Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are a hotly contested topic these days. Bodybuilders swear by them, while others view them as something entirely unnecessary provided you’re eating sufficient protein each day.
So, what’s the deal? Are BCAAs supplements vital to muscle growth and repair, or are they merely a waste of money?
Let’s find out!
BCAAs, EAAs, and the Rest
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three BCAAs, given the name due to their unique branch-like structure. The three BCAAs are part of the larger Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), meaning our bodies can’t produce them and must obtain them through diet or supplementation.
The Essential Amino Acids are:
Isoleucine -- BCAA
Leucine -- BCAA
There are several other amino acids used by the body (tyrosine, arginine, cysteine, etc.) that are classified as conditionally essential or nonessential, meaning under normal circumstances the body has ample amounts of them or can synthesize them from the other amino acids and foods ingested.
Amino Acids and Protein Synthesis
Where BCAAs and EAAs come to the forefront is in the area of muscle protein synthesis. Specifically, cells synthesizing proteins required for muscle growth and repair. In order to create new proteins, cells require 21 amino acids for construction, including all of the essential amino acids listed above. If you’re eating a well-rounded diet with adequate protein, your body has all the raw materials necessary for adequate protein synthesis. But, if you’re a hard training athlete, you could stand to benefit from some extra aminos due to the amount of wear and tear you put on your body and the subsequent repair your muscles must undergo on a daily basis.
Here is where the BCAA niche of the industry has started to pull one over on people.
BCAAs -- Dirty Tricksters
The supplement industry is rife with underdosed supplements, misinformation, and companies looking to make a quick buck. Chief among these are the litany of BCAA supplements that litter the store shelves promoting increased muscle growth and recovery. On top of that, every Tom, Dick, and Harry affiliated with a brand, or whoever’s used a supplement, thinks they’re an authority on supplementation and know exactly what you need for maximal results.
Sadly that’s not true, and BCAA supplementation is one of the biggest culprits in this charade.
See, BCAAs are touted as the secret to staving off muscle-wasting and significantly increasing muscle growth. Yet, when you look at exactly what happens in the body when you consume BCAAs and how they’re metabolized, you come to a very startling realization.
Normally, when proteins are ingested, they pass through the stomach where enzymes and acids breakdown or “uncoil” the proteins into long strands of amino acid chains held together by peptide bonds. Digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines further break these bonds until they’ve become free-form amino acids. At this point, they can absorbed into the bloodstream transported to the liver. Here is where BCAAs differ.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine must be converted to oxo-Keto acids before the liver can use them for energy. Basically, the liver can’t use BCAAs as they are, and thus, they are transported directly to muscle tissue for oxidation, some do go to adipose tissue too FYI.
Once BCAAs reach the muscle, enzymes oxidize each BCAA into a branched-chain oxoacid (BCOA) which is then used as fuel by the muscle for the production of ATP (as part of the Kreb’s Cycle). If not immediately needed for energy, BCOA are then shuttled back to the liver for oxidation and energy.
Notice something there? Nowhere does it mention that BCAAs enhance muscle growth or recovery, and here is where the industry has pulled the sheets over consumers!
Due to clever marketing and consumer ignorance, supplement companies have taken the concept that amino acids are required for protein synthesis and transformed it into the idea that BCAAs are required for muscle growth. While some studies have shown Leucine to be a key stimulator of the mTOR pathway in the body, the fact is you need around 2.5-3g Leucine to activate this pathway and kickstart muscle protein synthesis.
Sadly, most BCAA supplements on the market are underdosed, proprietary blends so you have NO clue how much of which amino acids you’re consuming. Sure, the product may taste great, but it’s really doing absolutely nothing for your muscle-building endeavors.
On top of that, let’s say that a BCAA supplement does have the right amount of Leucine to stimulate mTOR, then what? Remember, the body needs ALL of the essential amino acids in order to synthesize new proteins, not just the three BCAAs. And think about this -- the body has a significantly greater demand for lysine than isoleucine or valine, so why not just use a leucine and lysine supplement!
The gist of the situation is that BCAAs have been overhyped for a LONG time, much to the detriment of you the consumer and science.
Energy vs Muscle-Building
Circling back to BCAAs actions in muscle, you can see they serve primarily as a source of energy. This makes BCAAs a decent “fuel” for the body while training, and may serve to increase endurance and stamina. However, since BCAA supplements only contain 3 of the essential amino acids needed for protein synthesis, you’re body won’t do much growing or repairing if you’re only supplementing with BCAAs throughout the day. If the only thing you care about is better performance, BCAAs might be for you, but more than likely you’re interested in better performance as well as growth and recovery.
For that, EAAs are clearly superior. EAA formulas (like EAA Max) supply the full spectrum of amino acids needed to not only stimulate muscle protein synthesis, but also all the raw materials to successfully construct and repair muscle tissue. They’re also incredibly versatile too, as they’re not only beneficial around your training window, but anytime of day to support your body’s growth and repair processes. Rather than sip on some diet soda, sip on a delicious beverage that also fuels muscle gains!
The Choice is Clear
For all the reasons detailed above, Primeval Labs created a true muscle-building and recovery amino acid supplement in EAA Max. It provides a full dose of BCAAs to go along with all of the other essential amino acids for effective muscle growth, repair and recovery.
The next time you come across a BCAA advertisement remember this: BCAAs are just a mere fraction of the EAAs, and only give a fraction of the results. For true muscle-building and recovery, go with a supplement that provides all of the essential amino acids, and for that, there’s only one choice EAA Max!