Do BCAA's Help Build Muscle?
Have you ever heard of #BCAA’s? You know, the magic potion that bodybuilders must sip in order to achieve gains? If bodybuilders quit drinking BCAA’s, I wonder how long it would take before their muscles deflated… Allow me to bore you with stupid, pointless things like “science” “facts,” and “published research papers…”
Now, before I go further, I just want to clarify that I’m in no way hating on people who drink BCAA’s. As far as I’m concerned, it definitely doesn’t HURT to drink BCAA’s. But the question I want to propose is, well, does it even help to drink BCAA’s? Well, I’ll start this video off with a phrase I never want to hear again… “We must follow the science!”
Have you ever heard of Bro Science? This is when word of mouth is passed along as fact. One bro, who has some respectable gains, tells his bro something he does, and because he’s jacked AF, follows his advice without doing any research. Now, nobody means any harm with #broscience, but when it comes to BCAA’s, it has led to what has become, in my opinion, the biggest scam in the fitness industry. But before I get into that, what does the science say?
One study in 2018 followed 20 males who took either a BCAA pill or a placebo before and after exercise, and they tested many different categories such as vertical jump, jump squat, and perceived soreness along with a few other things. There were no differences between the subjects were observed, although the BCAA group reported to be less sore than the placebo group. Although this sounds like it proves the BCAA’s help to make you recover faster, the study also mentions that if this workout routine was supplemented with a diet of 1.2g per kg of protein per day, these effects would most likely be mitigated.
Another study in 2011 followed 9 males who were blindly given a beverage, some containing BCAA’s, some containing a placebo. Aerobic performance didn’t improve, but their rate of perceived exertion, AKA RPE, was reportedly lower. More on that in a minute.
A review of the literature in 2017 concluded that “the claim that the consumption of dietary BCAA’s stimulates muscle protein synthesis or produces an anabolic response in human subjects is unwarranted.”
So, the only claims that BCAA’s do anything are highly subjective. From our first study, the only benefit is from perceived soreness. That’s like asking two gym bros how sore they are on a scale of 1-10. One bro may say 7, and the other 8. So the first guy’s perceived soreness is lower, but you can see how subjective that is right? Additionally, there is evidence that genetics play a huge role in a person’s soreness, meaning that two people in equal shape may not experience the same level of soreness (4).
In our second study, I mentioned RPE, which is a highly flawed scale. Basically, if you do a set of 10 reps on bench, and you feel like that was 100% of your effort, that would be a 10/10 RPEs. There’s no way to prove that the person’s assumption of 10 RPEs is accurate.
So, why do so many people take BCAA’s? Well, always keep in mind who you are taking advice from. If you’re getting advice from a person who is trying to sell you something, whether it be the homie at GNC or a “affiliate” with a 20% off discount, if they have something to gain, their opinion may be biased. Additionally, the best athletes in the world are sponsored by BCAA companies, and it’s easy to want to take someone’s advice if you want to look like them.
In conclusion, there’s no statistical evidence to prove that BCAA’s help you recover. If you want to drink them, I’m sure it’s not going to hurt! In my personal experience, I always have to pee like crazy when I drink BCAA’s, which makes me feel like my body is just exerting everything I’m taking in. But if your bro, told you BCAAs work, he can’t be wrong. There’s just no way. So what do you think? Are BCAA’s beneficial, or is the science wrong?
Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Recovery Following Acute Eccentric Exercise (nih.gov)
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation lowers perceived exertion but does not affect performance in untrained males - PubMed (nih.gov)
Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? (nih.gov)
Genetic variation and exercise-induced muscle damage: implications for athletic performance, injury and ageing - PubMed (nih.gov)