Do I Really Need BCAAs for Recovery?

by Allen Gil August 22, 2015

Do I Really Need BCAAs for Recovery?

In recent decades, branched-chain amino acids (or BCAAs) have gained a lot of attention. While some people believe taking BCAAs for recovery is the best way to increase their gains, an equally large number of people believe that BCAAs are just another overrated snake oil product.

So which is it? The answer may not be as conclusive as you’d like.

What Are BCAAs?

“Branched-chain amino acid” is the designation for three specific essential amino acids—those building blocks of protein that must be absorbed from food; namely, leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Because they are the major amino acids broken down during the production of adenosine triphosphate, what’s responsible for the “bursts” of energy used in intense, anaerobic exercise, it stands to reason that they are the primary amino acids you want to replenish after a strenuous workout. [336_mobile_middle]

How They Affect Endurance Exercise

According to a study conducted on BCAAs’ effects on lactate threshold, when subjects were given supplemental BCAAs in a 4% carbohydrate mixture after engaging in exercise meant to induce lactic-acid buildup and tax endurance capacities, no significant increase in exercise performance was measured, yet, in a separate study, a group given BCAAs in a 3% carb solution saw significant increase in exercise performance. However, in each study, BCAAs were found to be an effective means of increasing the lactic acid threshold. TL;DR version: BCAAs combined with a low dose of carbohydrates may help improve endurance in aerobic exercises.

But I have a sneaking suspicion you didn’t come here to learn that.

How They Affect Resistance Training

Let’s take a look at this study to review the benefits BCAAs may have on strength training. In this study from 2012, 19 non-resistance-trained males (read: newbies with untapped muscular potential) were put on a four-workout per week training schedule and given nine grams of supplemental BCAAs a day, one-half the total dose before and after exercise, for eight weeks. The result? Aside from upper and lower-body strength and endurance increasing, the BCAA supplementation was found to have “no preferential effects on body composition and muscle performance.”

The Verdict?

Branched-chain amino acids are very important for recovery, but they’re abundant in a number of very unexotic and affordable foods, stuff you probably already have in your diet—especially if building muscle is your goal—such as lean cuts of beef, dairy, and even cheap-ass protein powder from concentrate. Would I suggest you go blow $X on another overpriced powder to add to your intra-workout shake, thinking that the lack of that extra 5 grams of a few amino acids is the reason you’re recovering poorly, not getting stronger, and not building muscle mass?

No way.

So rest easy knowing that if you are eating a balanced diet rich in foods with complete amino acid profiles or even just taking a whey protein supplement, you’re getting enough BCAAs to encourage recovery.

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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