Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Of these, nine are considered essential. When a substance is said to be essential for the body it means without it you will die. Essential amino acids therefore are ones we cannot survive without. Likewise essential fatty acids are necessary for us to thrive. Of the essential amino acids, three account for as much as 33% of muscle tissue – leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The theory goes that because we break down muscle tissue while exercising, supplementing with it can only be a good thing. Supplement companies obviously believe so or else they wouldn’t keep making BCAA supplements, but does the science really back up those claims? According to a new study from the University of Stirling, involving the universities of Exeter and Birmingham and published in Frontiers in Physiology, while BCAA supplements do stimulate the muscle building response in individuals after they lift weights, other muscle-building supplements are far more effective.
The UK researchers delved into the workings of skeletal muscle to determine how effective BCAAs are for muscle growth. They found that BCAA supplements do stimulate the systems in your body that cause muscle growth, but they lack in essential amino acids. Without all the amino acids, your internal mechanisms can’t trigger that maximal muscle growth response.
Remember that BCAA supplements contain just three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. While these three amino acids make up 66% of the amino acid volume required for building muscle, the other 33% comprises six other amino acids: histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. Without these other six, your body is unable to produce muscle tissue.
BCAAs are intended to stimulate muscle growth response and thus are considered one of the most important supplements for resistance trainees and bodybuilders. But taking BCAAs on their own will not lead to muscle growth, as they aren’t providing all nine amino acids.
The three amino acids in BCAA supplements will stimulate your body’s muscle growth response, but it needs those other six amino acids for your body to produce new muscle tissue. By mixing the two supplements (BCAAs and complete proteins), you turn on that muscle-building switch and feed it the fuel required. The results will be significant as long as you stack BCAAs with complete proteins. As the study found, the results of taking whey protein with BCAAs led to double the performance by taking BCAAs alone.
Professor Kevin Tipton, Chair in Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of Stirling, said: “Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and the special class of amino acids, known as BCAA, stimulate the muscle growth response. These supplements are considered to be an important part of the nutrition plan for many bodybuilders, weightlifters and others seeking muscle growth.
“Our results show that the common practice of taking BCAA supplements in isolation will stimulate muscle protein synthesis – the metabolic mechanism that leads to muscle growth – but the total response will not be maximal because BCAA supplements do not provide other amino acids essential for the best response.
“A sufficient amount of the full complement of amino acids is necessary for maximum muscle building, following exercise. Athletes interested in enhancing muscle growth with training should not rely on these BCAA supplements alone.”
The BCAA supplement enhanced the muscle growth response slightly compared to a placebo, however, the muscle’s response was more than double when a whey protein supplement containing the equivalent amount of BCAA that included the other amino acids, was taken.
So, THERE’S A SIMPLE SOLUTION: STACK BCAAS WITH A WHEY PROTEIN, PEA PROTEIN, HEMP PROTEIN, SOY PROTEIN, OR EGG PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT. ANY SUPPLEMENT THAT DELIVERS THE OTHER SIX AMINO ACIDS REQUIRED FOR BUILDING MUSCLE WILL DO.
1. Sarah R. Jackman, Oliver C. Witard, Andrew Philp, Gareth A. Wallis, Keith Baar, Kevin D. Tipton. “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans.” Frontiers in Physiology, 2017; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00390.