BCAA vs collagen, and BCAA's won. So here we are
So, I’m going to assume that 93% of us have heard of BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) or at least have seen some IG honey sexily shaking and sipping coloured water during their workouts, with a perfect placed product and branded shaker in prime position.
And a part of me feels a lot of this push for BCAA’s is fabricated and saturated with marketing and white noise, hustling us to drink these powders and reap the benefits of being an Adonis and Cleopatra (I couldn’t think of a female equivalent). HOWEVER, besides my inner consumer critic, they definitely do have an epic place in helping to repair muscle fibres, and thus, aid in recovery and growth.
Amino acids are what make up our protein (there’s 21). So every time we consume protein in our diets, we’re assimilating these amino acids into our “amino acid” pool, in which our body pulls from when required to build EVERYTHING in our body. Hence why protein has been the most worshiped macronutrient (until keto came on the scene haha).
BUT to give praise to Dr Garth Davis’ Proteinaholic our society has praised this macronutrient and the food industry and food manufacturers have taken massive advantage of this trend and now, for a real example, create things like “mars protein bar”… (just take a minute HOW FUCKING STUPID THAT IS). But we’ve been conditioned to see the word protein and think “more is better” “I always need protein” “I’ll shrink and fade away without protein” “protein means its good for me, its healthy” AND ON AND ON WE GO.
Essential amino’s are the 9 that we need to consume through our diet, as our millennial bodies are unable to make them - histadine, methionine, phenylalanine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, valine.
Our enzymes, neurotransmitters, hair, skin, nails, bones, muscles, blood vessel health, immune function, mood, stress buffer all are dependent and require amino acids, so yeah they’re important.
isoleucine, leucine and valine make up the BCAA abbreviation, and are essential for muscle building,
They're oxidised (broken down) within our skeletal muscles (most others are broken down in the liver) - and excess energy expenditure promotes this oxidation. So what this means, is that skeletal muscle maintenance / gains is dependent upon the “fasted losses and fed gains” of protein.
BCAA’s have a particular effective role if we’re dieting down, going through chronic illness’, or are wanting to maximise our efforts and results. They’re able to be utilised by the body and have a “sparing” effect, meaning when in times of sustained calorie deficit (not an intermittent fast), our body will break down muscle stores to free up amino’s to enable us to still function.
On the hierarchy of priorities, having swole muscles is not up there when we’re in a deficit. The body needs fuel, and breaking down your muscle provides that fuel. And if we think of this as a simple math equation,
muscle synthesis > muscle breakdown = gains
when they’re level = plateau
when its inversed, muscle breakdown / gains “lost”.
Leucine is the most beloved of the amino’s and this is due to it’s ability to convert into HMB (beta hydroxyl-methylbutyrate), which initiates protein synthesis, via triggering mTOR (mammalian targeting of rapamycin). Essentially HMB like role calls the other amino’s to create muscle fibres and enables us to repair and build muscle.
I feel it's also valid to add perspective, that when amino's are consumed in excess, our body makes sure we spit them out even faster as to not disrupt homeostasis or cause toxicity (turns out more is not always better), so keep that in mind and sipping on them throughout the day is dumb, and a waste of moolah.
Also, remember just because something has “added protein” attached to it’s label doesn’t mean its fucking good for ya. Or that you need it? Around 1g/kg a day is PLENTY and optimal for muscle growth (we make around 70g of endogenous protein through cell breakdown and enzymatic . And every thing has varying amounts of protein, like, if you’re interested, track your daily intake and you’ll be surprised at how much protein you tend to just rack up when eating a solid diet.
So BCAA supplements vs whole foods / protein powders. BCAA’s are ready to go, in their most absorbable form, ready to be pumped into your blood stream, around your body and shuttled into skeletal muscle.
Whereas, when we consume whole food protein sources / protein powder, the amino’s come together as a family, usually with fibre and fats if we’re looking at wholefoods, and have a slowed digestion and utilisation rate.
Consuming adequate protein through our diet is epically useful just to be a thriving millennial, and upping up your amino intake post training can improve your performance, recovery and physique (lol at me saying physique) YA BODY. YA BODYYYYYYY. MA MINDS TELLING ME NOOOO, BUT MA BODY, MA BODDYYYY IS TELLING ME YEEEEES.
During high intensity workouts, using BCAA’s pre can work in their availability to be utilised as an immediate fuel source, as they’re converted into glucose and used within the Krebs cycle (year 11 flashback coming at ya). Otherwise, during training sessions to increase rep ranges and sets, or post workout (where i feel they have the most benefit), to be readily uptake by our starved and primed muscles for ideal repair and recovery.
Also the insulin response helps to shuttle amino’s into the cell faster, and can reduce muscle soreness and DOMS, and help to build muscle, so in this case, it’s not the worst thing ever if your BCAA’s are sweetened.
Saying all this, BCAA’s alone, will not ensure you muscle growth, because leucine, isoleucine and valine are just 3 of 9 essential amino’s that are required to build skeletal muscle, not to mention the micronutrients required to utilise these amino’s (e.g magnesium, calcium, zinc) so if you’re diet is lacking such amino’s, like any puzzle, if you’re missing pieces, you can’t really complete the puzzle.
So like all supplements, they do that – supplement a dope diet. So ensuring you’re consuming adequate protein for your daily expenditure and goals is fucking important.
All in all, BCAA’s are awesome, they play an integral role in maximising muscle building.But also remember that not having BCAA’s doesn’t mean you’re not able to make gains, improve strength, or recovery – BCAA’s are just a piece in the puzzle. They indeed do, aid and help in all of these things (which is why they are awesome), but marketers have misled a lot of us millennial’s into thinking we need to be constantly dripping them into our mouths, preventing muscle breakdown at all costs, etc etc. But that ain't the case. Consume them pre, during or after your workouts
aka TMN aka BCAA bebe
Shimomura, Y, Murakami, T, Nakai, N, Nagasaki, M, Harris R.A 2004, ‘Exercise Promotes BCAA Catabolism: Effects of BCAA Supplementation on Skeletal Muscle during Exercise’, The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 134(6), pp. 1583S-1587S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.6.1583S
Norton, L April 17 2018, BCAAs: The Many Benefits Of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplements, BodyBuilding.com, retrieved 21 June 2018, <https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/bcaas-the-many-benefits-of-amino-acids.html>
Wilkinson, DJ et al. 2013, ‘Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism’, J Physiol, vol 591(11), pp. 2911-2923, doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2013.253203
Lockwood, C 2018, BCAA Bashing: Have The Big Three Of Aminos Been Debunked As Muscle-Builders? BodyBuilding.com, retrieved 21 June 2018, <https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/bcaa-bashing-have-the-big-three-of-aminos-been-debunked-as-muscle-builders.html>
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), 30.