Are BCAA’s Vegan? Should Vegans Take BCAA’s?

are bcaa's vegan

There are roughly 20 amino acids that make up the building blocks of protein in the human body, and nine of them are essential amino acids.

Since essential amino acids are not produced by the body you have to obtain them via your diet, and that either involves eating foods with an amino acid content, or taking a supplement.

Out of the nine essential amino acids, three of them are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s).

If you’re on a vegan diet, you can obtain these branched-chain amino acids from plant-based foods such as chickpeas, lentils, whole wheat, brown rice, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds.

However, if your goal is to acquire a BCAA supplement, keep in mind that not all BCAA supplements are vegan-friendly. 

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about vegan BCAAs.

What Are BCAA’s and How Do They Work?

BCAA’s essentially consist of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. 

The reason they’re named branched-chain amino acids is due to their chemical structure, as they’re the only amino acids to have a chain that branches off to one side.

They represent about 35-40% of all the essential amino acids in your body, and a good chunk can be found in your muscles.

Unlike other amino acids, BCAA’s are primarily broken down in the muscle and not the liver, which is why they’re believed to play a role in energy production amidst exercise.

Athletes take oral supplements of branched-chained amino acids to achieve different results, therefore, let’s have a look at the benefits BCAA’s can indubitably provide.

5 Proven Benefits of Taking BCAA’s

bcaa powder

Decrease Muscle Soreness

There is research available suggesting that BCAA’s help reduce muscle soreness after a workout.

The first time I’ve lifted weights, I’ve spent the following two days howling in pain and mind you, it was a leg workout — so it felt quite horrible.

This type of soreness has a name: delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and is developed 12-24 hours after your workout and can last up to 72 hours. The cause of this phenomenon is not exactly understood, but researchers believe it’s caused by tiny tears in the muscles.

Several studies suggest that BCAA decreases protein breakdown during exercise, as well as levels of creatine kinase, which is an indicator of muscle damage. [1, 2, 3]

Additionally, there is also a study where people taking a BCAA supplement experienced less DOMS and muscle fatigue compared to the placebo group. [4]

Therefore, yes, taking a BCAA supplement before exercising may speed up recovery time.

Increase Muscle Growth

The primary reason why people take BCAA supplements is to gain muscle.

It turns out that leucine (one of the branched-chain amino acids), activates a specific pathway in the body that stimulates protein synthesis, the process in which muscle is created. [5, 6]

For example, in one study people who consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs had a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis than those who’ve consumed a placebo drink. [7]

However, muscle protein synthesis was roughly 50% less than what was found in other studies where people consumed a whey protein shake containing a similar amount of BCAA’s. [8, 9]

Put simply, while taking BCAA’s can indeed help you build muscle, your body still requires all of the essential amino acids to do so more effectively.

Prevent Muscle Breakdown

An important aspect of building muscle is also preventing muscle breakdown.

This process occurs when protein breakdown exceeds muscle protein synthesis, and the balance between both determines the amount of protein in the muscles.

That is to say if the balance tips towards protein breakdown, then there’s no muscle growth.

Thankfully, several studies point to the fact that BCAA’s can prevent muscle breakdown, which often can be a sign of malnutrition, chronic infections, cancer, or a natural part of aging.

Reducing Exercise Fatigue

Experiencing fatigue or exhaustion at some point during a workout is normal.

But the velocity at which you tire out depends on several factors including exercise intensity, duration, your fitness level, nutrition, and even environmental conditions.

During exercise, your muscles use BCAA’s, causing a level decrease in the blood. Once the BCAA levels in the blood decrease, the levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan increase. [10]

In the brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which is a brain chemical that is associated with the development of fatigue during exercise. [11, 12, 13]

At the same time, certain studies show that a decrease in fatigue doesn’t necessarily lead to an improvement in physical performance. [14, 15]

Improve the Health of People With Liver Disease

Besides the benefits associated with fitness, there are some health benefits you can gain from actively ingesting BCAA’s.

According to several studies, BCAA’s may offer protection against liver cancer in people with liver cirrhosis. [16, 17As a result, BCAA’s are often recommended by scientific/medical authorities to prevent liver complications. [18, 19]

Why Aren’t All BCAA Supplements Vegan?

The reason why certain BCAA supplements aren’t vegan is twofold:

  1. Either the BCAA’s have been extracted from animal sources (since amino acids can be found in a wide range of animal proteins);
  2. Or the capsules (one of the available delivery forms) are made from gelatin, which is created from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of domesticated animals.

As such, you will want to find a supplement that contains BCAA’s extracted from plant-based sources, and choose a vegan-friendly delivery form.

If you prefer a more convenient way of taking supplements, Performance Lab has a super clean formula that is delivered using vegan-friendly capsules that are a healthier alternative to supplements that use a ton of fillers to provide their formulas with taste.

However, if you’re okay with diluting the powder in water and drink it, then Bulk Supplements offers an optimal powdered formula derived from corn.

Should Vegans Take BCAA’s?

Plant-based proteins contain amino acids, but there isn’t an individual plant-based ingredient that offers what’s called a complete amino acid profile.

This means you need a combination of different plant-based food sources to get all the different essential amino acids in your body. We know there are 9 essential amino acids, which means there are 9 amino acids that can’t be produced by our body.

And we know that to optimally increase muscle growth, we don’t just require the branched-chain amino acids, we need every amino acid component at our disposal. [8, 9]

This is, of course, assuming you’re planning to use BCAA’s in a fitness context, which is what the great majority of people do.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, BCAA supplements are only vegan if the branched-chain amino acids are NOT extracted from animal proteins, so this is something you need to consider when checking product labels in the future.

If there’s no mention of plant-based ingredients or the words “vegan” or “vegetarian”, then the supplement is likely to not be vegan.

Also, if the supplement you’re planning to purchase is delivered in capsule form, then you must ensure the capsules are gelatin-free.

BCAA supplements can be quite useful for anyone that wants to exercise more seriously, regardless of whether you’re vegan or not.

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About the Author: Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than three years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!