BCAAs: Will They Build Muscle or Waste Your Money?

BCAAs, or Branch Chain Amino Acids are a popular supplement in the fitness industry. I never knew much about them and hence refused to take them. I didn’t think they were worth the money and they couldn’t be that good. But as with a lot of things I started to research them and found out a lot of useful information. I finally bought a bottle and included them in my training regimen and couldn’t be happier with the results.

What exactly are BCAAs you may ask? Well, lucky for you our next supplement profile will answer all the questions you have on BCAAs and give you good insight on whether they are right for you or not.

What Are They?

Amino Acids are the building blocks of muscle protein. Getting adequate amounts of amino acids is difficult for those who exercise. Exercise burns amino acids rapidly. Failure to replenish the body with proper amino acids can cause people who work out vigorously to make little or no progress. These do not require digestion and go straight into the bloodstream for immediate use by muscle cells. There are 9 essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine.

How Are They Important?

According to research done by Dr. Layne Norton, dieting is catabolic, which means it can lead to muscle breakdown, for several reasons. The leaner an individual tries to get, the more of a struggle it is to keep your muscle mass intact. As fat stores become depleted, the body will look for new sources of energy in order to not lose what little fat stores remain. In doing so, the body will turn to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. Unless you want to look like a cross country runner, this is no good and all your hard work can go to waste.  During training, catabolism, or muscle breakdown, occurs in order to release fuel (amino acids) for the body to burn. When training you want protein synthesis (recovery) to be equal to or greater than protein breakdown. If the opposite occurs you start to lose muscle and your results will start to diminish. Dieting can cause one to “burn the candle at both ends” elevating the muscle breakdown and decreasing protein synthesis. Along with dieting, training can compound this effect in people. The leaner a person gets the more lethargic they can be. Hence why BCAAs are an important staple in your supplement program.

How Can You Avoid Breakdown?

In order to keep gaining, you need to combat the effects of training with BCAAs. BCAAs are taken to increase the rate of protein synthesis to make sure gains are made from your workouts. A study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise found that BCAA supplementation can contribute to an anabolic environment in the body. There is evidence that supports a dose-dependent response to BCAAs, meaning the more you take the better the results. It has been suggested that you take them before, during, and after your workouts. Another great reason to take BCAA is if you take time off due to a injury or other reason, this supplement will limit the amount of muscle loss and fat gain. A study done by the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that giving BCAAs to rats with their hind limbs immobilized helped preserve protein synthesis that regulates muscle growth. The bottom line is that BCAAs sacrifice themselves as fuel in order to preserve muscle in the body, whether you are training or not, a high level of BCAAs in your system can do nothing but help your overall body composition.

Anything Else?

While prevention of muscle breakdown is the main benefit of BCAAs, there are other benefits to this supplement. When you get sick it can be hard to train let alone grow. In order to make sure you are back on your feet you can put down some BCAAs. They reverse the effects of glutamine loss and help your immune system bounce back faster than without. Another intriguing effect of BCAAs is the stimulation of fat loss. In some studies the supplement has been shown to trigger significant and preferential losses of visceral body fat. Located in the deeper layers of the body under the subcutaneous fat, this visceral fat tends to be resistant to dieting and is hard to lose. In one study, 25 competitive wrestlers were divided into 1 of 3 diet groups: a diet high in BCAAs, a diet low in BCAAs, and a control diet. The wrestlers stayed on the diets for 19 days. The results showed that the high BCAA group lost the most body fat, 17.3% on average.

Where Do I Find BCAAs and How Much Do I Take?

Dairy products and red meat contain the greatest amounts of BCAAs, although they are present in all protein-containing foods.Whey protein and egg protein supplements are other sources of BCAAs. I would recommend going with the food sources first before having to rely on the powders but if you are pressed for time or need them in an instant, they can be a viable substitute. In terms of how much of BCAAs you should consume depends on your age and training intensity. For the average person I would recommend 5-10 grams before your workout and the same or slightly more after your workout. If you need them during a workout I would suggest 2-5 grams during the workout. The best cost effective BCAAs in my opinion are the Optimum Nutrition Superior Amino 2222. Two tablets provide about 2,000 milligrams of BCAAs and other amino acids needed for training.

