Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are often touted as an essential component for any lifter to make significant gains in muscle size. For years, supplement companies have capitalized on the naivety of consumers and sold them tub after tub of BCAAs with the promise that bigger and better gains would ensue. And for a time, many in the industry took this as fact. However, there were a few stalwarts that maintained that BCAAs were not the key to superior muscle growth and recovery, but EAA (essential amino acids) were.
Well, the scientific community put BCAAs under the spotlight and the results are in -- BCAAs DO NOT build muscle. In fact, new research shows that consuming BCAAs may actually hinder your results to grow bigger, beefier muscles.
Let’s take a look at what the latest scientific research has to say about BCAAs and what may be a better way to enhance your gains.
Catabolism vs Anabolism
The overarching benefit touted of BCAA supplementation is enhanced muscle growth, so what exactly is required for your body to build new muscle tissue?
To build muscle, your body must be in an anabolic state. Now, your body is constantly building new proteins to replace older ones that are being broken down or degraded, so, there isn’t an isolated “anabolic window” where your body is purely in “muscle building” mode, but, that’s not really the point. The point here is that in order to gain lean muscle mass, the rate of muscle protein synthesis must exceed the rate of muscle protein breakdown. If this happens more often than not, the end result is bigger muscles.
BCAAs have been held in high regard for their ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in the body, which would subsequently bring about muscle growth. However, when you look a little deeper into what’s required to synthesize new muscle tissue, you realize that all of the essential amino acids (EAAs) are required to construct new proteins, not just the BCAAs.
In other words, muscle protein synthesis is limited by the availability of any one of the EAAs, not just the BCAAs. So, if you’re lacking threonine (one of the 9 EAAs) for example, supplementing with BCAAs isn’t going to make up for the missing threonine, no matter how many BCAAs you cram in your gallon jug.
Moreover, two other studies where BCAAs were infused intravenously (the most effective way to deliver supplements to the human body) both showed that in fact BCAA infusion did NOT increase muscle protein synthesis and only slightly reduced muscle protein breakdown.[2,3]
Additionally, BCAAs use the same transport mechanisms, meaning they compete with each other (and other amino acids) for transport into the cells. This competition can affect the availability of other EAAs, which could be needed for protein synthesis, and ultimately hinder muscle growth. Therefore, it’s perfectly logical to conclude that BCAA supplementation is not actually effective for building muscle and in fact, could be highly detrimental to your muscle-building efforts. Think about, if you’re only consuming three of the required EAAs (as is the case with BCAA supplementation), your muscles are the only source for the remaining EAAs required to complete muscle protein synthesis, meaning you’re breaking down your own muscles to fulfill your body’s protein construction requirements. In essence, you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that equates to no net muscle gain for you!
A new comprehensive review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Science looking at the effectiveness of BCAA supplements concluded:
“a dietary supplement of BCAAs alone cannot support an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis. The availability of the other EAAs will rapidly become rate limiting for accelerated protein synthesis. Consistent with this perspective, the few studies in human subjects have reported decreases, rather than increases, in muscle protein synthesis after intake of BCAAs. We conclude that dietary BCAA supplements alone do not promote muscle anabolism.”
So, if BCAAs aren’t the ticket to enhanced muscle growth and recovery, what is?
EAAs -- A Better Alternative
To build muscle, your body needs all of the essential amino acids, not just the three BCAAs. Research has shown that consuming EAAs leads to superior muscle protein synthesis, yielding bigger and better muscle growth.
Primeval Labs EAA Max supplies all nine essential amino acids (including the three BCAAs), delivering what your muscles need when you need it most. BCAAs may increase muscular energy and endurance while training and might stave off catabolism (slightly), but when you are interested in true muscle growth, repair, and recovery, you want all of the essential amino acids!
Stop wasting money on overpriced BCAA supplements that wreck your gains and start using a true muscle-building amino acid supplement. Start using EAA Max!
Volpi E, Kobayashi H, Sheffield-Moore M, Mittendorfer B, Wolfe RR. Essential amino acids are primarily responsible for the amino acid stimulation of muscle protein anabolism in healthy elderly adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2003;78(2):250-258. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192452/
Louard RJ, Barrett EJ, Gelfand RA. Effect of infused branched-chain amino acids on muscle and whole body amino acid metabolism in man. Clin Sci. 1990;79. doi:10.1042/cs0790457. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2174312
Louard RJ, Barrett EJ, Gelfand RA. Overnight branched-chain amino acid infusion causes sustained suppression of muscle proteolysis. Metabolism. 1995;44(4):424-429. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7723664
Wolfe RR. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017;14:30. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568273/
Moberg M, Apro W, Ekblom B, van Hall G, Holmberg H-C, Blomstrand E. Activation of mTORC1 by leucine is potentiated by branched-chain amino acids and even more so by essential amino acids following resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2016;310(11):C874-84. doi:10.1152/ajpcell.00374.2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27053525