BCAAs: Worth it or not?

BCAAs: Worth it or not?

Article Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

As a reader, you may be dubious about a supplement company providing information about the efficacy of supplements, and you should be! Receiving information from a source with a potentially biased opinion is generally bad practice. However, I hope that when you read our articles, you gain a sense that we do not want you to purchase a product that does not benefit your athletic performance.


Are BCAAs woth it or not?

So, to answer the question, are BCAAs worth it or not? The short answer is no. I know this may come as a surprise to hear given their prevalence on the market and how they are a staple in the catalogue of almost all major supplement companies. When purchasing supplements, we strongly recommend you do your research and only spend your money on those that are scientifically proven to work. However, if you’re looking to save some time scouring through journal articles, you can visit our article here that breaks down which supplements offer the most bang for your buck.

What is a BCAA?

To understand why BCAAs may not be the best choice, it helps to understand exactly what a BCAA is. BCAA stands for branched-chain amino acid. An amino acid is a monomer (a single unit) of a protein molecule. The branched-chain aspect of the name refers to the specific structure of the side chain of the amino acid. So what makes BCAAs special? The three BCAAs—leucine, valine, and isoleucine have a potent ability (particularly leucine) to activate muscle protein synthesis (the process in which muscle tissue is formed). Specifically, this happens through the activation of a signaling process within the muscle cell known as mTOR. This signaling process tells the nucleus of the cell to synthesize new muscle proteins.


Why aren't BCAAs effective?

So far, BCAAs sound great, right? They activate muscle protein synthesis, and you may think that the more BCAAs, the more muscle protein synthesis and the more muscle! Unfortunately, although this line of thinking has led to BCAAs becoming a highly used supplement, this methodology is flawed. Although BCAAs do activate muscle protein synthesis, the process cannot take place without a full spectrum of amino acids (1). This is why we need to consume dietary protein, as most proteins contain all of the essential amino acids necessary for the maintenance, repair, and growth of muscle tissue. Most high-quality protein sources are abundant in BCAAs, and therefore, we recommend that you focus on consuming high-quality proteins and avoid wasting money on BCAAs.


Do BCAAs have other benefits?

Many BCAA products make claims about their exercise performance benefits; however, there is a lack of evidence for performance benefits. While BCAAs have been marketed for their ability to improve exercise performance and reduce fatigue, the scientific evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive. Furthermore, research has not demonstrated any significant effect on muscle soreness and recovery post-exercise (2).


What about BCAAs for intra-workout nutrition?

BCAAs have commonly been used during workouts to offset muscle protein breakdown. They are often included in an intra-workout drink along with highly branched cyclic dextrin (a modified, rapidly digesting carbohydrate that provides a stable release of glucose into the bloodstream). However, due to the previous reasons discussed, the addition of BCAAs is still relatively ineffective during intra-workout nutrition. However, what is worthwhile is an essential amino acid supplement, which, unlike BCAAs, contains all of the essential amino acids and can contribute to combating muscle protein catabolism during prolonged training. The advantage of an essential amino acid supplement during training is that a full protein beverage can be tough to digest mid-workout.

 

References:

1) Wolfe R. R. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 30.

2) VanDusseldorp, T. A., Escobar, K. A., Johnson, K. E., Stratton, M. T., Moriarty, T., Cole, N., McCormick, J. J., Kerksick, C. M., Vaughan, R. A., Dokladny, K., Kravitz, L., & Mermier, C. M. (2018). Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Recovery Following Acute Eccentric Exercise. Nutrients10(10), 1389.

 

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