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Bite-Sized Breakdown: Are Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Necessary?


Give me a "B"...B!! Give me a "C"...C!! Give me an "A"...A!! Give me another "A"...A!! What does that spell? Muscle Gainzzz!! Uh...I mean, Boost in Energy!! Uh...I mean, Intra/Post Workout Savior!! Uh...I don't really know, the guy at the supplement store just told me I needed to take them.

In this week's Bite-Sized Breakdown, we are going over the potential benefits of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and whether or not they are a necessity, a luxury, or just an absolute waste of money.

Alright, let me take a moment to be completely honest here. There was a time not that long ago, that I believed BCAAs where one of (if not THE) most important supplements that you could take. However since that time, the research has refined itself quite a bit and revealed a more clear picture of utility.

First things first, what are BCAAs?

Branched-Chain Amino Acids are a group of three essential (meaning it can't be produced by the body) amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) that are highly involved in the regulation of muscle mass. They can potentially promote muscle protein synthesis, help prevent muscle loss and reduce fatigue.

Let's take a look at each one individually:

Leucine: Referred to as the main BCAA, because it is the most potent inducer of muscle protein synthesis due to its effect on the mTOR pathway (resulting in potential protein building/muscle growth).

Isoleucine: Increases glucose uptake into cells, potentially making it anti-catabolic and helping to preserve muscle mass.

Valine: Still debated as to how effective it's sole impact can be. However, as part of the trio of BCAAs,it potentially can help reduce fatigue (mostly in untrained individuals) and improve focus.

So overall, BCAA supplementation can potentially help improve muscle protein synthesis, increase glucose uptake, preserve muscle mass, reduce fatigue and improve focus.

Seems like a "No-Brainer" right? Give me ALL the BCAAs and give them to me right now!!! I got GAINZZ to make!

Wait for it...wait for it...

But...there's a hitch in the necessity of the BCAA supplement's giddy up.

BCAAs are also found in foods like meat, eggs, etc. (and real food is ALWAYS your best choice) So assuming we are consuming an adequate amount of protein (at PFT we recommend around 0.8 grams per lb of body weight) supplementation becomes unnecessary. Also, the anti-fatigue benefit seems to only really apply to untrained individuals. These facts, combined with the high cost of BCAAs, make them a fringe choice at best.

Now, I don't want to be a Debbie-Downer. If you LOVE your BCAA supplements, there are still some situations where it can create the most bang for your buck.

Best times to supplement with BCAAs:

  • Your diet provides an inadequate amount of protein
  • A medical condition that leads to muscle wasting and confinement to a bed
  • Training in a fasted state
  • Going long periods of time between whole food meals
  • To help offset VERY intense and frequent training (two-a-days, etc.)
  • You enjoy the taste and it makes you feel good

Bite-Sized Breakdown:

Branched-Chain Amino Acids are essential amino acids (not produced by the body) that can help promote muscle protein synthesis, prevent muscle loss and reduce fatigue (in untrained individuals). However, if your dietary strategy provides adequate protein intake (around 0.8 grams per lb of body weight) then supplementation becomes unnecessary.

However, there can still be certain situations (training fasted, intense and frequent training, long time periods between meals, etc.) when supplementation can be potentially useful.

Also please remember, that if you enjoy something and feel like it gives you a boost (mentally or physically) then perhaps it's worth it; regardless if the benefits can be proven or not.

Health and fitness should be fun!!

Form Friday: So why the 10 second interval?
Mindset Monday: No Dream is Too Big

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Thursday, 23 January 2020

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