BCAA’s: Are They Worth It?
I am a little late to the BCAA bandwagon, but lately I’ve been drinking a lot of Bang energy drinks (thanks night shift) and on every can they claim to have “EAAs”, or essential amino acids. This got me wondering about what exactly are EAAs and BCAAs (branched chain amino acids, the difference between the two, and does supplementing them in your diet actually make a difference. To the Internet I went.
The body has 20 amino acids total used for muscle and protein synthesis. Out of these 20, 11 are non-essential amino acids that can be produced by the body, and nine are essential amino acids which must be obtained either through dietary sources or by breaking down muscle tissue. All nine of these essential amino acids (EAAs) must be present for muscle protein synthesis.
Now, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are marketed with the claim that aid in muscle growth by their role in protein synthesis. BCAAs are often composed of three of the nine essential amino acids- leucine, valine, and isoleucine. Since they are only made of three out of the essential nine, the body is not given enough EAAs to synthesize muscle proteins with the BCAAs alone. Thus, you must either supplement it further by consuming more complete protein sources on top of the BCAAs, or the body will actually break down muscle to obtain the other six essential amino acids that it needs. So it has been shown that taking BCAAs alone, or in a fasted state, might actually be detrimental because the body will break down muscle to obtain the other six essential amino acids (Wolfe, 2017). There is no high-quality study done to show the efficacy of taking BCAAs alone (Robinson, 2020).
So in short, you’re better off eating whole foods with complete proteins, or by only taking EAAs.
Robinson, D. (2020). Nutrition and non-medication supplements permitted for performance enhancement.
Wolfe, R. R. (2017). Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0184-9