BCAA muscle-building supplements found useless when taken alone, study finds
08/04/2017 // Rhonda Johansson // Views

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), the most recommended form of bodybuilding supplement, may not be effective when taken by itself, concluded a new research published in Frontiers in Physiology. Researchers noted that while BCAAs helped weightlifters gain mass, there are other supplements that prove to be more effective in doing so. These conclusions were reached after examining how effective various weight-lifting supplements were in muscle growth. They found that BCAA-infused drinks stimulated muscle growth, but lacked the essential amino acids necessary for pure optimization.

It is crucial to understand that amino acids are needed for maximum muscle-building, especially following exercise. Athletes, in particular, should pay special care in choosing the right supplement to achieve the necessary strength needed for their sport. BCAAs, having experienced a short period of unpopularity in the last decade, have become fashionable once again. This may be due, in part, to the relative safety and fast response seen in taking the supplement, along with an increased desire to appear fit and buff on social media. More importantly, weightlifters claim that BCAAs are helpful while on a calorie-deficient diet.

Bodybuilding sometimes lends itself to enthusiasts pushing their physiques to lean extremes. This can include an incredibly restricted diet. Since dieting is catabolic (meaning it leads to muscle breakdown), bodybuilders may find themselves shedding the weight and the muscle. The leaner these athletes become, the more the body turns to muscle to satisfy its energy needs. As the body searches for an energy source, it continually breaks down protein, eventually liberating muscles of amino acids for fuel. The consequence of this is that protein synthesis is decreased due to a reduced energy intake.


The mathematics of bodybuilding can be summed up to a simple equation of muscle mass being equivalent to the rate of protein synthesis deducted by the rate of protein breakdown. Extreme forms of dieting can make athletes more lethargic and unable to maintain the proper muscle mass. It becomes a vicious cycle, as a loss of strength also prohibits the weightlifter from carrying the needed load for muscle mass gain.

Supposedly, BCAA prevents all of this from happening. The supplement provides the necessary energy that the body needs to lift weights, while preventing muscle loss. (Related: The Lowdown on BCAAs: Why You Should Take Branched Chain Amino Acids.)

This new research though showed that BCAA only stimulates protein synthesis without allocating the amino acids needed for full support. In a nutshell, it’s a quick fix to a problem that requires a lengthier response. A BCAA supplement does work, the researchers pointed out, showing an efficacy rate that leaps and bounds beyond a placebo. Nevertheless, the authors of the study also found that a whey protein supplement containing a combination of BCAA and other amino acids was twice as effective as a simple BCAA drink.

Professor Kevin Tipton wrote on Science Daily: “Amino acids, the building blocks of protein and the special class of amino acids, known as BCAA, stimulate muscle growth response….Our results show that the common practice of taking BCAA supplements in isolation will stimulate protein synthesis...but the total response will not be maximal because BCAA supplements do not provide other amino acids essential for the best response.”

“Athletes interested in enhancing muscle growth with training should not rely on these BCAA supplements alone,” he concluded.

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