The worst mistake a beginner lifter can make is to walk into the local supplement store and ask which supplements they need. While you’ll be led to the staples, eventually, you’ll be sold on supplements whose sole job is the part you with hard-earned cash.
BCAAs are not worth it as no further benefits are derived from BCAA supplementation when adequate protein is eaten daily. Further, whey protein and meat have BCAAs and other essential amino acids.
Is there a time that BCAAs would be worth it? Or are there other supplements that are superior to BCAAs?
Table of Contents
- What Are BCAAs?
- Are BCAAs Worth It?
- Why BCAAs Instead Of EAAs?
- Frequently Asked BCAA Questions
- Do You Need BCAAs?
What Are BCAAs?
BCAAs consist of three essential amino acids. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are called essential amino acids (EAAs) because the body cannot create them. So, you must get these amino acids from external sources (e.g., meat or supplements) .
An even easier definition is BCAAs is protein! This is why your tub of BCAAs has a protein and caloric value. There are nine total EAAs and eleven non-essential amino acids (NEAAs) essential for building muscle. NEAAs are non-essential because they can be made within the body.
Meat contains all nine EAAs, so it is a powerful muscle-building food. But can you gain further benefit when supplementing with BCAAs?
Are BCAAs Worth It?
Of course, you’re going to see articles concluding without a doubt BCAAs are worth it. However, these articles are usually from supplement companies selling their own BCAAs. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
It is widely believed that BCAAs stimulate muscle protein synthesis (building of new muscle), inducing an anabolic state . Specifically, the BCAA leucine. Therefore, you should take BCAAs directly after working out to further enhance muscle protein synthesis to maximize muscle growth. But there are three inherent problems with this belief :
- BCAAs alone theoretically cannot create an anabolic state.
- All nine essential amino acids (EAAs) and 11 non-essential amino acids (NEAAs) are needed to build new muscle.
- Spiking muscle protein synthesis doesn’t enhance muscle growth further when adequate daily protein is ingested in the long term.
Let’s start with the first two points. To build new muscle, we must be creating more new proteins than are being broken down. Interestingly, when BCAAs are taken at rest, muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown are reduced, diminishing the overall protein turnover [3,4].
Why does this happen? As mentioned, all amino acids must be present to build new muscle. BCAAs only provide three of the nine EAAs. For the body to get the other six, it must break down proteins already existing in the body (e.g., muscle tissue).
Theoretically, it would be impossible for BCAAs alone to be anabolic because protein breakdown would always need to be accelerated to fulfill the EAA requirements . But it’s not often we would take a BCAA supplement on its own and when at rest.
It’s usually taken before, during, or after exercise. When 5.6 g of BCAAs (equivalent to 20 g whey) is taken after exercise, we see a 22% greater muscle protein synthesis response to a placebo . Great! BCAAs are worth it then!
Not so fast. This response is approximately 50% less than the muscle protein synthesis response to a dose of whey protein with a similar amount of BCAAs . The authors state that while BCAAs may stimulate the anabolic pathway, there isn’t enough material to maximize the response indicating that EAA availability is the limiting factor .
How does this relate to building muscle? It seems when you are consuming an adequate amount of daily protein, additional BCAA supplementation serves no further benefit . Here’s the kicker. Almost all protein sources have BCAAs in them (among other EAAs and NEAAs).
This means if you are using a whey or beef protein powder, you’re getting all of the amino acids necessary to build muscle. While whey protein has a higher EAA and BCAA count than beef protein, it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the long term regarding muscle growth and strength when adequate protein is ingested daily .
Why BCAAs Instead Of EAAs?
You may be wondering if you need all nine EAAs for building muscle, why does every supplement company sell BCAAs, and so few sell EAAs? It comes down to the amino acid leucine, which is the primary driver of the muscle protein synthetic response .
It is hypothesized that 2-3 g of leucine maximizes the muscle-building response after exercise. However, leucine alone isn’t enough to sustain muscle protein synthesis without sufficient EAAs . Looking at leucine supplementation overall, we see no added benefit of leucine when adequate daily protein is ingested .
Frequently Asked BCAA Questions
Do BCAAs Actually Do Anything?
While BCAAs may spike muscle protein synthesis, it does not contain enough EAAs to build muscle. Overall, you could say BCAA supplements do nothing since there are no further benefits when adequate protein is eaten.
Are BCAAs A Waste Of Money?
BCAAs are a waste of money because they derive no further benefit regarding strength and muscle gain when eating adequate protein. You are better served to buy a whey or beef protein powder that already has BCAAs in its amino acid profile.
Can BCAAs Make You Fat?
BCAAs are very unlikely to contribute to fat gain. Fat gain is a result of consuming more calories than you burn. 5 g of BCAAs equals 20 calories since 1 g of protein is equal to 4 calories. Twenty calories will not make or break your physique.
Can You Get Addicted To BCAAs?
You cannot get addicted to BCAAs. BCAAs don’t have any addictive properties as it does not have a stimulatory effect or alter your brain chemistry. Therefore, you cannot get addicted to BCAAs.
Why Are BCAAs Useless?
BCAAs are useless as they don’t further benefit strength or muscle gain when you are eating adequate daily protein. Additionally, most protein food sources contain BCAAs. Finally, BCAAs alone don’t have all the essential amino acids needed to build muscle.
Are There Downsides To BCAAs?
The biggest downside to BCAAs is the money it takes from your wallet. You’re paying for a supplement that doesn’t benefit your training and goals.
Which Is Better, BCAAs Or Creatine?
Creatine is hands-down better than BCAAs for supporting performance in the gym. Creatine is well supported within the research and the real world. Creatine has been shown to improve strength by 8% and increase the number of reps at a given load by 14% .
Is BCAAs A Pre-Workout?
BCAAs are not a pre-workout as they don’t provide ergogenic aid (aka performance enhancement). However, they are often present in pre-workout formulations. Generally, I would avoid pre-workouts that have BCAAs if your main goal is to improve strength and endurance when working out.
BCAAs take up valuable space within the formula that will reduce the dose for other ingredients giving you negligible changes in performance. The best pre-workouts are adequately dosed to provide you with an edge in the gym.
Is BCAAs A Steroid?
BCAAs are not a steroid. Steroids are hormones or derivatives of them, whereas BCAAs are simply three amino acids in powder form. Amino acids are proteins.
Do BCAAs Burn Belly Fat?
BCAAs don’t burn belly fat or any fat at all. BCAAs are a source of protein, and protein has no thermogenic (fat burning) effect.
Do You Need BCAAs?
You do not need BCAAs as they are present in almost every protein-rich food and protein supplement. The protein hierarchy for anabolism goes whole intact protein (e.g., meat and whey protein), EAAs, BCAAs, and finally leucine .
If you are hitting your daily protein target (0.8-1 g per pound of bodyweight), then you can stop buying BCAAs. A whey protein supplement will cover all your needs and help you hit your daily protein targets.
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