For the most part, the fitness supplement industry is built upon a foundation of anecdotal “bro science”, or very poorly interpreted scientific data at best. One of the biggest rip offs within the supplementation world is the idea that BCAAs are integral to a muscle-building workout program. While admittedly there are no downsides to consuming BCAAs, there are no benefits to either the increase of muscle protein synthesis or the suppression of muscle protein breakdown. In layman’s terms: don’t waste your money on an overpriced supplement that has not been shown to increase or preserve muscle mass. With that said, here are the two main reasons why BCAAs are a bust.
1. The BCAAs, or branch chained amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. All three of these amino acids play a role in triggering muscle protein synthesis, with leucine in particular having the strongest effect. Coincidentally, all three of these BCAAs are found in any complete protein source. Leucine intake and muscle protein synthesis do not go up in a linear fashion; in other words, you only need the small amount of BCAAs found in regular meat, dairy, and soy products in order to achieve the maximum muscle building effect. The ingestion of additional BCAAs in supplement form do not result in additional muscle building gains. The caveat here is that there are many cases in which supplementary BCAAs may help vegans or vegetarians gain muscle, but that’s a rabbit hole we can explore another time.
2. Many people take BCAAs to dampen the muscle degradation effects of exercise. During exercise, the body may oxidize a small amount of intramuscular BCAAs to fuel exercise. But ingesting BCAAs during a workout result in increased levels of BCAAs within the blood, not necessarily increased levels in the muscle. Reduction in protein breakdown during exercise is best achieved by consuming small amounts of carbohydrate so that the body can use its’ favoured fuel source (i.e. glucose) instead of protein.
Please do not fall into the trap of letting expert marketing with poor exercise physiology knowledge fool you into buying supplements you do not need. BCAAs may be helpful for vegans and vegetarians, but for the average Joe or Jane who trains consistently and consumes complete sources of protein, BCAAs won’t do a damn thing for you but hurt the wallet. If you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond for any of your personal training needs.
Pat Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond