Are BCAA’s worth the money? In the pursuit of getting in better physical condition and trying to achieve more muscle mass and fat loss, A lot of us tend to look for a magic solution within supplements.
We somehow believe that they will give us the exact results we desire. The people who market these products are amazing at playing on our wants and desires to achieve the perfect body and as a result the supplement market is booming.
According to Neutraceuticals world, the Global Sports Nutrition Market Could Exceed $45 Billion by 2022. That’s a huge industry and proves that us, the consumer heavily relies on supplementation to achieve our goals.
When I began my fitness and weight loss journey, I was extremely unhappy with my body, I lacked physical confidence and was desperate to make a lasting change.
I used to go to ‘uncle google’ and look at the leading supplement sites like bodybuilding.com and then buy supplements to help me ‘get ripped’ and get ‘bigger muscles’.
I’ve always been overweight and I genuinely believed that these supplements were the key, the answer to my problems. I remember reading the benefits and all the reasons these supplements were the key. The dopamine dump I got from the prospect of a great body was huge.
I mean if all the fitness models promote them then they must be legit right?
Little did I know that most fitness models are only ripped for short periods of time and the rest of the time they are in good shape but not the ripped specimens we see in magazines.
At the time, my staples were, Creatine, and Whey protein. I’m pretty conservative and knew that the benefits of whey and creatine were well documented and studied, plus they were, and still main stream supplements that everyone talks about and uses.
I used to religiously stick to the doses prescribed on the packages and I would train and diet. Don’t get me wrong, It doesn’t take long to start seeing abs.
But I always wondered whether or not these supplements were worth the money but never really bothered to look into it. I was too scared of losing my results if I stopped.
As I matured with my training and my knowledge grew around nutrition I began to ask serious questions around the impact these supplements were actually having on my physique. I’m not a body builder, professional athlete or fitness model. I don’t need the extra 1% gains that could push me over the edge to win a competition, or win a sport.
I started to track my meals with MyFitnessPal and avidly watched my macros (protein, fat’s and carbs) and tracked my weight, body fat and measurements. But the results were slowing down….little did I know that’s perfectly normal after a few years of training.
Then one day I began reading an article on a forum and they were talking about BCAA’s and immediately my mind began to believe that this was the thing I needed, BCAA’s were the key to getting the exact physique I desired.
So I went out to the local supplement store and spent about $100 on BCAA’s. My wife couldn’t believe I spent that much but I was convinced THIS WAS THE KEY.
I read the dosage and the recommended intake was:
Recommended Use: As a dietary supplement, mix one scoop per 8-16 oz. of water (adjust for taste preferences). Shake well and consume up to two scoops during exercise on training days or between meals on non-training days. For best results, use two scoops per day.
So Per serve was 7g BCAA’s.
So on training days, it was a total of 14g of extra protein. And on non-training days total of 14g of extra protein.
I had no idea what a BCAA was and I figured that if enough people are using then it must work.
I basically used up the entire container in about a month and if I’m honest I didn’t feel any different, I hadn’t made any considerable extra gains (because I was already eating about 170-200g of protein per day) and I figured that I needed a bit more time. So I got another container and went for another month.
Again nothing significant.
Because of the lack of results I decided not to ‘invest’ in them again and for a few years I didn’t really think about it.
To date I have also managed to keep my excess weight off for 7 years and large periods of the time I didn’t take any supplements, and my results were consistent, I continued getting stronger and I could get lean just by manipulating my calories and macros.
I learned a lot more about protein and the effects it has around exercise and hypertrophy and realised that a BCAA’s were a “branched chain amino acids – Leucine, isoleucine and Valine”
According to a blog by precision nutrition https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-bcaas
The BCAAs are the only amino acids not degraded in the liver. All other amino acids are regulated by the gut and the liver before being circulated elsewhere in the body. However, BCAAs head directly into the bloodstream. This means that dietary intake of BCAAs directly influences plasma levels and concentrations in muscle tissue (Layman DK 2003). Interestingly, BCAAs are burned for energy (oxidized) during exercise, so they’re also an important exercise fuel.
However BCAA’s are just 3 of the 19 Amino acids that form a complete protein. They aren’t particularly special magical things that will get you amazing results. They are found in our protein foods. Chicken, fish , eggs etc..
The reason I wasn’t seeing any extra results years before was because my protein intake was high and I was resistance training. My body was getting enough protein as it was, and I didn’t need to supplement.
In fact about 170g of chicken breast yields 6.6 g of BCAA’s, that’s just a smallish portion of chicken. I usually eat about 200 – 250 g of chicken per serve so I was getting adequate of BCAA’s from my food. An extra 14g per day wasn’t making a lot of difference.
Same with eggs, 1 egg has about 1.3 g of BCAA’s. Essentially I was wasting my money.
A lightbulb went on for me and I realised that supplementing with BCAA’s for my particular goals and the goals of most people I know including my clients was a waste of time.
Then recently, the subject of ‘are BCAA’s worth the money’ came up recently with a colleague who was drinking litres of the stuff and I explained my little story..
So on the back of that conversation I decided to do a little more research and write this blog.
There is so much conflicting information out there and it’s confusing……But one thing is true…we need BCAA’s in our diet as protein is vital for our health. But are BCAA’s worth the money?
Proteins are the building blocks of our body. And there are some essential BCAA’s we can only get from our diet, those being the essential amino acids. They cannot be made within the body and we must get them from food.
So when I started looking at it outside the body building forums and supplement companies who have a vested interest in selling to you. The same things seems to crop up. That is:
BCAA supplementation is unnecessary for people with a sufficiently high protein intake (1-1.5g per kg of bodyweight a day or more).
In fact Examine.com Fitness guide lists them as a secondary option for supplementation listing a quality whey protein as a preference. Simply because a good quality whey has BCAA’s as part of it.
The Examine fitness guide states:
“Many studies have investigated the effects of BCAA supplementation on exercise, and these effects proved minimal. Mostly, BCAAs were found to relieve cognitive fatigue during exercise lasting more than 2 hours. This could be useful for athletes who need to maintain hand-eye coordination over a long game (hockey or football players, for instance)”
So if you are an athlete you probably have a nutrition coach who can help you with this BCAA supplementation of which may be beneficial.
But for normal people like you and I who just want to look and feel better it’s not worth the extra money.
I’ve listed a few studies below with their summaries, and linked to their sites should you want to read up further.
This study on BCAA intake and fatigue showed:
‘Fatigue, as assessed by a power output test on an erg following prolonged exercise (6-8 hours of skiiing) failed to demonstrate any anti-fatigue effect of BCAAsupplementation relative to carbohydrate placebo and appeared to reduce the body weight loss (2.1% loss in placebo, 1.2% nonsignificantly loss in BCAA).’
Another study done with Twenty-four highly trained subjects participated in six successive sessions of ski mountaineering (6-8 hr duration, altitude 2,500-4,100 m) found that neither changes in body composition related to the ski mountaineering program nor muscular performance during isometric contraction was significantly affected by BCAA administration.
People also say that it helps reduce muscle soreness but a study stated that:
“Test protocol of small mountain climbing in older individuals noted that a 51g amino acid mixture trended towards but was not significantly better than placebo at reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.
This study done around fat-loss looked at trained men given 14g Bcaa;s for 8 weeks alongside a routine weightlifting plan, consumption of BCAAs promoted fat loss. But the summary stated:
The evidence regarding muscle protein synthesis and BCAAs is promising, but there are a few problems with interpreting this research: aside from being externally funded by the producers of the supplement, it was further confounded with glutamine and citrulline and possibly also B6, as this study likely used the Scivation product known as Xtend, despite not disclosing that outright.
So this one man’s conclusion, based on my own experience and reading a few studies.
I believe that for regular folks like you and I who just want to lose weight and maintain healthy levels of muscle and body fat, simply need to eat more real food ranging from a variety of whole foods and lean proteins and weight train hard enough to stimulate muscle growth.
Are BCAA’s worth the money?
In my opinion and personal experience NO. You are better off spending the $100 on buying quality food.
Muscle growth and fat loss to an extent takes time. It comes down to consistency around training and good nutrition not over supplementing with the latest wonder supplements.
This has been the determining factor in changing my body and keeping my weight off for 7 years. You really need to look at this as a marathon not a sprint. Use supplements only to supplement a healthy diet that may be lacking.
I urge you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions. Don’t be a sheep like I was and just blindly believe what the supplement companies tell you. Because they do not have your best interests at heart and they regularly link tentative studies to their marketing efforts to justify the product.
As a nutrition coach and Personal Trainer I do recommend a protein supplement such as whey when resistance training. Only if you aren’t able to hit your protein goal. Remember there is only 24g of protein per average serve. It really isn’t that much. You could easily get twice that in 170 grams of chicken breast.
If you know of any studies that show supplementing with BCAA’s to be beneficial. Please link them below, I’d love to have a read.
I hope you enjoyed this blog, feel free to leave a comment or share if you found it useful. If you have any questions about supplementation, exercise or nutrition. I’ll be happy to help so please don’t hesitate to contact me.
If you don’t make a change today how will tomorrow be any different.