Conclusion

In the fitness world the supplement industry is huge. Everyone claims to have the next cutting edge product that will make you a super human. The truth is there is no secret to success except hard work and a solid nutrition and supplement plan. If it’s not a staple in your plan, BCAAs need to have room made for them. Besides creating a fuel source for your  body so muscle doesn’t get used, they can help stimulate fat loss, and help you get back in the gym after an illness. If you are serious about your training and getting results get yourself some BCAAs and you won’t be sorry.

References

Walker, D., Dickinson, J., et al. Exercise, Amino Acids, and Aging in the Control of Human Muscle Protein Synthesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. May 2011.

Bajotto, G., Sato, Y., et al. Effect of BCAA Supplementation During Unloading on Regulatory Components of Protein Synthesis in Atrophied Soleus Muscles. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2011. 111, 1815-1828

Norton, L., Layman, D., Wilson, G., Moulton, C., Rupassara, S., Barlick, P. Leucine Contents of Isonitrogenous Protein Sources Predict Changes in Body Composition and Muscle Mass in Rats. The Journal of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. 2010 April. 24(97.5).

Expert Fitness “Amino Acids” 2003.
Elite Image Nutrition “What Are Branch Chain Amino Acids?” 2003.
Gastmann “Overtraining and the BCAA hypothesis. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” 30, 1173-8 (1998).

  1. Mike left a comment on December 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    This is the type of BCAA review I was looking for mainly because I am new to weight lifting and have been working out hard for the last 10 weeks and haven’t noticed much of a change in body composition.

    • Matt left a comment on April 16, 2014 at 9:29 am

      It takes longer than 10 weeks to notice changes. Altering your total calories (up or down, depending on goals) will have more results than any supplement at this point in your training.

      • The Strength Agenda left a comment on April 16, 2014 at 9:42 am

        We agree whole-heartedly that supplements should not be the main source you rely for your training. Food, hydration, and good sleep should take precedence. A supplement is simply that, an assistance to what you should already be doing on a consistent basis for steady progress.

      • Aesthetic_Von left a comment on February 6, 2015 at 6:51 am

        Thats good advice Matt!

  2. Morp left a comment on January 13, 2014 at 5:59 am

    I would agree to this articles. I use BCAA everyday in the morning and before – after training. The result is amazing, but I think you must relay on the supplement alone, be discipline, work hard and mind your diet.

    any one from Indonesia can contact me if need further infor about BCAA and whey protein.

  3. thatoneguy left a comment on March 20, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Good read. It seems like multi-vitamins, omega 3’s, whey protein powder, and now bcaa’s are the four main staples of health and fitness. please no more.

    • Aesthetic_Von left a comment on February 6, 2015 at 6:52 am

      Creatine needs to make its way in there.

  4. trainingvalleyWLC left a comment on April 16, 2014 at 11:55 am

    BCAA’s are vital and an integral part of my daily supplementation, apart from a clean and healthy diet in high quantities. Preference for me is Modern BCAA’s, good flavor and with 2 servings a day, one serving before training and one serving later in the day, I get in about 25-30 grams of BCAA’s. Some may say extreme but, I prefer to make sure I have sufficiently covered my bases.

  5. bob left a comment on June 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    layne norton also aruges that supplemeting with bcaas or carbs or a mix of both between meals provides ATP to keep MPS elevated. but can’t our bodies just get the atp from its own sources such as adipose, liver glycogen, circulating blood glucose, or even the bcaas in our own muscles? why do we need exogenous forms of bcaas/carbs to provide the atp to keep mps elevated?

  6. Iain left a comment on August 4, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Hahahahaha, “The wrestlers stayed on the diets for 19 days. The results showed that the high BCAA group lost the most body fat, 17.3% on average”.

    So BCAAs can make you lose almost 1% bodyfat per day. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is? You’re saying that an obese man with 30% bodyfat could be six pack ripped within 25 days or so.

    Terrible article, clearly pushing BCAAs on those new to training.

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on August 5, 2014 at 9:40 am

      The point you make would be ridiculous, but that’s not the case. 17.3 references the percentage of fat that they lost, not, as you interpreted, 17.3% of total fat from their body composition. The 30% you reference is based on body composition, whereas the numbers in this study represent purely fat loss. If we’re going with your example, “an obese man with 30% bodyfat,” following this plan, in theory, could lose 5% of his total body fat (30 * .173 = 5). More than likely, the wrestlers in this study may have dropped from 16% to 13.2% TOTAL body fat (a difference of 2.8% total fat loss, but a loss of 17.3% (16-13.2/16). Hope that clears it up. If you have more questions, I’m sure the study (referenced at the bottom of our article) would do a much better job explaining it than us.

