wish I could get back the money for all the BCAA tablets & powders I’ve gone through over the Years,
There are some positives though, because, from my stupid mistakes, I can hopefully get this article across to you so you don’t make the same ones.
No matter how much your friends tell you they’re the ‘be-all and end-all’ followed by all the hype from Marketing companies; this article will help you see things from an evidence-based perspective, so let’s dive in.
(This article goes hand in hand with this article here on everything Protein so if you haven’t read that yet, it could be handy to do so first, as it’s a precursor to this one)
Dummies Guide to BCAA’s
If you’re lost as to what BCAA’s actually are, (if you know this, just skip to the next heading) they’re short for ‘Branched Chain Amino Acids’.
Amino Acids are basically the building blocks of Protein, and there are 9 essential amino acids that you need to survive & thrive. (There’s 20 amino acids in total, 9 essential, 11 non-essential)
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) are a group of 3, out of the 9 essentials you need.
I won’t dive too much more into this, but in a basic nutshell, BCAA’s are made up of;
(Image courtesy of askthetrainer.com)
Leucine is seen as the key player here as it directly stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis (1), hence why I used to gulp down plain Leucine powder that tasted disgusting 😂
Thing is, all 20 amino acids are required to make muscle protein (9,10). Plus, taking amino acids in there ‘free form’ (as supplement) are not as efficiently used by the body compared to amino acids from whole proteins (11), but for now, this is all you need to know, I don’t need to bore you with more Science-y stuff, so let’s move on to what will benefit you the most.
Why They’re Popular
Firstly, I’m quoting the article I linked at the start on Leucine. This is what we already know;
“To maximise the anabolic response (Muscle Protein Synthesis being maxed) we need 2.5-3g of the branched chain amino acid: Leucine, because anymore isn’t necessary.” (2)
Hence why BCAA’s are so popular, the thinking goes, “If I keep topping up with a BCAA drink in between workouts and throughout the day – the potential to Build More Muscle goes up.”
But we also know that with:
“Muscle Protein Synthesis ‘dropping’ off after 2-3 hours, it’s probably best to space meals 4-6hours apart. So here, just spread out your daily Protein intake over 3-5 meals.”
This isn’t mentioning the marketing side of it all either, where companies back up their claims with studies that are biased & highly flawed. However, this is another article in itself I was to get into those details, but I’ll still reference some studies below if you want to see them for yourself.
(Marketing claims example; image courtesy of projectlifemastery.com)
Here’s a few of the proposed Benefits from BCAA supplements;
- Improving your Immune system (3)
- Post Exercise Muscle Growth (4)
- Reduced Fatigue (5)
- Preserving Muscle Mass & Losing more fat (6) ~ Again this study was highly flawed.
It all sounds convincing, doesn’t it? Plus, let’s be honest, it sounds ‘cool’ to think that if you drink this coloured drink between workouts, you’ll get better Muscle Gain Results.
Again, it’s people falling for the shiny things like I’ve done numerous times over the years.
It’s not magic fairy dust, no matter what Fitness person you follow that drinks and promotes BCAA’s tells you. (Usually, it’s because they’re sponsored athletes, which means; they make money from promoting this stuff.)
What you can do Instead (& Save your Money 💵)
If you’re getting in ‘enough’ Protein spaced 4-6 Hours apart, 3-5 times a day; you’re BCAA needs are covered. A high protein diet contains a high content of BCAA’s; i.e: most protein-rich foods contain around 15-25% of BCAA’s already (9);
- 30 g of whey protein powder usually gives 5.5 g
- 5 Eggs give 6.5 g
- 150 g Salmon gives 5.5 g
Now, if you’re struggling to get in these sources through food, that’s why Whey Protein Powder is so handy. Again, that’ll cover all your BCAA needs, as it’s the same thing.
So, instead of blowing €20-50 a Month on BCAA’s, Whey Protein is a much smarter option.
(Image courtesy of bodybuilding.com)
Not rocket science is it? And that’s what 99% of you reading this article will need to know.
Are there any benefits involved to BCAA’s?
Where BCAA’s could Potentially be used
There are some potential benefits out there with ‘proper’ science behind it all, but again, you could STILL just take some Whey Protein:
- Reducing Fatigue in sports like handball & co-ordination (7)
(Hurling Anyone? If you’re not Irish, google ‘Hurling’ to see what game this is)
- Delay fatigue when you’re doing fasted training (on an empty stomach) in terms of Aerobic Exercise, but again, this only seems beneficial if you’re ‘Glycogen depleted’. Or in English, you’re on a low-calorie/low-carbohydrate diet. (8)
BUT, again, as I’ve said above – you could still just take Whey Protein & Save your money! Or, get in adequate protein from real food across the day.
- In my opinion, backed with the latest evidence out there on BCAA’s, they’re just not worth the money.
- An adequate diet consisting of enough Protein renders BCAA’s pretty much useless.
- If you struggle to eat enough Protein across the day (which is most people’s downfall), getting a standard Whey Protein is a no-brainer most of the time.
That’s it really, if you’ve any questions, I’d love to hear them or if there are any other topics you want to see covered on this website, don’t be afraid to send me a message here over on Instagram.
If you’re a regular reader here or if this is your first time, thank you for reading this far, hopefully it’s been some help to you 🙂
The ‘tell it as it is’ guide so you can lose your first kilo without restricting yourself.
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- Kimball, R, S. & Jefferson, L.S. (2006) ‘Signalling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis.’ Journal of Nutrition, January 2006 vol. 136 no. 1 227S-231S: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16365087
- Lennon, D. (2016) ‘Sigma Nutrition Weekend’, www.sigmanutrition.com
- Calder, PC. (2006) ‘Branched-chain amino acids and immunity.’ Journal of Nutrition, 2006 Jan;136: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16365100
- Blomstrand et. al. (2006) ‘Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise.’ Journal of Nutrition, 2006 Jan;136: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16365096
- Meeusen, R. & Watson, P. (2007) ‘Amino acids and the brain: do they play a role in “central fatigue”?’ Int .J. Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 2007 Aug;17 Suppl:S37-46: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18577773
- Mourier et. al. (1997) ‘Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers.’ Int. Journal Sports Medicine, 1997 Jan;18(1):47-55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9059905
- Chang et. al (2015) ‘Branched-chain amino acids and arginine improve performance in two consecutive days of simulated handball games in male and female athletes: a randomized trial.’ PLOS One, 2015 Mar 24;10(3): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25803783
- Gualano et. al. (2011) ‘Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion.’ Journal of Sports Medicine Physical Fitness, 2011 Mar;51(1):82 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21297567
- Dieter, B.P, Schoenfeld, B.J, Aragon, A.A. (2016) ‘The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction.’ Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition2016 13:21. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0128-9
- Wolfe, R. (2017) ‘Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?’ Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017, 14:30. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9
- Hulmi, et. al. (2010) ‘Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein.’ Nutrition & Metabolism 2010, 7:51. https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-7-51