What is that fluoro coloured liquid in my friend’s shaker? Do I need some?
If you’ve ever stepped foot in a supplement store or a gym, I can probably safely assume that someone’s tried to sell you a BCAA supplement.
But why? Why are they everywhere? Do you need it? What does the acronym even STAND for?
I’ll explain the acronym, their function, where to find them, and how to use them. In less than 15 minutes. You’re welcome.
Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast. My name is Jono from Bite Me Nutrition, where we make food work for you, not against you. And today I want to talk to you about branched chain amino acids. I apologize in advance for my voice, my, um, tonsils have decided to mutiny. Uh, but we're working through it.
Um, and anyway, branched chain amino acids is it's one of my favorite things to talk about because it's an extremely common supplement in the gym and fitness and health space. Um, and so by the end of today's podcast, I want to make sure you've got all of the information that you need to make the decision around, whether this is a supplement that should be a part of your routine or not.
So branched chain, amino acids, otherwise known probably more commonly known as BCAAS. That's probably what you'll see in a supplement store and on the big, partly colored bottle. Um, They are the three amino acids. And basically I think to understand those, you need to understand what an amino acid is. And an amino acid is a building block of a larger [00:01:00] molecule of protein.
And I'm sure we've all heard of protein. We may not have heard of amino acids, but we've probably all heard of protein. Um, and so when we're talking about the protein from chicken breast or the protein in tofu, or the protein in beans, or the protein in your bones or the protein in your hair or your muscles or your skin, or your ligament, all of those things are proteins. And all of those proteins are made up of lots and lots of, lots of different amino acids and each different style of protein, whether it be in your hair or the one from your muscle or the one from your skin or the one from a chicken breast. They all have a different kind of formula or profile of amino acids. So although they may contain some of the same amino acids, they might contain them in a different order or in different amounts and or they might contain some amino acids that the other protein doesn't contain and all of those different complexities and differences between these different types of protein.
So. Pardon me, of all the available. Amino acids. Um, in our diet, we have [00:02:00] things called essential amino acids. And basically these are nine amino acids that we can't make at all in our body, or we can't make enough off. So we have to get them from our diet. Hence why they're called. Essential. Right. So.
As you can probably imagine essential amino acids are extra important. And then when it comes to muscle growth and recovery, We've got three amino acids that we're particularly interested in. This is iso-leucine, leucine and valine. These three amino acids appear to be very closely linked with muscle growth. They're important in that process.
Um, and they're also known as the branched chain amino acids. The BCAAs. Because the branch chain literally just refers to their, their chemical structure. So it's not really important, but basically. We've kind of seen in more mechanistic data and then in other studies as well that, Hey. If we want to maximize our muscle growth and recovery, [00:03:00] it's probably important that we're getting enough of these BCAAs, right.
Um, Probably the most important and the most famous, if you're a nerd like me. Of the amino acids is leucine. Uh, and this is something that you might hear the phrase. Uh, the leucine threshold. And basically this is a threshold that ideally you want to cross at each protein feeding to make sure each protein serve, to make sure that you're getting the most muscle growth and or recovery out of that service, you possibly can. Um, And what that means is you want the leucine content of that food or supplement at that time to provide over. Two to three. So, so over two and a half grams of leucine to maximally stimulate muscle growth and recovery right. So.
What's very easy to happen or what happens very easily. English. Um, is you look at the mechanistic data and you see like, Hey, this branch [00:04:00] chain, amino acids are really important for muscle growth. Um, without them or without enough of them, it doesn't seem too stimulate really the chemical signal. It doesn't stimulate the kind of it's, it's almost a cascade of messenger signaling DNA, RNA, all of these things that basically signal, Hey, grow more muscle, build more muscle cells, lay down more muscle tissue.
So. Absolutely branch chain. Amino acids are very, very important. Um, but. Do we need to supplement with them. Um, Oh, we're probably not far enough into the podcast and we do the big reveal. Anyway. It's not a big reveal. No, you don't need to supplement with them at all. There's been, there's been, there's been a lot of studies.
On this. Um, and as it appears, and I'll explain why later, but basically if you're getting enough dietary protein from a variety of protein sources, Adding extra. Isolated branched [00:05:00] chain amino acids as a specific BCAA supplement. Is not worth it. It doesn't do anything extra. Okay. So what that means for almost everybody interested in, interested in muscle growth and recovery.
Uh, BCAA supplement is a waste of time. You've got two options. You're either eating enough protein across the day, in which case the BCAA supplement will do nothing. And as a waste of your money, Or you're not eating enough protein in your day. So the BCAA supplement may help with that. But it's way more effective and a far better idea for you to instead focus on. increasing your general protein intake. Rather than focusing on these isolated amino acids. There are studies out there in humans showing a benefit from BCAA supplementation, but what all of those studies do is they compare supplementing with BCAAs, with a group that is supplementing with nothing. [00:06:00] Okay.
