Branched chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs, are well-known for their ability to promote muscle growth and repair. You might be interested in adding a BCAA supplement. They can also reduce muscle soreness and improve power output. It’s important that you know how to get enough BCAAs from whole foods, before you spend money on powders or pills. These foods may already be a regular part of your daily diet.
Two registered dietitians were tapped, Melissa Majumdar M.S.., R.D. as the national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Leslie Bonci R.D.N, C.S.S.D. owner of Active Eating Advice By Leslie. They discussed the benefits and drawbacks of BCAAs and how to get rid of powders and supplements.
What is BCAA?
As mentioned, BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids. There are three types of BCAAs: leucine (valine), leucine (isoleucine) and isoleucine (isoleucine). These three amino acids, which are “essential”, are not made by the body. You must obtain them through food or supplements.
Before we get any further, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of what amino acids are and their purpose. Runner’s World reported that amino acids are the building blocks for protein. They help your body build muscle and repair muscle damage.
Majumdar explains that the ‘branched” part of the amino acids describes their chemical structure, which affects how they are absorbed, digested and used by the body. BCAAs are an energy source that can help slow down the breakdown of muscle protein while running. They can also be used to build muscle.
This is particularly important for endurance runners, who often rely on a low amount of protein to fuel long-distance runs. Bonci adds that BCAAs may play a role decreasing soreness and could potentially reduce fatigue while exercising.
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How to get BCAAs
There are many BCAA supplements available, from pills to powders to water. Rather than buying expensive–and often unnecessary–supplements, Majumdar recommends seeking out whole food sources of BCAAs. Majumdar says it is better to eat whole foods rich in protein than to only take three of the essential amino acids in supplements.
Animal proteins are considered “complete proteins” because they contain all nine of the essential amino acids. Even though most plant-based protein is not complete, vegans can still get the essential amino acids by combining different sources of protein in their meals (think rice and beans, hummus or whole wheat pita).
Majumdar states that “the majority of Americans exceed their protein requirements and therefore are eating plenty of BCAAs.”
Majumdar notes that all nine essential amino acid are required for muscle synthesis. Bonci also notes that muscles require protein in order to recover and provide energy. BCAA supplements don’t usually contain carbohydrates. Bonci suggests choosing recovery foods that include both protein and carbs.
4 Whole Foods with BCAAs
Unsalted Dry Roasted peanuts
Canned Albacore Wild tuna with sea salt
How to naturally add BCAAs into your diet
These 10 BCAA foods are a great way to get rid of expensive supplements and eat whole foods rich in BCAAs. These foods contain all three BCAAs (leucine isoleucine and valine) and are an integral part your diet and recovery from a workout.
*Nutrition stats taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.
Both chicken and turkey contain all three BCAAs and are excellent sources of lean protein to repair muscle. A mere 3 ounces of chicken provides approximately 20 grams of protein. Both turkey and chicken are versatile proteins that can be used in many different dishes.
Salmon is rich in BCAAs and also contains docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA). These good fats have a number of benefits including boosting heart health and brain health, decreasing muscle soreness, and increasing oxygen synthesis. It’s simple to prepare salmon with olive oil and lemon juice.
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Postrun chocolate milk can be beneficial for recovery, as it has a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein and all the BCAAs. You can also get nine essential amino acids from milk. This includes vitamin D and bone-protecting calcium.
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Eggs are quick and easy post-workout recovery options. Large eggs have 6 grams of protein and all the BCAAs. They are one of the few food sources of vitamin D. Additionally, eggs contain lutein (an antioxidant known to be important for eye health) and zeaxanthin (an antioxidant known to play a role in eye health). You can make a quick scrambled or frittata after a run to satisfy your hunger.
Tuna, another fatty fish that is rich in omega-3 and protein, is also a great source of BCAAs. For an affordable option, you can stockpile canned tuna if cooking tuna is difficult.
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BCAAs in Plant-Based Food Sources
Tofu is one the few meatless proteins that contains all nine essential amino acid. Tofu can also be used as a non-dairy source of calcium. Tofu can be added to any stir-fry recipe, as it will take on the flavors of almost any marinade.
Quinoa, along with tofu is the only plant-based protein that contains all of the amino acids. It’s 8g of protein per cup when cooked, and can be used in everything from soups and salads to porridge.
8. Red Lentils
Red lentils are thinner than brown varieties and have a lower amount of BCAAs. They also contain 22 grams of protein and 10 grams fiber. In just 20 minutes, red lentils can be made creamy and used as a base for stews or dal (a lentil curry that originated in India).
9. Hemp Seeds
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This soft seed is rich in BCAAs, iron, zinc and magnesium. Ten grams of plant-based proteins can be obtained by consuming three tablespoons. Avocado toast, salads, and smoothie bowls are enhanced with hemp seeds.
Peanuts can be considered a legume, not a nut. They also contain all the BCAAs. Peanuts come in many forms: whole, peanut butter or peanut powder. No matter what type of peanuts, make sure to check the ingredients.