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A popular gym supplement which you DON’T need

Supplements are a minefield

It’s really hard to work out which supplements we should avoid and which are going to help us. This is made even worse by the amount of fitness influencers who push supplements claiming they are the “secret” to their good body (their actual secret is probably steroids). In this article, I’m going to outline one of the supplements which is a genuine waste of money and explain the research behind my claim.


The supplement in question

BCAAs are really popular within the gym based community and have been for a long time but first of all what are they?

BCAA supplements contain the three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. In this context, “essential” means that these amino acids can’t be produced by the body – therefore they need to come from food or in a supplement form.

The theory with BCAA supplementation makes logical sense when we think about it with the above context in mind: your body needs essential amino acids in order to build muscle, our bodies can’t produce BCAAs and therefore we need to supplement with them to help the muscle building process.

In theory this makes some sense but in reality the vast majority of people are wasting their money when they buy BCAAs and I’ll explain why.


Protein and BCAAs

Onside PT clients absolutely don’t need to supplement with BCAAs for one simple reason – they prioritise protein intake as is nicely summarised by Dr. Alan Aragon.


High protein intake has been proven to increase muscle mass by numerous studies (1, 2, 3). Not only does protein help us to build muscle but it is also the key macronutrient when it comes to fat loss too (4). Therefore, when clients start being coached by me – getting their protein intake up is a key focus.

What does this have to do with BCAA supplementation? Well firstly, some studies have suggested that supplementing with whey protein is more effective for stimulating muscle protein synthesis than taking BCAAs (5).

More importantly though, studies indicate that supplementing with BCAAs for muscle growth is pointless as long as your overall protein intake is high enough (my clients tend to aim for 2.2g protein per kg of bodyweight) (6).


Man swimming

Summary

BCAAs aren’t utterly useless, in fact they do help certain specific populations and can aid recovery too (7).

However – the key takeaway here is that they won’t help you to build muscle as long as you’re getting enough protein. There are without doubt supplements which work harder for you than BCAAs so save your money each month and thank me later.

References:

  1. Stokes T, Hector AJ, Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):180. Published 2018 Feb 7. doi:10.3390/nu10020180

  2. Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1136. Published 2019 May 22. doi:10.3390/nu11051136

  3. Ryoichi Tagawa, Daiki Watanabe, Kyoko Ito, Keisuke Ueda, Kyosuke Nakayama, Chiaki Sanbongi, Motohiko Miyachi, Dose–response relationship between protein intake and muscle mass increase: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 79, Issue 1, January 2021, Pages 66–75

  4. Leidy HJ, Clifton PM, Astrup A, Wycherley TP, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Woods SC, Mattes RD. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jun;101(6):1320S-1329S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.084038. Epub 2015 Apr 29. PMID: 25926512.

  5. Jackman SR, Witard OC, Philp A, Wallis GA, Baar K, Tipton KD. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Front Physiol. 2017 Jun 7;8:390. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00390. PMID: 28638350; PMCID: PMC5461297.

  6. Ooi DSQ, Ling JQR, Sadananthan SA, Velan SS, Ong FY, Khoo CM, Tai ES, Henry CJ, Leow MKS, Khoo EYH, Tan CS, Lee YS, Chong MFF. Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation Does Not Preserve Lean Mass or Affect Metabolic Profile in Adults with Overweight or Obesity in a Randomized Controlled Weight Loss Intervention. J Nutr. 2021 Apr 8;151(4):911-920. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa414. PMID: 33537760.

  7. Fedewa MV, Spencer SO, Williams TD, Becker ZE, Fuqua CA. Effect of branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Soreness following Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2019 Nov;89(5-6):348-356. doi: 10.1024/0300-9831/a000543. Epub 2019 Apr 2. PMID: 30938579.

 

 

 


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