Amino acids from protein that you eat are the “building blocks” of the new muscle. So to speak.

Of the 20 amino acids, only three contain a branched side chain: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. That’s why they’re called branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs (I know it’s boring so far but I’m about to inhale a bag of caffeine so it will get better, I promise):

leucine, isoleucine, valine

So they possess chains. Chains sound cool. Also, leucine. That thingy is a key regulator of muscle protein synthesis aka a process of building muscle. Which is why people said, “take my money I want more muscle!” and started shoving BCAA in their faces like the apocalypse is imminent. 

The result? BCAA has become one of the top-selling supplements on the market to improve muscle and strength gains (source):

Okay, tl;dr time: BCAA is utterly useless. It’s useless in the presence of adequate daily protein intake and I’m guilty of supplementing these for some time in my early gym days.

Here’s what a recent systematic review on BCAA supplementation in the context of strength and muscle hypertrophy did:

Researchers looked at 12 studies that measured the effect of BCAA supplementation on physical performance, muscle damage and body composition.

The researchers concluded:

“After BCAA supplementation, no statistically significant difference was observed for most parameters (body composition, blood parameters and performance) <…> BCAA supplementation seems not improve performance and gain of strength and muscle mass.”

I get it, supplementing with BCAA sounds like a good idea because amino acids, muscle protein synthesis, and stuff. But the problem is that there’s a threshold at which their effects become redundant.

This is why instead of supplementing with BCAA, your focus should be on getting enough protein from food which is 1.6-2.2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.73-1 g/lb). Do this and you’ll be getting enough of BCAAs to optimize muscle growth.

One stipulation: Although there’s no benefit for healthy individuals to supplement with BCAA when it comes to muscle growth, some people such as vegans may benefit from taking it due to the inferior amino acid profile of a plant-based diet.

You know what? Never mind that. I changed my mind. As a vegan, you’d still be better off spending money on high-quality protein powder rather than BCtheuselessAA. Sufficient daily protein intake should be your top priority.

Holy shit, that’s about it. I’m done writing. I thought this article will take longer to finish. Now my head hurts after inhaling that bag of caffeine and I don’t know if I ever gonna sleep again. Fuck.

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Originally published by me on Medium on March 23, 2022

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