    • aron left a comment on April 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm

      if you’re 20% body fat and you lose 17%, that means that your new body fat is 16.6%. That is a 3.4% reduction. if you weight 200 pounds, that means your lost about 7.2 pounds of fat, which is equivalent to approximately 25,000 calories.

  7. Tom left a comment on September 3, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Paah ha ha, @Iain you got owned

  8. Doug left a comment on September 25, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks for the information. A trainer at my gym suggested drinking a BCAA powder during workouts, and now I know why.

  9. Ikram left a comment on March 17, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    Wow BCAA’s are defo going to be part of my plan. But I have a problem like a lot of people assuming they have the same goal; I wish to lose weight whilst gaining muscle.

    For example: If I’m doing cardio before my weight training would I take a dose before my cardio or after my cardio and how quick is the effects?

    I take protein shakes only on the days where I haven’t eaten much protein-based food and I also have a fat burner, by adding BCAA would it cause a clash or is it alright to take with what I take anyway?

    Thanks a bunch.

    • Joe left a comment on April 17, 2015 at 11:31 am

      it won’t cause a clash no, but what fat burner do you take? personally i’m against fat burners, just a balanced diet, whey protein, vitamins, bcaa’s, cardio and weight training and you’ll shed fat and build huge muscle, along as you change up your training routine e.g different rest periods, different exercises, different reps etc etc

      • Joe left a comment on April 17, 2015 at 11:36 am

        my bad – balanced diet, healthy sleep pattern and plenty of water are the most important, i drink about a gallon a day, i mean with those 3 alone you will lose unhealthy body fat.

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on April 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      BCAAs aren’t a time-sensitive supplement. You can take them at any time for a positive effect. If the body can’t use them, it will just eliminate them through urine. They shouldn’t clash with any other supplements. (but I’m no doctor, so talk to a medical professional first.)

  10. isaac left a comment on July 29, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    I am currently working out to lose my fat . more in weight loss training do you still think i need BCAA?

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on August 6, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      We think BCAAs are a good addition for most people who work out regularly. We can’t recommend anything personally for you, but you might find them helpful to try.

  11. Brett Maas left a comment on July 30, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    This is some great information. I like to take my bcaa’s throughout the day in my gallon water jug. Yep i’m that guy. I don’t care though because the benefits outweigh me looking like a tool at the gym! Ever since I started taking bcaa’s I feel like not only have I gained strength in the gym but even my overall energy throughout my day at school and work has been at an all time high. Thanks again post. Here is a link to the bcaa that I take. http://www.amazon.com/Neon-Sport-Kinitic-Supplement-Servings/dp/B00VAPQXQO

  12. TIKOY left a comment on August 14, 2015 at 2:54 am

    CAN I TAKE RIPPED FUEL AND BCAA AT SAME TIME ???

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on October 4, 2015 at 6:22 pm

      Not sure about that. I’d contact the manufacturer of Ripped Fuel and/or a doctor.

  13. Raj left a comment on January 28, 2016 at 12:14 am

    Interesting to see your opinion on BCAA, which Examine.com has clearly declared as a useless supplement.

    https://examine.com/insiders/3-more-popular-supplements-that-are-a-waste/

    You had quoted examine.com on another article about Ashwagantha but not on this one!

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on February 7, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      In the BCAA article, we’ve referenced several studies and research reports, as this is something that’s been explored in-depth and scientifically. This allowed us to confidently state that BCAAs have proven positive results. In the Ashwagandha article, we cited Examine.com as anecdotal — there’s simply not enough information there to draw a conclusion (which we stated in the article). Also worth noting that the Examine article on BCAAs contains no references, but instead links to something of theirs they want you to download, making it more clickbait than scientific…

  14. Ellie left a comment on April 13, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    I have decided I want to try and take some BCAAs to hopefully not make me so sore after my workouts! I have been shopping around and doing my research and came across your article. I also came across this: http://www.fitclarity.com/best-bcaa-for-women-understanding-bcaa-supplements-for-females/ which seems to say that there is a difference between BCAAs for me and for men. Is there any truth to this or should I pick up something that you recommended above?

    • The Strength Agenda left a comment on August 30, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      We haven’t seen any serious research that points to a difference. My gut tells me its nothing more than a marketing gimmick, but I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject.

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