If you regularly go to the gym or are serious about your training, chances are you've heard of BCAAs. We answer all your questions about BCAAs so you can decide if they're right for you.
What is BCAA and what does it do?
BCAA stands for Branched Chain Amino Acid and is a compound found in protein. All protein is made up on amino acids and there are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids are named as such because the human body cannot make them, so we need to get them from food. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
There are 11 non-essential amino acids, which are amino acids that the human body can make itself. There are 11 non-essential amino acids: alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, a substance that plays a crucial role in many biological processes and functions. We need protein to build and repair muscle, and if you workout hard and often get DOMS, protein is what will help you recover and stop feeling so achy.
Related: Can You Exercise When You Are Sore
Is BCAA good for weight loss?
Taking a BCAA supplement won't facilitate weight loss specifically. The only healthy way to achieve weight loss is to eat in a calorie deficit, meaning you are eating fewer calories than you are burning in a day. What BCAAs do is help your body recover quicker and better after tough workouts, as they supplement your amino acid intake which are building blocks of protein.
If you eat a rich and varied diet, you may well not need to take BCAA supplements because you will be getting all the essential amino acids from food. However, if you eat quite a restrictive diet and do a lot of weight/strength training, you may find that a BCAA supplement can help you take on all 20 amino acids, both essential and non-essential.
Do I take BCAA before or after a workout?
You can consume a BCAA supplement either 30-45 minutes before a workout or immediately afterwards. It's ideal to take on a hit of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a strength workout so that your body can absorb the protein and use it to help build and repair your muscles.
If you're an endurance athlete, you'll know how expensive it can be to buy countless energy gels and bars for long training rides, runs, and races. A great alternative is to make your own, as this is more economically sustainable and also means you know exactly what is going into them.
One of the easiest things to make for an endurance event is trail mix. As is hinted in the name, trail mix was originally developed for long hikes as a source of energy which is easy to make and suitable for carrying long distances. The great thing about trail mix is you can put whatever you like best into it and leave out anything you don't like.
Trail mix is usually made up on granola, oats, nuts, seeds, and even chocolate. If you want more protein, add more seeds and nuts into your mix. If you feel you need a larger sugar boost, add more chocolate, and if you feel you need lots of carbs to keep you going, bulk out your recipe with more granola and oats.
There is no right or wrong way to make trail mix, and tasty additions can include dried coconut curls, banana chips and dried fruit.
Homemade Granola Bar Recipe
Another easily portable and tasty snack to keep you fuelled on a long endurance trip is a granola bar. Branded bars can set you back quite a lot even though they're easy to make, so why not make you're own? Try our homemade no-bake granola bar recipe for your next run or ride.
- 100g oats
- 30g butter
- 25g sugar
- 50g honey or agave nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of salt
- 40g flaked almonds
- 30g raisins
- 20g chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4.
- Line bottom and sides of a 9-inch square pan with baking parchment leaving about an inch sticking over the top.
- Put the oats and almonds on a small baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring them around occasionally. Put to one side.
- Combine the butter, honey, sugar, vanilla extract and salt in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the butter melts and the sugar completely dissolves.
- Pour the butter mixture into a bowl and add the toasted oats and almonds. Mix well.
- Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes then stir in the raisins and half the chocolate chips.
- Transfer the mixture to the lined pan and press down so it's even.
- Scatter the remaining chocolate chips over over the mixture and gently press them into the top.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is best.
- Pull the baking parchment up so that the block of granola comes out of the tin in one piece then slice into bars.
- Store bars in an airtight container for up to one week. If you prefer soft bars, keep them at room temperature or for slightly harder bars, store them in the fridge.
Energy Gel Recipe
If you prefer something less bulky and solid for your training, then energy gels are for you. Making your own is easier than you'd think and can save a lot of money!
- 130g brown rice syrup (this can be expensive, but there are cheaper versions available in most supermarkets)
- 70g barley malt syrup (again, opt for the ones you find in the supermarket)
- 35g coconut oil
- 35g smooth peanut butter (make sure it's an organic version with no sugar, salt, or palm oil added)
- a pinch of salt
- 60 ml hot water
- Place a glass jar in a saucepan then fill the saucepan with water so the jar is a little more than half immersed.
- Mix together all the ingredients except for the hot water and put them in the jar.
- Warm the mixture over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently until it’s runny and well combined. This should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the hot water to the jar, stir, and shake vigorously until well combined and no separation occurs. Allow to cool completely
- Fill gel containers as needed for workouts.
