In short, yes, but keep reading to find out more.
BCAA’s are branded as the holy grail of muscle building (alongside protein powders). Known as the building blocks of protein, with many scientific studies helping to back their claims, is just one of the reasons why you’ll see 90% of gym goers gulping down the brightly coloured, sweet tasting, drinks post-workout. BCAA supplements are now the second best selling sports supplement on the market, but are they really worth splashing the cash for? Or are they just overhyped claims?
We delve into BCAA’s one scoop at a time to give you enough information to make an educated choice on whether to add them into your supplement stack, so let’s get right into it.
How Do BCAA’s Work?
Before we understand whether BCAA’s are beneficial to you, your diet plan and training goals, it’s important to understand how they actually work to then determine if they’re right for you.
BCAA’s are found in a number of different ratios depending on the powder that you buy, though one thing remains consistent. That is the amino acid blend, compromising of leucine, isoleucine, and valine that makes up BCAA’s.
By consuming BCAA supplements, you’re simply providing your body with additional amino acids that would be otherwise used or in a limited capacity before or after working out. These amino acids are the primary source found in proteins which then help to trigger protein synthesis and muscle protein synthesis, helping to repair damaged muscle tissue and increase muscle size too.
Leucine is the main one here for stimulating and building muscle mass, though the other two are also beneficial working in unison to help your body recover.
As we said leucine is the main contributor towards this signalling, though without it’s two younger brothers by its side, it’s just not as potent.
Leucine works with our mTOR pathway and helps to activate and stimulate it. The mTOR pathway is essentially a regulator that is directly related to cell health, energy releasing and growth. An increase of leucine in the body allows us to activate the mTOR pathway which then signals protein synthesis and muscle protein synthesis, helping us to recover and rebuild muscle damage.
Are BCAA’s Worth it?
So, the chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re looking for a way of improving your recovery rates, reducing that delayed onset muscle soreness and increasing muscle mass. BCAA’s may be the answer or they may not?
If you’re already consuming an adequate amount of protein e.g (1-2g of protein per 1lb of muscle mass), then BCAA’s are not a necessity but more of a luxury, whereas if you’re not consuming enough then they should be added to your stack to help trigger the all-important protein synthesis.
It should be noted that in order to trigger protein synthesis that your body has a leucine threshold that you need to surpass. Now, for the most part, this is around the 30g of quality protein mark but varies for everyone depending on your body size, weight, age and even activity levels.
So in order to make sure that your body is activating protein synthesis you must make sure you’re hitting this threshold, otherwise your body won’t be activating it to its optimal performance level.
This is one of the reasons why bodybuilders consume high protein meals throughout the day helping to maintain this threshold, rather than either eating 3 large meals or lots of low protein ones too. So, if you feel that your protein intake during the meal is not adequate then BCAA’s may be the perfect helping hand to boost your leucine intake.
It is well documented that other supplements such as protein powders and high protein foods such as chicken have shown to have a greater effect on protein synthesis even with the same amount amino acid contents.
However, if you’re on a calorie restricted diet, or just not hungry then BCAA supplementation can still help you do this without the added calories or other macronutrients harming your diet goals. Plus they taste awesome, and if mixing with water, it helps to keep you hydrated too, so a win-win really.
Many BCAA blends contain more than just amino acids too, for example, many pre-workouts contain BCAA’s but also combine this with energy releasing and muscle building ingredients such as creatine monohydrate, citrulline malate, glutamine, so you’re getting awesome value for money. Something definitely worth looking out for if you taking multiple supplements as it is anyway.
It’s all well and good saying BCAA’s do this and BCAA’s do that, but without sufficient evidence who actually knows what they do and who knows if it’s worth your hard earned money? It’s a good job we’ve compiled some of the research for you below.
BCAA’s & Muscle Growth – A study looking at protein synthesis after a resistance training workout discovered that those who consumed 5.6g of BCAA post workout had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis than those who consumed a placebo drink. (Jacksman et al. 2017) However, the additional protein synthesis activation has been shown to be less when consuming BCAA supplementation when compared to a whey protein shake. (Whitard et al 2014)
BCAA’s & Muscle Soreness – Studies looking at muscle damage post workout have found BCAA supplementation to have a positive effect on muscle damage, decreasing protein breakdown and levels of creatine kinase (Maclean et al (1994), Howatson et al (2012) & Coombes and Mcnaughton (2000). Another study also looked at muscle soreness after a leg training session, of those who consumed BCAA experienced less muscle soreness the day after than the placebo group. (Shimomura et al. 2010)
BCAA’s & Exercise Performance – A study performed on college aged males looked at exercise fatigue during a cycling exercise until exhaustion with BCAA supplementation and a placebo. Of those who consumed the BCAA drink, researchers found that serotonin levels in the blood were much lower than the placebo group. Serotonin is a key chemical that plays a role in exercise fatigue. (Kim et al. 2013)
To conclude, BCAA’s are worth it. Many studies have shown their ability to trigger protein synthesis and help with recovery, which is ultimately their goal. They allow your body a greater chance for rebuilding and repairing muscles without harming your macros, which is ideal if on a calorie restricted diet. BCAA supplementation is a very convenient way to boost your amino acid levels instantly, especially during days where your protein intake has been much lower than the usual.
However, as we stated at the start, if you’re consuming a lot of protein in your diet anyway, BCAA supplementation may not be needed and if calories are not a problem, then it’s suggested to consume a whey protein shake instead to help stimulate protein synthesis more effectively. Though if you can consume both, then you’re onto a winner, especially when combining it with other muscle building supplements such as creatine monohydrate.