Branched Chain Amino Acids – Yes or No?

July 8th, 2014 by

Branch Chain Amino Acids – Yes or No?

What are your thoughts on supplementing with BCAAs? Off season vs prep? Necessary or no? Thanks!

The short answer? No, not necessary. The longer one?

Something to keep in mind is that of all the protein you take in on a daily basis, the majority of what survives the digestion process are the branch-chain amino acids.

A large amount of our ingested protein is used by the small intestine for hormone and protein synthesis itself. So most of the amino acids that reach the liver are catabolized with the notable exception of the BCAAs which make it through and are metabolized primarily in muscle.

Only approximately 25% of amino acids ingested by way of dietary protein actually make it to the bloodstream and nearly 75% of these are the BCAAs; so your body already has a strong preference for them.

In the offseason when calories are up (and therefore protein requirements are down), there isn’t really much point from a physiological standpoint. (contrary to popular marketing)

As for contest prep, unless one is deep into a diet, has very low bodyfat levels and is not using whey protein (nearly 30% BCAA content), BCAAs don’t add much in the way of protein-sparing activity. However, in those conditions, I think they may have a place.

Also, if you train in a fasted state/before eating, then BCAAs pre-workout may be a good idea. Mind you, whey protein would do the same job.

Assuming high quality protein sources, you’re getting 15-20% BCAAs from your regular protein intake and whey protein is up to 25-30% BCAAs. So if someone is consuming 150g of high quality protein, and even if it was without whey protein, they’re getting a good 22-30g of BCAAs right there. Throw in whey protein and it’s even higher. Adding a tsp here and there under these conditions will not make a difference. It certainly won’t make a difference when calories are higher since higher calories tend to improve nitrogen retention and are protein sparing.

To recap, my thoughts on BCAA usage are simply that they have very little use unless:

1. Your calories are really low
2. Your body fat is low
3. You’re not using whey protein

And those are all “maybe’s”

Sure, there’s nothing negative to their use, but the benefits IMO are conditional on certain variables being in place.

Research to date does not support the fact that extra BCAAs have any effect when one is already on a high-protein diet, which most of us are.