- Store extra gel in the jar with a lid in a cool, dry place.
If you’re a keen Instagrammer you may well see all number of crazy fitness terms thrown about, especially in lists of endless hashtags. You may also be trying to find articles of weight loss or muscle building and struggle to understand half of what is being said! That’s why we're here to explain a few of the more common fitness terms which you may not have come across before, and which may help you to reach your fitness and nutrition goals once you understand what they mean!
Endomorph refers to a specific body type. There are three basic body types: endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph. These three terms describe different body types and their distinguishing features. Someone who is an endomorph will generally store more body fat and will have a thick or stocky build. Endomorphs have a low tolerance to carbohydrates and will easily gain weight and muscle but struggle to lose body fat. Other characteristics include wide joints and hips as well as shorter limbs. Endomorphs make great bodybuilders or powerlifters due to their short levers and blocky stature.
An ectomorph is the opposite of an endomorph. People with this body type are characterised by a smaller frame and physique and a lower body fat percentage. These people will struggle to gain muscle mass or even fat and will have a higher metabolism. Characteristics include narrow hips, small joints, and long limbs. These people are well suited to endurance sports such as marathon running due to their long legs and light body weight.
A mesomorph is essentially a balance between an ectomorph and an endomorph. People with this body type will have a typical ‘hour glass’ figure and will find it easy to both gain and lose weight. You can also be a combination of mesomorph and one of the other body types, as many people do not fit into one single category. Your training should be based upon what works best for you and your body type as you cannot change your genetics! For most people, it is clear which body type they fit into just by looking at them.
This is a very common term in the fitness industry. It is short for macronutrients, which are simply the building blocks of our diet. There are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and these are the only sources of calories for humans (although alcohol is sometimes considered ‘the fourth macro’). Fat is the most calorie-dense macro, providing 9 calories per gram, with carbs and protein both providing 4 calories per gram. This means that a 500 calorie meal made of fatty foods will be smaller than a 500 calorie meal made of carbs and protein. However, each of the three macros are just as important as the next and none of them should ever be cut out of your diet completely. You can adjust the ratio of macros that you consume according to your training and physique goals.
This term stands for If It Fits Your Macros which is a trend in the fitness industry claiming that so long as you stick to your calorie and macro goals, you can eat whatever you want and still see results. However, this is something that is subject to a lot of criticism and certainly would not work for everyone. People who glorify this lifestyle may find that their micronutrient intake (vitamins and minerals) may suffer and other factors such as fibre, sodium, and sugar are not taken into account either.
BCAA stands for Branch Chain Amino Acid and these are the building blocks of protein. There are 9 essential amino acids and 11 non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and as a result must come from food. Non-essential amino acids can be made by the body and so it is not as important to consume them in your diet. Eggs are considered the ‘perfect’ protein source as they contain all 20 amino acids and are high in protein and fat which allows your body to absorb them well. Other sources of all essential amino acids are whole foods such as quinoa and hummus. You will often hear about people taking BCAAs as a dietary supplement, which just means they are increasing their intake of essential amino acids to better aid muscle repair and growth as well as promoting healthy circulation and blood pressure.
HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training and is a very popular form of training at the moment. It consists of short bursts of intense activity such as sprints, burpees, or mountain climbers. It promises to burn fat more effectively than low intensity exercise and to increase your metabolism in such a way that you will continue to burn fat long after you’ve stopped exercising. It is popularly used by people who want to burn fat fast and improve their cardiovascular fitness and explosive power.
LISS stands for Low Intensity Steady State and is essentially the opposite of HIIT training. This type of training consists of longer duration workouts at a much lower intensity, such as uphill walking. This type of training is sometimes favoured by bodybuilders as it is less likely to tap into the body’s muscle stores. It is also good for endurance athletes such as those who compete in half marathons and marathons.
Fasted cardio is simply a cardiovascular workout such as running which is completed on an empty stomach. It is usually done in the morning before breakfast and promises to burn fat more effectively than if you train after a day of eating. However, it has never been scientifically proven that fasted cardio is more beneficial than non-fasted cardio, and different people will see different results. It does work for some people, but is not as effective for others.
We continue our Day In The Life series with personal trainer ambassador Shea. Shea is a vegan, so if you have ever wondered how vegans get enough protein to look ripped but stay lean, read on!
Most of my days start early, comes with the territory of being a PT!
Most weekday mornings I'll have hummus with avocado and tomatoes on either rye bread/crispbread or buckwheat bread - mainly because it's quick to prepare but it's also very tasty and energy dense. At the weekends or sometimes on the one weekday that I start work late I'll have (vegan) pancakes or an exotic fruit platter for breakfast.
