BCAA’s. Code name for Branched Chain Amino Acids. You’ve probably heard of them from your fellow bodybuilding or athlete friends. If you have Instagram, you’ve definitely seen them in a picture of a girl with a tub of BCAAs neatly placed next to her derrière.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are made up of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They’re considered “essential” because the body can’t produce them and so we have to consume them through food. All of the essential amino acids (there are 9 in total) and the other non-essential (11 others) all must be present in the body in adequate amounts.
Your favourite Online Fitness News Sources (seriously pick any fitness website and you will find BCAAs) love BCAAs and promote them religiously:
- 3 Main Reasons You NEED to use BCAAs (courtesy of bodybuilding.com, no less)
”Although it’s important for everyone to get enough BCAAs, they’re particularly important for people with muscle-building or muscle-maintenance goals. BCAAs, especially leucine, help regulate protein metabolism by promoting muscle protein synthesis and suppressing protein breakdown”.
- Lauren Simpsons, “HOW BCAAS HELP YOU STAY HYDRATED AND IMPROVE YOUR TRAINING”“BCAAs have numerous benefits, such as:
- They help you to lose fat & retain lean muscle
- Improve performance
- Help you stay hydrated
- Faster muscle recovery
- Increase lean muscle protein synthesis, and many more”
It might have something to do with the fact that BCAA supplementation is now a multimillion dollar industry. However, as goes with all things in the fitness industry, we cannot accept something as truth just because your favourite Instagram fitness model is constantly promoting it.
What all of these “list of benefits” have in common, is that they all claim BCAA’s to be beneficial for protein synthesis in the body and therefore anabolism (or gainz as we affectionately know it).
The idea that BCAAs are important for protein synthesis has been around for a long time (30+ years) and was studied on rats, with varying results. Although helpful in the field, these rat studies were limiting in reliability-mainly because rat physiology is different from humans.
This new review by Rob Wolfe (2017) looked at BCAA consumption to determine once and for all if BCAAs increase protein synthesis and therefore an anabolic response in humans.
This current review is eye opening and very important for the fitness industry. The review reported that dietary supplement of BCAAs alone cannot support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. This is because the availability of the other Essential Amino Acids will rapidly become rate limiting for accelerated protein synthesis.
The studies that have been done on human subjects have reported decreases (not increases) in muscle protein synthesis after intake of BCAAs. This particular review concluded that dietary BCAA supplements alone do not promote muscle anabolism.
Let’s say that again. BCAA’s do not promote muscle anabolism.
DO. NOT. PROMOTE.
So. There you have it folks. BCAA’s are expensive water flavouring powder that does not make you swole.