Verdict: Useful Or Not? The Controversial Truth About BCAA's

On the topic of its usefulness, the jury is sitting between a solid divide when it comes to BCAA’s (or Branched-Chain Amino Acids) and their effectiveness. Some swear by it and say that they are an excellent supplement for muscle building or muscle retention (depending on whether you are building or cutting). Others say that they are garbage and a complete waste of time and money. 

When it comes to the studies and evidence on BCAA’s and whether they are a good tool to use for muscle gain in and of themselves, the data leans toward the idea that they are not too particularly useful. However, evidence shows that BCAA’s are extremely helpful for diets that lack vital amino acid profiles or components (such as vegan diets as well as a few variations of vegetarian diets too), and can help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle when people who live these kinds of lifestyles try to build muscle.

That being said, a US study has shown that BCAA’s most definitely help in a different way with regards to muscle. In this study, BCAA’s played an integral role in helping individuals when it came to keeping and maintaining lean body mass (such as lean muscle, of course) while in a calorie deficit[1]. In other words, BCAA’s demonstrate a much better and clearer capacity for muscle as a recovery and maintenance agent than they do as muscle builders. 

In a myriad of studies, the following has been noted:

  • The intake of BCAA’s dramatically increases muscle protein synthesis after a workout, especially due to the BCAA Leucine content found inside[2]. It must be noted that muscle protein synthesis does not necessarily mean overall muscle growth. One must also take muscle protein breakdown into account and the rate of that vs the rate of muscle protein synthesis. More is not always better in this case and it does not mean that the more you take, the more you will grow. There is an upper threshold and other factors come into play as well such as calorie counts, internal hormone production, etc. Your best bet here is to use BCAA’s at critical moments to curb the rate of muscle protein breakdown to prevent MPB (muscle protein breakdown) from exceeding MPS (muscle protein synthesis).
  • BCAA’s exhibit a noticeable difference in muscle soreness and recovery time. Some studies have even gone to show that taking BCAA’s before training can help with muscle soreness[1]. A lot of people suffer from extreme levels of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and this results in increasing levels of perceived fatigue and consequent demotivation to train. BCAA’s help ease these feelings of soreness and fatigue, allowing an individual to have better levels of motivation and readiness to train more regularly and consistently.
  • BCAA’s improve strength and recovery after training. This would result in you being able to recover sooner and being able to train harder for your subsequent sessions[2]. You have to note that during a cutting phase (and most especially during contest prep) that this would be extremely beneficial due to the prolonged exposure of sitting in the calorie deficit needed to get stage ready. Anabolic hormone levels would be sitting rather low at this point as well. Therefore, sufficient BCAA intake would aid with muscle recovery and retention. 

Now the most notable benefit from taking BCAA’s is that, if taken between meals as a timing agent, muscle protein synthesis is extended from when you have your meals[3]. In other words, muscle protein synthesis is an important occurrence that results in our bodies using protein to recover muscle tissue. It spikes when we eat meals (which generally have a protein source) and dips soon after. By taking BCAA’s between meals, you can extend the period of muscle protein synthesis and keep your body in a prolonged state of recovery. This is a pretty awesome benefit if you are a competing athlete since you are obviously looking to hold onto as much muscle as possible during your prep.

When it comes to how you dose BCAA’s while trying to use it in this timely way, this is how one should go about taking your BCAA’s if you would like these prolonged recovery effects: 

  • Consume 0.03-0.05g of BCAA’s/kg of lean body mass in between meals (ideally one serving in a period somewhere between one hour after having a meal and an hour before the next meal).[4]

The take home message here is that BCAA’s are indeed useful. Maybe not in the ways you may have previously believed or expected but they are definitely not a waste of your money or a useless take of space on shelves. They serve a rather favourable and valuable purpose and anyone who is serious about their physique and fitness journey would benefit greatly from their effects when used correctly. Furthermore, people who are missing key leucine-containing components from their diets (vegans, vegetarians, or people on low protein diets) should invest in adding BCAA’s into their monthly supplement stack. This will help them move further along with their goals and progress in a smoother and more efficient way.  


SUGGESTED SUPPLEMENTS


NutraBio BCAA 5000

BCAA 5000 is NUTRABIO's anabolic matrix that combines the powerful muscle regenerating benefits of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs).


TNT Mercury BCAA 3:1:1

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) are essential to the human body and critical for muscle hypertrophy (growth) and maintenance.


Nutritech BCAA 4000

NutriTech’s BCAA 4000 has been specifically formulated to maintain muscle tissue and preserve glycogen stores in muscle tissue. BCAAs are the amino acids that are primarily responsible for protein synthesis.


 References:

[1] “In a single-blind, matched group design: branched-chain amino acids…” 31 Jul, 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313152/.

[2] “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle…” 7 Jun, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5461297/.

[3] “Effect of BCAA supplement timing on exercise-induced muscle…” 22 Sep, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28944645.

[4] “The effects of acute Branch-Chained Amino Acids on…” 27 Jan, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28177706.

[5] “Leucine or carbohydrate supplementation reduces AMPK and…” 11 Jul, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21917636.

[6] L. Norton, PhD, et al. 2018. The Complete Contest Prep Guide.

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