Or carbohydrate. So they're not supplementing with a protein source, which is not a fair comparison. Okay. So what they're saying is if post-training you either take nothing. Or you take BCAAs, BCAAs, improve your recovery and reduce your muscle soreness. Of course they do. That's what protein does post recovery post workout. So if you instead swap that out for a Full spectrum protein supplement. Like a way or a soy or a brown rice and pea protein. Or you eat a meal that contains, you know, Uh, some chicken or some beef or some eggs or some tofu or some yogurt. All of those things also provide enough protein. And every single one of those protein sources, I just mentioned and pretty much every single source of dietary protein also contains BCAAs. So that's why if you're eating enough protein across the day, you're also getting enough BCAAs out of that.
Adding [00:07:00] more BCAAs on top of that, doesn't give you any benefits. Okay. So.
In summary. Don't take it right. There's no benefits. The only studies that have shown a benefit, I comparing BCAAs versus. Water, which. Is not a very, very fair comparison at all. The one area, which I am intrigued in and keeping an eye on is related to something called central fatigue. So this is unrelated to muscle growth and recovery, and this is more related to sports performance, particularly in long form endurance performance. So.
When we are exercising, we have something called local fatigue and central fatigue. So local fatigue essentially relates to the fact, let's say that you are cycling. Um, and your quadricep muscle runs out of fuel fatigues, cramps, and stops being able to work that would be localized fatigue. That fatigue is localized in that muscle. [00:08:00] The chemicals, the chemical signaling and the fuels in those muscles have been burnt through its fatigued. Central fatigue is referring more to your brain, your nervous system, and basically its ability to make that muscle fire. So you may actually have fuel and things remaining in that muscle, but if there's other things affecting your central fatigue, you may not be able to make that fueled muscle fire.
That's obviously really, or potentially really interesting when it comes to performance. Um, and so there is some. Mechanisms and some, uh, research around BCAAs impact on central fatigue. Okay. Uh, which has obviously, like I said, really beneficial or really a really, at least very interesting for those involved in longer form endurance.
Uh, exercise. To massively oversimplify it. Basically, [00:09:00] serotonin can decrease your performance. I guess it kind of makes sense, right? It's a feel good. It's a relaxation neurotransmitter. And so the more serotonin you have, the more you kind of are not encouraged to continue to put out effort. And so your performance drops off. And so what happens is.
Your BCAAs, your branch chain amino acids can compete, compete for absorption. With something called tryptofan I'm sorry for all the big words, but basically tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. The more tryptofan that is absorbed across your blood-brain barrier, so basically the more tryptofan that goes into your brain, the more serotonin you make.
The more of this relaxation neurotransmitter you make. The more you want to stop performing. So. If we can increase our BCAA intake at that time, we can potentially reduce our tryptophan absorption [00:10:00] and therefore have lower serotonin. Which should reduce our central fatigue. There's some pretty interesting studies in this area. There's still a bit of a mixed, ah bag. In the studies that have used medication, so drugs to reduce tryptophan uptake. We've seen an marked effect and a big improvement in performance. Um, in the studies that have then used BCAA supplementation to reduce tryptofan absorption. So essentially trying to do the same thing that the medication has done successfully with the BCAAs.
We've had mixed results. There's studies that have shown a benefit and studies that haven't shown a benefit. So.
To be honest, I think. Um, like I said, I'm pretty interested in this area. I think there is some benefit there. So I used to be very anti BCAA's "no one should take them, they're a giant waste of money", but I do think now there's, um, Some. Some interesting stuff out there for longer endurance styles of [00:11:00] training or sport.
Um, and so if that is you, I would chat to a sports dietician, um, about using potentially bringing BCAAs into your training and then they can go through the dosage and the timing and all of that, that will work specifically for you. But if you are a regular gym goer, who's just looking to get healthier, gain a bit of muscle, lose a bit of body fat, or if you are a hardcore bodybuilder, CrossFitter, powerlifter, strongman. hardcore resistance, training, power, strength, and power athlete. Please leave the BCAs on the shelf. And if you really want to spend that money elsewhere. Buy some more coffee, buy some more active wear or just like, just send it to me. That works as well. You know, this, this podcast isn't free.
Um, maybe you could sponsor the podcast instead of sponsoring big BCAA. Um, but if you don't want to do that, that's also fine. So, um, instead you could leave a review or a rating, or you could throw this podcast up in your Instagram stories [00:12:00] and tag me and tell everyone how amazing it was. Look, I'll take. I'll take any of that that all sounds amazing so um thanks so much for listening hopefully you learned a little bit make sure you check out the show notes for the references and a bit more information um, and i'll catch you next time
Episode Links & References
- International Society of Sports nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise
- Isolated Leucine and Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A narrative Review
- The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of calorie restriction
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
- Leucine supplementation of a low-protein mixed macronutrient beverage enhances myofibrillar protein synthesis in young men: a double-blind, randomised trial
- Isolated Leucine and Branched-Chain Amino acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and hypertrophy: A narrative Review
- Carbohydrates, branched-chain amino acids, and endurance: the central fatigue hypothesis