There are many health benefits of BCAAs, and they’re not just for muscle growth. BCAAs have been shown to help with fat loss, while also promoting muscle growth and leading to a more stable blood sugar. To help you decide if BCAAs are right for you, check out this article, which discusses all the benefits of BCAAs.
An amino acid is a building block of protein, which is one of the three main nutrients found in the human body. Amino acids are consumed through food and drink, but they can also be found in supplements and protein powders. One of the most popular amino acids is BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids). While they have been shown to promote muscle recovery, they may also have other benefits for your body.
In this article, I will present my best research on the benefits of BCAAs. Before I get into that, I would like to thank my good friend Paul Swider for having the courage to pursue this topic. He is a master of the 3-day fast and, for quite some time, has been researching the topic of BCAAs. The information in this article is based off his research, so it is important for you to read it and see if you agree with my findings.
What are BCAAs? | Do BCAAs Work? | BCAAs vs. Whey Protein | BCAAs vs. EAAs | BCAAs vs. Food
The firm that offers BCAAs states, “Get ripped with BCAAs.”
“I used BCAAs and gained a lot more,” claims a gym-goer.
On Twitter, fit person states that taking BCAAs twice a day aids recovery.
With all the buzz, any muscle-conscious individual might be wondering: Should I be taking a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement!?
Except if you’re a molecular biologist specializing on muscle development. (That’s me, by the way.)
Alternatively, you could be Stuart Phillips, PhD, one of the world’s leading protein researchers. He is the chief investigator at McMaster University’s protein metabolism lab, one of the most productive protein metabolism labs in history, with over 250 research papers cited over 32,000 times.
People frequently use Dr. Phillips’ lab findings when making BCAA claims.
Dr. Phillips, on the other hand, does not suggest BCAA supplementation for any reason.
So why do so many people swear by BCAAs if THE expert on the subject doesn’t recommend them?
What other, less expensive alternatives could work equally as well or better?
Let’s have a look.
What are BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)?
Let’s speak about amino acids in general before we get into BCAAs.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the molecule. There are 20 distinct amino acids that are classified into three groups.
Essential amino acids, conditionally essential amino acids, and non-essential amino acids are the three types of amino acids.
Some amino acids can be produced by the body (known as “non-essential amino acids”), but others must be obtained through food. Essential amino acids are those that are required for life. The body can make conditionally essential amino acids in some circumstances, but not in others, such as after a strenuous workout or when you’re unwell.
BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are a subset of the three essential amino acids (EAAs):
Leucine is the most investigated of the three BCAAs, and it appears to provide the most physiological effect. It promotes muscle protein synthesis, which is the process by which muscle cells put amino acids together to form proteins. If you want to increase muscle strength and size, you must follow this procedure.
Dr. Phillips was one of several researchers around the turn of the 2000 who helped discover out that leucine was the star of the muscle-building show due to its stimulating effect on protein synthesis. 1-4
People in the muscle-building world were ecstatic when his and other research were published.
Their reasoning went something like this:
But don’t get too enthusiastic, muscle-building universe…
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Do BCAAs have any effect?
Probably not, for a variety of reasons. We’ll look at three of them right now.
The first reason is that leucine cannot develop muscle without the help of other amino acids.
As an example, consider muscle to be a brick wall.
Granted, this will be an uncommon wall that someone repeatedly constructs and deconstructs—but imagine a wall nonetheless.
Leucine is the most significant brick in the construction of the wall. It is required for the construction of the wall.
However, leucine cannot complete the task on its own. You’ll also need histidine, lysine, methionine, and a variety of other amino acid bricks.
What if all you have is a pile of leucine bricks? There is no barrier.
If you have a lot of leucine, isoleucine, and valine (BCAAs), what do you do? There is still no wall.
Each of the 20 amino acids must be represented by a brick.
In the end, you need all of the amino acids, not just leucine, to grow muscle.
Reason #2: Leucine isn’t as effective as lighter fluid.
People mistakenly believe that the more leucine you consume (from BCAAs, EAAs, or total protein), the more protein synthesis you will experience. More protein synthesis equates to larger muscles.
Baby, get those muscles going!
Dr. Phillips explains that the mechanism is more like a dimmer switch.
Leucine increases protein synthesis temporarily, but not continuously.
It doesn’t keep turning up the lights until it’s just you and the sun hanging out at the gym, growing incomparably more swole.
Here’s how it works in practice:
Leucine, at the amount of 0.5 grams, turns on the lights, causing muscle protein synthesis to begin. That much can be found in an egg—or any other item with at least 5 grams of complete protein. 4
Your wattage will peak at roughly 2-3 grams of leucine, while the actual amount will depend on your gender, body size, and age. 4-6 Approximately that much can be found in a meal containing 20-30 grams of complete protein, such as:
- 3 to 4 oz. of meat
- 3-5 eggs
- 1-2 cups cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
In conclusion, leucine increases muscle protein synthesis, but only to a certain extent.
