BCAA is an acronym for Branch Chain Amino Acids. There are more than 20 amino acids in existence and nine are considered “essential” because they cannot be internally produced and must be found in your diet. Amino acids are used by your body to produce protein. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are three of the nine essential amino acids which comprise BCAA formulas. BCAAs are found in muscles and are broken down in the muscle tissue of the body rather than in the liver like many other amino acids. Because of BCAAs relationship with muscle growth, they are a favorite supplement of athletes looking to boost energy and aid in muscle growth and recovery!
Though they exist in many different foods, BCAAs are found in relatively few plants, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise, given that plants aren’t typically known for their protein content. Also, keep in mind that just because a plant-based food does contain some amount of protein doesn’t mean that it automatically contains BCAAs; few plants are “complete” sources of protein, meaning those that contain all nine essential amino acids. Some of the plant-based foods that can offer you BCAAs include the following:
- Baked beans
- Whole wheat
- Pumpkin seeds
- Almonds and cashews
- Brown rice
While integrating any of these foods into your diet will mean you’re getting some BCAAs, keep in mind that using a supplement may be a more efficient method of obtaining these fitness-boosting nutrients. Granted, most supplements are made with animal products, but two of the aforementioned plant sources of BCAAs are widely used to make BCAA supplements: soy and corn. And while the former is a potential allergen for many people, a corn allergy is rare, so more people may be able to take advantage of corn-based BCAAs than those made from soy.
In addition to the obvious appeal to vegans and others who prefer to refrain from consuming animal products, plant-based BCCAs offer a few advantages over traditional supplements, such as whey. For instance, amino acid supplements can take effect much more quickly than those made from whole proteins, since they require far less digestion. Also, supplements made with BCAAs from plants are typically leaner than your average protein shake or powder; while most popular protein supplements contain significant amounts of calories and sugar.