Remember that bit in Jaws where Quint, Brody, and Hooper pursue the giant shark at sea, and despite being three amigos versus a giant shark, they still pull it off (well except for Quint)? The complete implausibility of it makes for a great bit of cinema, but tell me that you’d now be happy to be on your dinghy with two pals versus a giant white, and I won’t believe you.
This is how I feel about supplement marketing. A shred of truth, something fairly believable, followed by an exaggerated, cinematic shock-fest of gigantic muscles, shredded abs, and the one secret to unlimited health. Often, the story around a supplement is so good, that it’s hard not to be taken in. None more so than branched chain amino acids.
The little scoop of leucine, valine and isoleucine that turns into pink fluorescent liquid when mixed with water and tastes like space dust. It’s the stuff you see the biggest guy in the gym sipping on all day, or gulping down in between sets of skull crushers. If he’s big, it must be working, right? Here are 10 reasons why branched chain amino acids are a waste of your money.
1. They are useless for building muscle
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. You need all 9 essential amino acids to build muscle, not just the three branched-chain aminos.
2. They might actually make muscle building worse
As well as not containing anything to make new muscle tissue, they might actually make the process worse. It turns out that taking them on their own creates competition with other amino acids for absorption, potentially making it harder for the body to use the other “building blocks” to form new muscle tissue.
3. BCAA studies need to be taken with a pinch of salt
“Hang on Steve”, I hear you say, “I read a study that said BCAAs increased muscle protein synthesis!” Maybe, but some of these studies have serious limitations. Involvement from supplement companies and all around shady results hinder how seriously I would take the literature as a whole. Also, comparing BCAAs to water isn’t a very good comparison, and when BCAAs do get compared to whey protein, for instance, the results are hands down in favour of whey. And if you only listen to the giant musclehead at the gym, you need to reassess your life choices anyway. #broscience.
4. You don’t need to guzzle them during fasted cardio
Using BCAAs to stop “going catabolic” during fasted cardio is another proposed benefit. People walking on a treadmill while sipping a bottle of pink alien piss should make you laugh, not wonder how they do it. The thing is, there’s no difference in body composition between fasted vs fed cardio if you’re getting enough protein.
5. They don’t do shit to reduce muscle soreness
A quick look at bodybuilding forums will reveal post after post about the muscle soreness decreasing effect of BCAAs. Science, on the other hand, says they don’t do a thing to reduce DOMS.
6. Zero Calories: Bullshit
Ever met the guy who literally sips on them all day because they have “zero Calories”? I’m not sure how to break this to him, but they actually contain more Calories than other amino acids. It’s quite normal for bros to have 10g of BCAAs before and after training on every session. Do that 5 times a week and you’re looking at 630 Calories on top of your normal kcal intake, which is easily enough to derail fat-loss.
7. They don’t keep muscle protein synthesis spiked between meals
Now, the guy sipping on them all day has probably heard that they keep muscle protein synthesis “spiked” between meals based on work by Paddon Jones. There is, however, one big glaring hole in this study, in that the group taking the BCAAs were given 45g of amino acids, and 90g of carbohydrate, more than the other group who took no supplements. The no supplements group’s protein intake was also a measly 64g per day. In terms of fairness, this is literally bringing a gun to a knife fight
8. They have zero nutritional benefits.
9. They could make you eat more
Well, this is awkward. While whole protein is undeniably the most satiating macronutrient, BCAAs have actually been shown to make you more hungry.
10. They don’t reduce fatigue
Feeling energetic all of a sudden? It’s likely not anything to do with the amino acid content. It’s because you were as dehydrated as an unopened pot noodle in a desert.
Compared to branched-chain amino acids, whey protein will provide you with:
- The same amount as BCAAs
- All the other essential amino acids
- Greater nutrient density
- The potential to fill you up
The truth is that BCAAs are doing absolutely nothing for you other than putting a hole in your wallet.
Unless your diet is devoid of protein, BCAAs will do nothing to help you look better, feel better or perform better.
If drinking something the colour of nightclub toilet lighting, that has no real benefit is your thing; then don’t let me stop you. Fill your boots in fact. If you’re interested in something that works, however, then spend your cash wisely. Ditch the BCAAs, and stick to whey protein or whole foods instead.
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