19 Aug The Power of BCAAs: The 3 Best Amino Acids for Women
If you’re a woman who cares about your health and fitness, chances are you’re already getting plenty of exercise and eating well. The question is: Do the foods you eat give you the amino acids you need? And exactly what are the best amino acids for active women?
Whether you’re working on muscle gain for bodybuilding, athletic performance, or general health, amino acids are a critical element of your nutrition. Let’s focus on what they do and why they’re so important. We’ll also clarify why BCAAs are the best amino acids for women and which you should choose to support your fitness goals.
What Are Amino Acids?
Amino acids are an essential element of sports nutrition for good reason. They’re the building blocks of protein — and your body uses protein for a wide range of purposes, including:
- Building and maintaining your bones, organs, and muscles
- Protecting your immune system
- Producing hormones, enzymes, and hemoglobin
- Managing your blood sugar and blood pressure
Amino acids fall into three categories:
- Essential amino acids (often referred to as EAAs) — your body can’t make these
- Non-essential amino acids — your body can make these
- Conditionally essential amino acids — your body can make these most of the time
The challenge is that you always use essential amino acids, but your body can’t synthesize or store them. That means you need to get them on a daily basis from what you eat, specifically from protein. When you consume protein, your digestive system breaks it down to release the amino acids you need, which are then available for your body to use.
Three of these amino acids are central to women with health and fitness goals.
The 3 Best Amino Acids for Women: Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Three of the fundamental essential amino acids for health and fitness are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These derive their name from their branched molecular structure.
Let’s look at what each of them does for you.
Of the three BCAAs, leucine is vital for building and repairing muscle because it triggers muscle protein synthesis, starting the muscle-building process. It also reduces muscle protein breakdown, which can happen when you haven’t eaten enough, and your body is low on freely available amino acids.
Isoleucine helps build muscle and heal wounds, although less so than leucine.
This BCAA furthers glucose absorption and converts it into energy, enhancing performance while exercising — and reducing blood glucose in the process. It supports the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells, which carries oxygen from the lungs around the body. It also facilitates detoxification and both innate and adaptive immunity.
Valine boosts the muscle-building and regenerative power of leucine and isoleucine by transporting glucose to your muscles as you use them, reducing fatigue. It also improves sleep and strengthens the immune system and brain, sharpening focus.
Individually, each branched-chain amino acid plays a supportive role for women, but their real power comes from working together.
Let’s look at what these powerhouse amino acids can do for you when they’re combined.
Build Muscle Mass
Once thought the province of men, we now know that muscle growth and maintenance are just as important to women. Lean muscle mass supports your entire physical structure. This becomes even more necessary as you mature and need extra care not to lose muscle mass and bone density.
When you work out, you create small tears in your muscles, and as those heal, your muscles grow bigger and stronger. Your body needs BCAAs to repair that damage, and as we’ve seen, leucine is key here because it triggers muscle protein synthesis.
Research also shows that BCAAs may increase testosterone production, which women need too. Testosterone is essential for building muscle tissue.
During any kind of vigorous activity — whether a workout or simply a hectic day — you need a lot of energy. To access that energy, your body will first use up the freely available glucose in your system (usually sourced from carbs) and then your body fat. If you’re still going once those reserves are exhausted — as many women are — your body next breaks down muscle to access glycogen stored there.
The best amino acids for women prevent this muscle breakdown by giving your body the amino acids it needs to keep your energy levels up. Valine and isoleucine help transport glucose to your muscles and convert it into energy as it’s needed.
When you’re trying to manage your body weight, BCAAs assist in several ways. You may feel full longer, and because leucine and isoleucine work to control your blood sugar, you’re less likely to experience cravings and want to snack between meals. Note that good hydration is also crucial here, so drink plenty of water — with added electrolytes if you choose.
Since the best amino acids for women help build muscle, which boosts your metabolism, you’re burning fat. Essentially your body stays longer in fat-burning mode, even when your workout or busy day is over.
Side Effects of BCAAs
BCAAs are generally considered safe, with just a couple of exceptions. There is some research, albeit so far only on mice, that shows BCAAs may interfere with fetal and placental growth. So, to be safe, it’s probably best to avoid overconsumption if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Also avoid taking a BCAA supplement if you have maple syrup urine disease. People with this rare genetic disorder lack the enzyme complex that breaks down BCAAs. This can cause a build-up of these amino acids to potentially harmful levels.
Where to Get the Best Amino Acids for Women
- Cottage cheese
Many plant sources also contain BCAAs, although not always at the same high levels. Consider these food sources if you consume a plant-based diet:
- Soy products
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
If you’re eating relatively healthily and aren’t particularly active, you can probably get all the BCAAs you need from the food you eat. However, if you’re not getting enough protein and using up a lot of energy daily, you may need a BCAA dietary supplement.
Best BCAA Supplements for Women
Most protein powder supplements, like whey protein and pea protein, naturally contain BCAAs. However, those BCAAs are bound to other amino acids, so they take longer to digest and absorb. Your best choice for a fast-acting amino acid supplement — either pre-workout or post-workout — is a BCAA powder, which quickly breaks down into those amino acids you want.
When you’re considering branched-chain amino acid supplementation, make sure you choose a high-quality brand. Many BCAA products that you’ll find through general retailers like Amazon contain additional ingredients that don’t necessarily support your health. You’re likely to find gluten, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.
Also, check the amount and ratio of BCAAs in the supplement. Depending on how active you are, you probably need 10-20 grams of BCAAs per day in a ratio of 2:1:1 of leucine to isoleucine to valine.
BCAAs are sometimes combined with other supplements, like creatine, taurine, or L-glutamine, to enhance muscle growth, improve recovery, and boost energy. Check the ingredients list to find out exactly what’s in the one you’re considering.
A safe and highly effective choice to boost your intake of all the best amino acids for women is Ingredient Optimized ioBCAA. It’s proven to be more bioavailable than non-optimized products and better at increasing muscle mass, strength, and recovery.
ioBCAA is unflavored and mixes easily into liquid and solid food. You can blend it into a protein smoothie and shake or stir it into foods like yogurt, oats, or stews.
The Best Amino Acids for Health and Fitness
Your body needs amino acids for many functions, especially if you’re very active. The best amino acids for active women are the BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Each has specific functions, but they work best together to promote muscle growth and maintenance, provide energy, manage body weight, and enhance overall health and fitness.
To increase your BCAA intake, start with whole foods, especially protein. Then, if you’re not getting enough protein or are extremely active, boost that with a BCAA supplement. Be sure to choose an excellent quality brand that gives you all the health-giving benefits you’re looking for.