After my girlfriend brought a box of tamarind home from the market one day, it has since become a ritual for me to eat a few tamarind pods on my walk to the station when commuting to work. My grandma who lives in Antigua makes treats with tamarind, raw tamarind isn't quite the same experience but does taste really good!
After a busy morning training clients in London, it's time for my first lunch. Today I've got a salad with quinoa, lentils, tomatoes, celery, sweetcorn, pumpkin seeds with spinach, beetroot sauerkraut and hummus. Lots of seeds and grains to get my vegan protein in, as well as fresh vegetables for nutrients.
I'm currently enrolled on a Team Leading & Management NVQ to further my understanding of business management. Each day I study to improve my skills and to further my career.
After studying, it's time for my second lunch. Roasted sweet potato, tomatoes, red pepper, mushrooms with boiled kale and soy-free vegenaise.
After a busy day training clients and furthering my education, it's time to leave the PT studio where I work to head to the gym so that I can train myself.
My post-workout snack is a smothering of peanut butter!
I spend the rest of my evening writing client programmes. It's important that I'm prepared when I get to work and that I'm always professional when I train my clients, this means I have to do a lot of homework and always do research and writing to keep up with my career.
If you're starting to ramp up your running and are training for a half marathon, marathon, or even ultra marathon, it's important to know that your nutrition strategy is key to success. We give you all the information you need on how to fuel for long runs.
What is the best thing to eat before a long run?
When running long distance, what you eat before your run is just as important as how you fuel throughout. When training for an event on a specific date, it's important to steadily increase your carbohydrate intake in the week leading up to the event so that you can get your body used to storing more energy. But beware, don't fall into the trap of 'carb loading' the night before the race by eating a load of pasta and then going to bed! You need to build up gradually over several days, rather than just eating more than usual the day before.
For your regular training runs, there are a few different things that will fuel you well before you head out. Eating a good breakfast will set you up well whether your run is morning, afternoon, or evening. Opt for something carb-rich but also high in protein, such as eggs on toast or oatmeal with fruit. This should be eaten around 2 hours before your run so that it has time to digest and won't sit heavy in your stomach. Around 30-60 minutes before you run, eat something with simple sugars such as a banana to give you one last boost.
What to eat 2 hours before a run
- Oatmeal with fruit and nuts/seeds
- Eggs on toast
- Protein pancakes
- Ham and cheese sandwich
- Peanut butter on toast
- Chicken, rice, vegetables
What to eat 30-60 minutes before a run
- Protein shake
- Some crackers
- Apple sauce
Mid run fuel
When it comes to mid run fuel for long runs, different things will work for different people. The ultimate debate is whether to eat real food or not. By this, we mean the difference between a peanut butter sandwich and an energy gel. Some people are happy to fuel solely with sugary gels and drinks, but this doesn't work so well for others.
In order to find out what works for you, it's best to go with the trial and error method in your training runs. Remember, nothing new on race day! Try different foods and gels and see which make you feel the best. It could be that a combination of both works for you.
Foods which are great for mid run fuel:
- Protein balls
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Pretzels (good for sodium but can be very dry, especially if you’re dehydrated)
- Pickles and pickle juice (great for cramps)
- Dried or fresh fruit
- Sugar cubes
- Energy gels
- Sports/electrolyte drink
You also need to remember that whatever you decide to fuel with, you need to be able to comfortably hold or carry with you while you run. Some people don't mind holding a bottle in their hand while they run, but others may find that to be uncomfortable. Work out what you like best and practice running with a hydration bag, bottle, and snacks in various pockets.
It's also important to remember that being as self-sufficient as possible is best for racing as you never know what kind of fuel and hydration will be available to you on the day. There's nothing worse than gasping for a drink and running along waiting for the next water station only for it never to arrive.
Running fuel for sensitive stomachs
If you have a sensitive stomach or you find that certain foods or energy gels give you gastric problems during your run, you need to be extra careful. Here are some top tips for finding running fuel for sensitive stomachs:
- Avoid caffeine
- Stick with bland carbs like toast, bagels, and oatmeal
- Avoid spicy foods
- Avoid eating too much fibre
- Seek out energy/protein bars with minimal ingredients
Homemade running fuel
If you don't like the idea of eating something full of chemicals or constantly buying expensive energy bars and gels, you can make your own homemade running fuel. There are lots of options, from homemade trail mix to even make your own energy gels! Read more in our article below.