New study finds BCAA muscle building supplements ineffective when taken alone
Friday, 11 August 2017 | David Watkins
One of the most popular natural bodybuilding supplements is BCAAs or branch-chain amino acids but a recent report by the Frontiers in Physiology journal has cast doubt on their effectiveness in some circumstances. Researchers conceded that BCAAs did help bodybuilders gain mass but noted that there were other natural dietary supplements that were much more effective. After examining various muscle growth supplements, they found that whilst BCAA infused drinks did stimulate muscle improvements, they lacked the necessary full range of amino acids needed for optimum performance.
Fast acting BCAAs fashionable again
Amino acids are crucial for maximum exercise linked muscle building potential and for athletes looking for strength improvements. Among these groups BCAAs fell out of favour but have recently become fashionable again partly due to their relative safety when compared to some less desirable alternatives. They are also relatively fast acting which is attractive to those wishing to always look their best for regular exposure on social media.
Lean looks can have a downside
Bodybuilders can often push the dietary limits in their attempts to achieve a lean look and many of them contend that BCAAs are useful as part of a calorie deficient diet needed to maintain their lean look. Because dieting is generally known to be catabolic, which means that it can lead to muscle breakdown, bodybuilders can actually shed muscle as well as weight. As they become leaner, their body looks for alternative energy sources and one of those is muscle, where it breaks down protein to utilise the amino acids in the muscles.
Beware the detrimental cycle
One issue in building muscle mass improvements is protein synthesis versus protein breakdown which can be caused by extreme dieting. This can lead to lethargy and an inability to maintain the desired muscle mass, setting up a detrimental cycle as losses in strength inhibit potential muscle building weight training cycles.
Popular belief infers that BCAAs inhibit all those issues, providing the energy needed to fulfil weight training goals whilst protecting against muscle loss.
BCAAs just a quick fix?
However, new research has demonstrated that whilst BCAAs do stimulate protein synthesis, they appear to be a quick fix to a more complex issue because they do not provide the necessary amino acids that are crucial to support those training goals. BCAA supplements have been demonstrated to work very efficiently and have performed well above placebo levels. However, it was also found that whey protein supplements containing a combination of BCAAs and other amino acids were twice as effective as those containing only BCAAs.
Get the right balance
The conclusion of the research is that BCAAs are not advised in isolation for optimum muscle growth as they do not provide the full spectrum of amino acids required to maximise muscle building potential.
Acknowledgement to Frontiers in Physiology journal.
About The Author
David Watkins is a long-serving senior member of the management of Tonvara Natural Supplements, a family owned company based in the heart of the Sussex countryside in the UK.