BCAAs for Women: Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, and More

January 3, 2024

The statement, "Women are not small men" may seem obvious, but the current body of research in exercise science reveals a shocking underrepresentation of women. In a comprehensive analysis of over 1,300 studies, researchers found that, on average, only 35-37% of participants were female. Even more alarming, a mere 8% of published studies exclusively focus on women, often prioritizing aspects like pregnancy, menopause, or reproductive diseases over performance (1, 2). 

In this blog, I dive into all things branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and even a study focused solely on how BCAAs affect women! Let’s get into it.

What Are BCAAs?

Before digging into the specifics of BCAAs for women, let’s start with the basics. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Of the 20 amino acids, nine are considered essential. 

Three essential amino acids—valine, leucine, and isoleucine—have a unique branched-chain chemical configuration and account for as much as 1/3 of muscle tissue (3). They’re essential because your body can’t make them, so they must be obtained from food, supplementation, or a combination of both. High-protein foods such as grass-fed beef and eggs are excellent dietary sources of BCAAs.

They are also unique in their metabolism: Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are not mainly metabolized in the liver, like most amino acids are. Instead, they travel directly to skeletal muscle, where they are broken down to create new proteins or used to make glucose, which can stabilize blood sugar levels.

So why should women, in particular, take BCAAs? There are five core reasons…all revealed in the next section.

5 Reasons Why Women Should Take BCAAs

BCAAs are popular supplements in endurance and strength sports. Research suggests they can aid in muscle building after resistance exercise, prevent fatigue during long-duration aerobic exercise, and reduce exercise-related muscle soreness.

But there are other benefits, too. Here’s a closer look at each one…

1. Helps With Muscle Growth

Many people reach for BCAAs because they are linked with increased muscle growth when combined with regular resistance exercise. 

Specifically, research has found that the BCAA, leucine, activates a pathway in the body that stimulates the creation of new muscle tissue (4).

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In one study, people who consumed a drink with 5.6 grams of BCAAs after their resistance workout had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis (the process of producing new muscle) than those who consumed a placebo drink (5).

However, it should be noted that while BCAAs can increase muscle protein synthesis, you need more than BCAAs to build muscle protein. There are six other essential amino acids (histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan) you must consume so that your body can make protein. That said, including other protein sources in your diet is crucial (6, 7).

A woman pouring a scoop of NativePath Native Hydrate into a water bottle

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Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop. 

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2. Helps Reduce Fatigue

BCAAs have the potential to not only alleviate muscle soreness caused by exercise but also to combat exercise-induced fatigue. Fatigue and exhaustion are inevitable during workouts, influenced by exercise intensity, duration, environmental conditions, nutrition, and fitness level. (8).

Your muscles use BCAAs during exercise, causing levels in your blood to decrease. When blood levels of BCAAs decline, levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in your brain increase (9). In your brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a brain chemical thought to contribute to the development of fatigue during exercise (10).

In two studies, participants who supplemented with BCAAs experienced reduced fatigue, improving performance (11, 12).

3. Aids in Post-Exercise Recovery

In addition to boosting your workouts, BCAAs can support post-exercise recovery by reducing muscle soreness.

After a workout, it's typical to encounter muscle soreness, commonly referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Although the precise cause of DOMS remains somewhat elusive, it’s believed to stem from microscopic tears in the muscle fibers resulting from resistance exercise (13).

Researchers in a study involving 12 untrained women examined the effects of incorporating BCAAs into a high-volume squat exercise protocol. The protocol consisted of 7 sets of 20 reps with 30 seconds of rest between sets. Over three days, the women reported their muscle soreness and measured their muscle force output. 

The results revealed that those who had consumed BCAAs experienced significantly lower levels of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and a lesser decline in force output from their leg muscles (14).

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That said, taking BCAAs may help to reduce the damage caused to the muscle tissue during exercise and, therefore, reduce the symptoms of DOMS (15).

4. Can Boost Your Metabolism

Research has long supported the notion that a high-protein diet can enhance metabolic rate and aid in weight loss, particularly in individuals who are overweight or obese. Recent studies have taken this a step further, suggesting that a high-protein diet rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) could amplify fat loss, improve metabolic function, and enhance body composition (16).