Reason #3: BCAAs do not travel directly from the mouth to the muscles.
They must first pass through your intestines and into your bloodstream. (And a lot of people don’t.)
Amino acids compete with one another to get into the bloodstream through tiny doors called transporters. They can also only use the doors that correspond to their amino acid type. If you take a BCAA supplement and flood your GI tract with single amino acids, the doors intended for single amino acids will become clogged. They end up in your toilet instead of your bloodstream.
What about those that do make it into the bloodstream? They must still find a way into your muscles. (Again, many others do not.)
This is due to the fact that leucine can only enter a muscle cell if another amino acid (glutamine) is exiting the muscle at the same moment. If you have a lot of leucine but not enough glutamine, leucine will either not go into the muscle cell at all or will do so slowly.
To summarize, glutamine is required for leucine to enter muscle cells properly.
Which is better: BCAAs, whey protein, EAAs, or food?
Let’s start with the facts, as stated in Dr. Phillips’ email to me when I informed him of this story: “BCAAs are a waste of money… “That very well sums up my position.”
This is why:
Spend your money on Essential Amino Acids if you wish to supplement (EAAs). To create muscle, you need all of the EAAs, not just leucine.
However, EAA supplements aren’t required for the majority of people. And they might not be better than… food. The truth is that we don’t fully comprehend the complexities of amino acid and other nutritional interactions in the body. The ratio of amino acids is likely to be more essential than the absolute amount of a single amino acid or vitamin.
Fortunately, we developed eating entire foods that are likely to provide the ratios we require to function well.
To put it another way, the ideal “supplement” would be the one you cut with a knife, spear with a fork, and mash between your molars before ingesting.
The most important source of amino acids
All of the amino acids that most individuals require for muscle building can be found in yogurt, chicken, rice with beans, and other protein-rich foods. They’re also less expensive than supplements.
The approach of “simply eat real food” will work for you if:
You’re ready, willing, and able to consume protein-rich foods all day. A daily protein intake of 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight is shown to promote muscular building. Protein should be distributed throughout the day, with an intake of 0.4-0.6 g/kg every meal (assuming you eat about 3-4 meals per day). Use our macros calculator to get customized protein recommendations depending on your sex, age, and body size.
You are under the age of 65. When you’re younger, it takes less protein to drive protein synthesis, making it relatively easy to get all you need from eating.
The second most abundant source of amino acids
Let’s imagine that eating 1-2 protein pieces per meal seems improbable. In that scenario, you should:
The next best option is whey protein.
When compared to other protein powders, whey contains the highest leucine and EAAs per scoop, as shown in the chart below. 8,4
The Leucine Amino Acid Reference Ratio (Leu AARR) compares the amounts of leucine in different protein sources. The higher the number, the more leucine a protein powder contains in this situation.
(To see how these products compare, see “How to Choose the Best Protein Powder.”)
Whey protein is an excellent choice for:
People who aren’t fond of protein-rich foods. If you’re not sure if this is you, make a list of everything you’ve eaten in the last several days. Then take note of how many palm-sized amounts of protein you consume per meal. If you’re not receiving at least 1-2 palms of protein per meal, whey protein might be your savior.
You’re attempting to lose weight, but you’re starving. To keep the growlies at bay, make a simple whey protein shake on a regular basis—it’ll only cost you a few calories.
You’re 65 years old or older. As we become older, our protein requirements increase. At the same time, some older persons may have a decrease in appetite or difficulty swallowing and digesting specific protein foods. All of this makes getting enough protein solely from diet more difficult.
You’re attempting to build muscle while shedding weight. When people gain lean mass (which includes muscle), they usually gain a little fat as well. On the other hand, when people lose fat, they also lose muscle.
(No one has ever claimed that life is fair.)
However, evidence suggests that if you eat extra protein while decreasing calories, you may be able to minimize muscle loss. 9
Whey protein has a low calorie content when compared to steak, making it easy to increase your protein intake without increasing your calorie intake.
Whey is a wonderful protein source to add to the roster if you’re older or want to enhance protein consumption in a simple, calorie-conscious approach.
The third most abundant source of amino acids
For the vast majority of people, whole foods or whey protein provide all of their nutritional requirements.
EAAs, on the other hand, might be a beneficial choice if:
You’re a competitor who has to lose weight for a competition. Whey protein is low in calories. However, in those rare instances when every calorie counts, EAAs may be a better option, as they give your muscles with the necessary building blocks while consuming very little calories.
Protein powders are too much for you. Whey and other protein powders might be difficult to digest for some people. It’s also possible that they’re allergic to dairy. EAAs may be a better alternative in those situations.
You aren’t bothered by the taste of EAAs. They’re abrasive, to say the least.
