Recently, a review was published in which the author described that BCAA supplements alone do not promote muscle anabolism and instead all essential amino acids (EAA) are needed to support muscle protein synthesis. To top it all off, the full title of this review was “BCAAs don’t work,” and so it still sounds on social media, but some of you may have been misled, so read this article that scientifically describes the function of this branched-chain amino acid chain.
It all works on an “all or nothing” basis. This principle represents muscle hypertrophy. As soon as one component becomes unavailable, the whole process shuts down. For example, if you exercise your legs, exercising alone is an adequate trigger to keep your muscles able to grow. However, if your body does not get all the amino acids (and cofactors) needed to support muscle growth, then your body will capture those amino acids from other muscles in your body that are not currently exposed to the load. In this case, it can easily happen that this disruption of whole-body muscles will outweigh the response to muscle protein synthesis, and instead of giving you an overall anabolic effect, you will end up with a so-called “negative” protein state.
The fact is, taking BCAAs on an empty stomach can help you a little, but not like EAAs. The branched-chain amino acids leucine, valine and isoleucine are just three of the nine essential amino acids that the human body needs to obtain from food sources. It should be noted that the remaining six are equally important. It is also important to assess the nutritional status and intensity of training, it can easily happen that other amino acids will be necessary for you. These are called conditional essential amino acids.
However, how much EAAs are better than BCAAs depends on many factors, including all amino acids and other nutrients that are still circulating or readily available to your muscle from the food or supplement you receive. So if you drink a protein drink or eat a complete protein-rich meal, it is doubtful that an EAA supplement consumed during or after training would be more or less effective in stimulating muscle growth than consuming BCAAs alone.
If your food is vegan and therefore lacks leucine, the BCAA supplement should be as effective as a product containing all EAA. This means that the highest effective strategy to promote area-wide anabolism is a caloric excess of all critical amino acids and other vital nutrients, but supplementation with EAA or BCAAs alone may play an additional role depending on the overall nutritional status.
And what do those BCAAs work at all?
The clear answer is YES. Energy and protein are related, and branched-chain amino acids are the key to muscle growth, and EAA or whey protein only helps. These are the claims of the world’s leading researchers in the field of muscle protein synthesis. One researcher from Finland adds that BCAAs can be useful in some situations where there is malnutrition. For example, the unavailability of leucine in vegans, or a low-protein supplement, or improper diets.
The overall conclusion of the study’s author has led many readers to believe that there is no evidence that BCAA supplements alone promote whole body protein synthesis when consumed for at least four hours after a meal or dietary supplement. Even when consumed on an empty stomach, BCAAs can promote anabolism in healthy individuals. It may not be as significant as with EAA, or even as much as a complete protein such as whey, but BCAA will certainly take your efforts to the next level if you did not consume it at all, or just leucine. But when was the last time you heard of athletes who train hard to wave their training on an empty stomach to increase muscle mass and performance? Of course, never. And no doubt those sports scientists who contributed to the “BCAAs don’t work” review.
Instead, anyone who wants to add muscle mass or increase performance has probably read that they need to consume a diet or nutritional supplement rich in protein and nutrients within 1-2 hours before training. This is the real situation in which most BCAA supplements are used. Not as a meal replacement or complete protein. They are used rather when excess excess of other essential amino acids and nutrients are still present, although they are limited. BCAAs are important in drainage. A large number of wise critics of BCAA supplements either fail to distinguish the application in the real world from scientific settings, or instead use the marketing of some companies as representatives of the entire BCAA.
Yes, the claim that BCAAs alone can support optimal whole-body anabolism is really wrong. However, the above-mentioned review that BCAA supplementation cannot promote muscle protein synthesis under any conditions is also incorrect. There are studies that have actually shown a positive effect of BCAAs. One article even concluded that supplementing BCAAs before or during training reduces fatigue, perceived exertion, muscle damage and pain, increases the anabolic response to exercise, and improves the recovery and response of the immune system to exercise. Another, more recent systematic review concluded that when more than 91 milligrams of BCAA per kilogram of body weight is taken for at least 10 days, a dose of BCAA, when consumed prior to intense intensity, can significantly reduce markers of muscle damage. According to the scientific editor, BCAAs still have a place between meals or during exercise, when they can be used to stimulate anabolic processes and compete for fatigue tryptophan uptake by the tryptophan. You can certainly consume EAA or whey drink, but that doesn’t change the fact that the BCAA supplement still works.
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