It's worth noting that women typically have a slower metabolic rate compared to men due to variations in body size and composition, as well as hormonal differences. Men naturally possess higher levels of muscle mass, which contributes to a faster metabolism. Therefore, women who want to increase their metabolic rate can achieve this by promoting muscle growth with BCAAs and, as a result, improving fat loss.

By optimizing protein intake and strategically incorporating BCAAs, you can leverage these findings to maximize your weight loss and metabolic goals.

5. Helps with Balancing Hormones

Furthermore, recent studies have indicated that incorporating BCAAs into a woman's diet may contribute to balancing hormones. Research suggests that BCAAs can potentially elevate leptin and adiponectin levels, key hormones in regulating metabolism and body weight (17, 18).

Leptin, a crucial hormone, regulates appetite, while adiponectin aids in utilizing fat as energy. Additionally, BCAAs may enhance glucagon production, which is vital in balancing blood sugar levels that influence hunger and cravings. 

When Should I Take BCAAs?

Research on the optimal timing of BCAA intake is limited, but here's the deal: It might not make a significant difference whether you take BCAA supplements before, during, or after exercise. So you don't have to stress about timing them precisely to get all the benefits.

Personally, I tend to take them after my workouts to help me replenish fluids faster.

While there is no official recommended dosage of BCAAs, a general rule of thumb for women is 9 grams per day. This is sufficient to produce desirable effects while preventing adverse side effects. However, the dose may differ slightly depending on body mass, activity level, and dietary intake.

A woman pouring a scoop of NativePath Native Hydrate into a water bottle

75% of Americans Are Dehydrated

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop. 

Add to Cart

Should I Take BCAAs If I Don’t Workout?

Can you take amino acids without working out? The answer is (a conditional) yes.

For most people, there isn’t much of a downside to taking BCAAs without working out. After all, these are substances that the body needs, and in moderate doses, they shouldn’t produce any adverse reactions, provided you don’t have a condition that affects how your body processes amino acids. 

However, it is crucial to remember one important point: Taking BCAAs without engaging in exercise will not yield the same benefits as consuming them before, during, or after a workout. 

This is due to the body's shifting priorities during exercise. The physical stresses of a workout cause muscle cells to tear or break down for energy. In response, the body produces new muscle tissue to repair and strengthen the affected areas, a process that demands substantial resources.

This is where amino acids play a pivotal role…

BCAAs assist in providing the necessary nutrients to the body to create new muscle cells, aiding in the reversal of exercise-induced damage. This leads to the desirable effects of amino acid supplementation. That said, the expected effects of BCAAs may only be observed by engaging in physical activity.

Are There Side Effects to Taking BCAAs?

Currently, there are no known significant adverse effects of taking BCAAs.

However, they may interfere with your sleep. BCAAs can suppress the release of serotonin, which is typically elevated following exercise. Serotonin is involved in sleep regulation, so taking BCAAs late at night could make it harder to drift off.

As always, you should consult your healthcare provider before adding any new supplement to your routine.

Can I Take BCAAs While Breastfeeding or Pregnant?

It’s best to refrain from taking amino acids while breastfeeding or pregnant. More research needs to be done to confirm whether they are safe.

The limited research on their use during pregnancy reveals concerns about how amino acids like isoleucine can interfere with the hormones and affect fetal and placental growth (19). 

A Closer Look At Native Hydrate

A convenient way to get 2,000 mg of BCAAs in just one serving is our Native Hydrate drink mix. In addition to BCAAs, it combines 14 vitamins and minerals and all nine essential amino acids, making it the perfect way to maintain hydration, energy, and muscle health.

Simply add one scoop to 12-16 ounces of filtered water and enjoy!

A woman pouring a scoop of NativePath Native Hydrate into a water bottle

Hydrate Smarter, Not Harder

Native Hydrate is a zero-sugar electrolyte and BCAA drink mix that combines 14 vitamins and minerals, all 9 essential amino acids, and 2,000 mg of BCAAs into one convenient scoop. 

Add to Cart
Kat Kennedy
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Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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