When is the best time to eat protein? Is it better to eat before, during, or after you exercise?
Perhaps you’ve heard that you should eat protein shortly after a workout to take advantage of what’s known as “the anabolic window.”
However, this is a misunderstanding of the research.
Yes, exercise increases the sensitivity of muscles to protein production. To put it another way, the anabolic window exists. However, that window remains wide open for an extended period of time. You’ll be well within it if you eat within two to four hours following your workout.
Unless they’re fasting, most people will eat within four hours of a workout.
Bottom line: BCAAs aren’t generally worth it.
Even after reading this, you might still want to give BCAAs a try. Or perhaps you have a client who is eager to try something new.
Because the greatest way to figure out whether something works or not for you is to try it out.
If you really, really want to try BCAAs, here’s how to do it.
Decide on a few metrics to track before you begin. You could take the following measurements:
- Before and after meals, rate your appetite on a scale of 1 to 10.
- Measurements of weight or girth
- At the gym, power / strength output
Make a note of your starting point (s).
Then go ahead and start supplementing with BCAAs.
Check in again after a few weeks. What are your thoughts? What progress have you made so far? Is the supplement assisting you? Have you seen a change?
If that’s the case, keep doing what’s working.
If not, that is valuable information that may help you save money.
To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.
1. Delcastillo K, Van Every DW, Tipton KD, Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Plotkin DL, Delcastillo K, Van Every DW, Tipton KD, Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Supplementing with Isolated Leucine and Branched-Chain Amino Acids for Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review 2021 Mar 18;1–10. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab.
Leucine-enriched nutrients and the control of mammalian target of rapamycin signaling and human skeletal muscle protein synthesis, Drummond MJ, Rasmussen BB. 2008 May;11(3):222–6 in Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care.
3. Churchward-Venne TA, Burd NA, Mitchell CJ, West DWD, Philp A, Marcotte GR, et al. Churchward-Venne TA, Burd NA, Mitchell CJ, West DWD, Philp A, Marcotte GR, et al. Effects of supplementing a low protein diet with leucine or essential amino acids on myofibrillar protein synthesis in men at rest and after resistance exercise. 590(11):2751–65. J Physiol. 2012 Jun 1;590(11):2751–65.
4. Phillips SM. The impact of protein quality on the promotion of resistance exercise-induced changes in muscle mass. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2106 Sep 29;13(64). Available from: https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12986-016-0124-8
5. Hamarsland H, Nordengen AL, Nyvik Aas S, Holte K, Garthe I, Paulsen G, et al. Hamarsland H, Nordengen AL, Nyvik Aas S, Holte K, Garthe I, Paulsen G, et al. A randomized controlled research found that native whey protein with high quantities of leucine produces equivalent post-exercise muscle anabolic responses as ordinary whey protein. 2017 Nov 21;14:43 in J Int Soc Sports Nutr. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0202-y/s12970-017-0202-y/s12970-017-0202-y/s12970-017-0202-y/s The article can be found at https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0202-y.
6. Moore, D.R., The Case for Relative Protein Intakes in Maximizing Post-Exercise Anabolism. 2019 Sep 10;6:147. Front Nutr.
Diet-induced alterations in plasma amino acid pattern: impact on large neutral amino acid absorption and brain serotonin production, Fernstrom JD. 1979;(15):55–67 in J Neural Transm Suppl.
8. Gorissen SHM, Crombag JJR, Senden JMG, Waterval WAH, Bierau J, Verdijk LB, et al. Gorissen SHM, Crombag JJR, Senden JMG, Waterval WAH, Bierau J, Verdijk LB, et al. Commercially accessible plant-based protein isolates’ protein concentration and amino acid composition. 2018 Dec;50(12):1685–95 in Amino Acids.
Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM, Longland TM, Oikawa SY, Mitchell CJ, Devries MC, Phillips SM, Longland TM, Oikaw During an energy deficit mixed with vigorous exercise, higher dietary protein promotes greater lean mass increase and fat mass loss, according to a randomized experiment. 2016 Mar;103(3):738–46. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):738–46.
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BCAAs are branched chain amino acids, which are a type of amino acid used by the body for building muscle mass. There are three types of BCAAs: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Leucine is the most important of the three, since it is the key building block for muscle mass. The other two can be useful, but they’re not necessary.. Read more about what do bcaas do and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are BCAAs good everyday?
BCAAs are good for anyone who is looking to build muscle.
Why are BCAAs bad for you?
BCAAs are bad for you because they can cause muscle cramps, dehydration and diarrhea.
Are BCAAs a waste of money?
BCAAs are a waste of money if youre not using them in conjunction with other supplements. They are an essential part of any diet, but theyre not the only thing thats important.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- bcaas benefits
- bcaa side effects
- bcaas side effects
- when to take bcaas