The Truth About BCAAs: Do you really need them?

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Today the team put together a quick fact sheet on a supplement that almost every athlete and lifter has taken at some point. This is a great example of how utilizing the research to provide simple guidelines that you can then interpret to decide if the supplement is worth your money. Enjoy!

What are BCAAs?

A BCAA is a branched chain amino acid. There are three amino acids with branched chains: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine positively and potently influences muscle protein synthesis while isoleucine increases glucose uptake into the muscle cells.

The three BCAAs earned their fame by promoting muscle growth and speeding up recovery when taken orally. They have been a consistent presence on the supplement market, sold alongside protein supplements and other amino acids like glutamine.

What do they do?

Studies have shown that BCAAs do work. These studies involve two groups of participants, one given BCAAs and the other a placebo. Short term biomarkers of muscle growth are noted, and subjects are asked to rate their perceived fatigue and soreness over the next few days.

These studies have found evidence that muscle protein synthesis is higher in the presence of BCAAs in the body, compared to a placebo. Most subjects also report less muscle soreness the day after exercise.

There have been studies to assess the ability of BCAAs to improve endurance, but endurance-enhancing effects tend to occur in athletes under a lot of cognitive stress. Anti-fatigue effects are more likely due to cognitive improvement, rather than muscle metabolism. BCAAs may be useful from an endurance standpoint in a sports setting, like a game of soccer, where athletes requires hand-eye coordination. Anti-fatigue effects are unlikely to manifest in a gym setting.

Should I take BCAAs?

Not everyone needs to take BCAAs. Many BCAA studies were conducted on fasted individuals, meaning participants arrived at the lab with no breakfast, ready to work out. Tests on individuals in fed states produced lacklustre benefits in comparison with fasted groups, suggesting that the BCAAs provided in normal dietary protein are sufficient to improve muscle protein synthesis and reduce soreness.

Eating or supplementing protein can eliminate the benefits of BCAA supplementation, since dietary and supplemental protein are good sources of BCAAs.

Practical take-aways

  1. BCAAs are important amino acids and should be present in a diet.
  2. When tested in fasted states or in states with a low BCAA intake, BCAAs promote muscle protein synthesis and aid in recovery.
  3. The majority of studies that show the benefits of BCAAs are done on fasted individuals.
  4. Dietary protein contains BCAAs.
  5. BCAAs have a role to play in fasted training or during periods of time that protein cannot be consumed.
  6. BCAA supplementation is likely unnecessary in trainees that are able to consume protein during the time supplementation would normally occur.

Do I need BCAAs?

You may want to consider BCAA supplementation if you train in a fasted state, or if eating protein too close to a workout causes stomach irritation, and if you are unlikely to eat immediately after your workout.

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To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Don’t forget you can get your hands on this incredible resource for only $29, but only until tomorrow (Friday) at noon! The Supplement-Goals Reference Guide

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