Meet the most misunderstood supplement in the industry. If you’ve ever seen someone carrying around a shaker of radioactive looking liquid at the gym, it’s probably branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). They’ve been promoted to help increase muscle growth, decrease muscle soreness post exercise and also help you retain muscle when you’re cutting, but the take home message is no, they don’t. The list of effective supplements is pretty short, and BCAAs aren’t on it.
Essential Amino Acids
To understand why ingesting just BCAAs isn’t the best idea, we need to understand essential amino acids. Basically, an essential amino acid is one our bodies can’t make or can’t make enough of on its own. This means we need to get them from our diet. We can take BCAAs, which will give us some of these essential amino acids, but the far better option is to have a high quality, ‘complete protein’ (such as beef, chia, chicken, milk, yoghurt, quinoa, hemp seeds, eggs, or buckwheat) which contains all of these essential amino acids. Eating a complete protein ensures we get all of the raw materials required to build muscle, rather than just a few big bricks.
Well if they don’t help grow muscle, at least they’ll help reduce muscle soreness, right? Probably not. All the studies that report a reduction in muscle soreness thanks to BCAAs are comparing them to a group who had no source of protein. So, not really a fair or accurate comparison…
Protecting Against Muscle Loss
Another common reason BCAAs are promoted is to (apparently) help protect against muscle loss, particularly during weight loss. But guess what? If your total daily protein intake is adequate, BCAAs do nothing. Muscle loss during extended periods of weight loss is definitely a potential problem, but if you’re not doing anything severe (ie. large amounts of cardio, massively reducing your calories) you’re fine. Still worried? Come and have a chat to me 🙂
A Better Alternative
Meet your daily protein goals through food! If you’re including high quality protein sources in your diet (like the complete protein sources discussed above) you’re not going to get any extra benefit from also supplementing with BCAAs. If you enjoy the taste while you work out and they fit within your budget, by all means continue to supplement with BCAAs, but if you’re not using them, don’t feel that you’re missing out!
If you’re interested in having a consultation with Jono (Dietitian), fill out the form below and he’ll be in touch within 24 hours!