Food, Reviews, Sweat, The Momma Body

I Tried It: BCAA*

The takeaway: It might work, it might not. I couldn’t give less of a crap because I feel AMAZING.

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I belong to the Hollywood YMCA, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. It’s a great gym in a neat old building, though, with child care and challenging classes. I take a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) class there on Wednesdays and I really admire the instructor. She’s super ripped and fit, a fantastic teacher, a mom of three, and is always carrying around a Blender Bottle filled with a light yellow drink over ice which she often shakes up and sips while teaching class. “What the heck’s in there?” I asked when I cornered her in the locker room one day after class. Turns out those drinks were BCAA, Branched-Chain Amino Acids. She recommended the brand, Cellucor, and I went home to burn up my keyboard getting on Amazon. If some drink was gonna help me look like THAT, I was ready to get a big gulp and get started.

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I found it easily enough, although there were a lot of confusingly similar products, and the price was surprisingly low. What was I doing, though? Could this be dangerous or make me bulky? Before I could pull the trigger on a $20.00 canister that resembled a fat cartoon spaceship with its shiny silver packaging, I did some googling.

Branched-chain amino acids are essential (meaning your body can’t make them on its own) nutrients that are found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. Branched-chain is just a description of the chemical structure. There are three amino acids with branched chains: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and they all have roles in energy production and muscle protein synthesis.

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Basically, people who take BCAA supplements take them because they believe that ingesting extra BCAA can improve exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown and soreness. There are studies that prove BCAAs work and studies that prove they don’t. A good friend of mine who’s a doctor thought it was unlikely to work. She explained that as long as you were eating a balanced diet you were already getting plenty of BCAA and adding more wasn’t going to do much of anything.  She also didn’t think it would hurt. I thought again of the instructor at the Y, nimbly doing 35 jump squats without breaking a sweat, and I decided to try.

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I picked the lemon-lime flavor and when the package arrived I prepared one serving to sip on my way to the Y. It couldn’t be any easier, you just add 1-2 scoops, as much water as you want, and shake. I drank it while working out and finished the last bit in the locker room. The only real difference I felt was some added jazziness. Was it just in my head?

I continued to drink one serving every day. I mixed the powder with enough water so that one serving was enough to drink before, during, and after my workouts. As I was doing so, I started to notice some subtle differences. It’s important to note here that I also started eating clean at this time, so I was losing a decent amount of weight-about 10 lbs in two months. I felt and looked a lot more muscular, but maybe that was because I was becoming increasingly lean. Then I started to notice that when I would drink it I felt better, more clear and focused with additional energy. Even if it was just in my head, I didn’t care. I felt great!

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I’m pretty hooked at this point. I am stronger, leaner, and more muscular than I have ever been before in my life. I’ve had a total diet overhaul and am pushing myself harder than never before, but I really think the BCAAs have something to do with it. Even if it is just my mind telling my body to retain muscle mass and push me through 10 extra reps, those are results. I believe the mind has incredible control over the body and I’m more than willing to drink a relatively inexpensive sports drink if the possibility of benefits are there.

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Cellucor Alpha Amino:

  • $20.00 for 30 servings on Amazon (this price wasn’t available anymore last time I checked)
  • You can add as much or as little water as you want, so you can make it last a long time.
  • It tastes totally fine. Not great, but fine. Like watery Gatorade.
  • You MUST put it over ice. Otherwise it gets a weird metallic taste that’s super unpleasant. It’s possible that this is only an issue with the lemon-lime flavor. I haven’t tried any other.
  • A Blender Bottle is useful because it holds a lot of liquid and ice, but the powder dissolves immediately with just shaking and you could really use any cup with a lid.
  • It has zero calories and contains sucralose. I’m sensitive to sugar free sweeteners, they often make my stomach hurt or make me feel shaky.  This drink has never bothered me.
  • I like drinking it during a workout. It’s a nice change from water and keeps me hydrated.
  • I feel leaner and more muscular. I have more stamina while working out and an easier recovery afterwards. I have also been training harder and eating clean.

The takeaway: It might work, it might not. I couldn’t give less of a crap because I feel AMAZING.

*Do not use this product if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not use this product if you are currently taking nitrates for chest pain or if you are taking medication used to treat erectile dysfunction such as PDE-5 inhibitors.