in muscle protein synthesis - the process of repairing and rebuilding muscle
  • The benefits of BCAA supplements include increasing muscle growth, improving muscle recovery, preserving muscle mass, and optimizing low protein meals
  • Many BCAA supplements have additives, colors, sweeteners, and animal by-products
  • The optimal BCAA dose is 3000mg, a ratio of 2:1:1 
  • Take BCAAs regularly throughout the day, or before and after your workout to maximize muscle recovery