So, hot topics of nutrition. Do you need a branched chain amino acid supplement? The short answer is, no. You can either stop reading now or find out why.
So, what is a branched-chain amino acid, or as they are referred to in the supplement world, BCAAs? In short, there are 20 amino acids that your body needs to build muscle. Nine of those 20 are called essential amino acids. That means you have to get them from food. When you hear someone talk about “complete” proteins, this is what they mean, that food contains all 9 essential amino acids.
BCAAs are 3 of those essential amino acids
If you’re wondering about the hype surrounding amino acids, they became a hot topic because of their potential as a recovery aid to help build muscle. There is also emerging research indicating that supplementation with BCAAs can reduce fatigue and total time to exertion due to the reduction in serotonin that happens with BCAAs versus a placebo.
If there are all of these benefits, then why wouldn’t you want to take it? A 2017 study by Jackman et al. (2017) found that BCAAs did, in fact, result in a 22% increase in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (aka: building new muscle) after exercise. That’s great news, right? Well, they also found that whey protein, which is a complete protein, had a 37% increase in MPS. That second number is much more impressive. What this means, is that there might be a limit to how much MPS can be generated by BCAAs alone. At some point, they need reinforcements with other essential amino acids.
So, when you see articles that indicate the muscle building potential of BCAAs, they’re not wrong, but you may be shorting yourself out of your full muscle building potential if you rely on only 3 amino acids.
There is one amino acid that you need to be aware of and that’s leucine.
Leucine is a pretty special amino acid and has been the subject of a lot of research. When you purchase a BCAA supplement, you always get more leucine. It’s the amino acid that starts the muscle building process. You don’t need to get it in a supplement form though, you can get it in these foods (not an inclusive list). If building muscle is important to you, get a source of leucine in your diet after your strength training workout, about 1-3 grams.
- Milk and dairy foods
If you want to build muscle and really maximize your gains, you could take a BCAA supplement, or you could choose to get all of the essential amino acids in your diet – whether you choose food or supplements is up to you.
AbuMoh’d, M. F., Matalqah, L., & Al-Abdulla, Z. (2020). Effects of Oral Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Intake on Muscular and Central Fatigue During an Incremental Exercise. Journal of human kinetics, 72, 69–78. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0099
Gervasi, M., Sisti, D., Amatori, S., Donati Zeppa, S., Annibalini, G., Piccoli, G., Vallorani, L., Benelli, P., Rocchi, M., Barbieri, E., Calavalle, A. R., Agostini, D., Fimognari, C., Stocchi, V., & Sestili, P. (2020). Effects of a commercially available branched-chain amino acid-alanine-carbohydrate-based sports supplement on perceived exertion and performance in high intensity endurance cycling tests. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 17(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-0337-0
Jackman, S. R., Witard, O. C., Philp, A., Wallis, G. A., Baar, K., & Tipton, K. D. (2017). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Frontiers in physiology, 8, 390. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2017.00390
Jäger, R., Kerksick, C. M., Campbell, B. I., Cribb, P. J., Wells, S. D., Skwiat, T. M., Purpura, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Ferrando, A. A., Arent, S. M., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Arciero, P. J., Ormsbee, M. J., Taylor, L. W., Wilborn, C. D., Kalman, D. S., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D. S., Hoffman, J. R., Antonio, J. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
Santos, C. S., & Nascimento, F. (2019). Isolated branched-chain amino acid intake and muscle protein synthesis in humans: a biochemical review. Einstein (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 17(3), eRB4898. https://doi.org/10.31744/einstein_journal/2019RB4898