If you’ve looked in the supplement aisle of your local health food store, or you’ve wandered around a gym, chances are you’ve seen and heard of BCAAs. They’re a very popular addition to most bodybuilding supplement stacks.
But what most people aren’t aware of is that no research has been able to prove any significant benefits of taking isolated BCAAs. In fact, there are even studies confirming that supplementing BCAAs can be harmful to your health, and interfere with exercise performance.
Which begs us to ask the question - why would you even take them in the first place?
Here’s what we know about BCAAs.
BCAAs stands for branched-chain amino acids. Of the 9 essential amino acids, 3 are branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Amino acids are essential nutrients needed for many biological processes that happen within our bodies, most notably, building and repairing muscles and tissue. Other functions include giving cells their structure, transporting and storing nutrients, as well as forming our organs, glands, arteries and muscles. Our bodies can’t produce essential amino acids internally, so they have to be obtained from the foods that we eat.
The three branched-chain amino acids - leucine, isoleucine, and valine - are amino acids that have aliphatic side-chains with a branch in their atomic structure. Branched-Chain Amino Acids account for 35% of the essential amino acids in our muscles, and they are needed for optimal muscle growth and repair.
Amino acids are naturally present in a lot of foods that are high in protein. Foods containing the most amino acids are lean meats, poultry and seafood, dairy and eggs, and some plant-based sources such as some grains, beans, legumes, nuts and soy.
How are isolated BCAAs made?
Although essential amino acids are widely available in food naturally, they are also synthesized - produced synthetically in a lab, and sold as dietary supplements, such as your common workout supplement.
Most BCAAs on the market have been synthesized from duck feathers, human hair, and other animal by-products. If drinking someone else’s hair isn’t gross enough, the ‘natural’ BCAAs that have more recently emerged on the market are often fermented high-fructose corn syrup.
Not only sold as BCAAs products, synthesized BCAAs have also been used by some supplement companies to boost the protein content of their protein powders. The reasons why add amino acids need to be added to protein powder baffles us. It also raises some questions about the quality of that protein.
At Bare Blends, we choose to use only the highest-quality protein sources, which naturally have high levels of BCAAs along with the other essential amino acids. As such, we have no need for additional isolated ingredients due to the impressive nutritional profile of our protein.
Safety concerns about taking BCAAs.
Although upping your protein intake (and therefore your amino acid intake) with natural and unprocessed foods is beneficial for exercise performance, the peer-reviewed studies conducted on taking isolated BCAAs for physical performance haven’t yielded any positive results.
Many studies into the supplementation of isolated amino acids resulted in safety concerns, and the potential adverse effects, such as being toxicants, and in some cases, causing fatalities. In 1989, a number of people were diagnosed with eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), thanks to the supplementation of the amino acid tryptophan. More than 30 people died, and many were severely injured due to taking this supplement.
As for BCAA supplementation, it’s been proven more than once that taking BCAAs is unnecessary for people who are already getting enough protein in their diet, and has no beneficial effects on body composition or muscle performance.
You can read the results of these studies here:
This study, The Nature of Human Hazards Associated with Excessive Intake of Amino Acids, is a summary of the evidence regarding the safety concerns of taking isolated BCAAs.
The best natural sources of BCAAs?
Sufficient protein intake will ensure that you’re consuming natural and beneficial amino acids, which are essential for muscle growth and repair.
After exercise, our muscles act similarly to sponges - they absorb whatever nutrition we feed ourselves with. That’s why consuming a high-quality protein is critical post-exercise - it will help your muscle fibres repair and rebuild themselves faster, improving your recovery time and allowing you to work out again sooner. Protein will also help to restore your energy levels that have been depleted from exercise much faster.
Whey protein has the highest amount of protein - usually up to 26g per 30g serving, as well as the most celebrated amino acid profile. It is perhaps the convenient source of protein to consume post-workout, and it quickly and easily absorbed by the body.
A plant-based protein powder is also recommended for vegan and plant-based diets to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients needed post exercise.