BCAAs in Plant Protein Powders: Amount and Benefits for Active Lifestyles

Plant protein powders like rice and pea protein do have BCAAs and a comparable amount to that of whey protein. Read on to learn more about what BCAAs are and how they can benefit active lifestyles especially if you're vegan.

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs or branched chain amino acids refer to three of the nine essential amino acids whose chemical structure resemble a branched tree. They include: valine, leucine and isoleucine.  Aside from being essential for proper growth and function, BCAAs play a special role in muscles because they can be metabolized within the muscles (rather than the liver, where all other aminos are metabolized) and used for energy.  BCAAs also trigger protein synthesis (muscle-building) and help reduce muscle breakdown. Because of this, they are of major interest to athletes and the sport nutrition industry alike, considering their beneficial impact on muscle recovery and therefore performance.  Research continues to support this role.  For example, an article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (May 2012) found that BCAA supplementation before and after damaging resistance exercise reduced muscle damage and accelerated recovery in a group of resistance-trained males.

BCAAs are rapidly depleted from muscles during strenuous activity so they (like other nutrients) need to be restored after workouts. BCAAS are naturally found in dietary protein and thus can be ingested from things like meat, beans, poultry, protein powders, ect. but they can also be ingested as isolated amino acids in supplement form. The advantage of using the supplement form is that they are taken into the bloodstream faster than with food because they don’t need to be digested/broken apart from the dietary protein source.

How many BCAAs are in rice protein and pea protein? 

Growing Naturals rice and pea protein contain 2.8g and 2.7g BCAAs per (15g protein) serving respectively. A 30g protein serving (2 small scoops) would provide 5.6g BCAA with rice protein and 5.4g BCAA with pea protein.  Supplementing with isolated BCAAs is not necessary when consuming enough protein each day, though added amounts appear to be helpful for recovery and building muscle in very active individuals.

How do I incorporate BCAA supplements into an active lifestyle?

BCAA supplements can be used (as most supplements should) as an addition to a healthy diet. They should not be used as a replacement for regular meals or whole food protein sources. They can be used before, during or after a workout.  There is insufficient evidence to determine preference for when to take the BCAAs.

6-20 grams of BCAAs per day is the recommended dosage, which can be divided throughout the day. However, studies observing the benefit of supplementing with BCAAs in trained individuals used dosages in the range of 10-20 grams per day.

Are there negatives to BCAAs? 

BCAA supplements are generally safe to consume, without side effects if/when taken in recommended dosages by healthy individuals.

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