Fitness, Health

BCAA Supplements: What are they and are they necessary?

October 12, 2015

A while ago, I wrote a post on whether or not protein powders are necessary or not. It proved to be extremely popular and so I decided to step back into the world of fitness supplements and do a post on BCAA Supplements – Branched Chain Amino Acids. They are an extremely popular supplement touted from bodybuilders to BBG (bikini body guide) girls, and as you know, I have always been skeptical about supplements. This post is as much for me as it is for you. Let’s get to it!

What are BCAAS?

BCAAS a.k.a Branched Chain Amino Acids refer to three amino acids (amino acids make up protein): Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They can found in any foods containing protein, such as chicken or eggs. Some believe that BCAA supplements are crucial for building muscle while losing fat and that it can help you train longer and harder. Once again, I went straight to the experts to ask them their opinion on BCAA supplements. I am excited to share that my contributors are Dr. Layne Norton,  PhD Nutritional Science, and Ben Coomber, performance nutritionist and owner of Body Type Nutrition!

Are BCAA Supplements Necessary?

1. Why have BCAA supplements become so popular in the health and fitness world?
2. Do you agree with the claims that BCAA supplements can aid in muscle growth?
3. Is there any validity to the claim that BCAA supplements can help you lose fat and retain lean muscle?
4. Are BCAA supplements necessary for an active individual with a healthy diet? 

Dr. Layne Norton, PhD Nutritional Science

Layne Norton

1) Because any supplement that has research to support it is likely going to be popular with companies trying to sell them.  There is so much stuff being sold with NO scientific data to back it up, so products that do have some data to support them are easy to promote by companies.

2) I think there is modest data to support muscle growth.  I think there is better data to support BCAAs improving recovery and decreasing muscle damage and soreness.

3) In a caloric deficit I think there is good evidence that BCAAs may help spare muscle mass.  Burning fat is a bit more tenuous.  I don’t think BCAAs actually directly cause fat loss.  However, if they increase muscle protein synthesis and protein turnover, that is an ATP dependent process which theoretically could lead to increased thermogenesis.

4) No supplements are ‘necessary’ by definition… they are supplements.  I think they can be useful in certain situations, but it all depends on what the person is willing to spend for what they are going to get.  We are talking about a small percent of the puzzle here, for someone on a tight budget, it may simply not be worth it whereas a person with more money to spend may find that it’s worth it for them to spend the money for a small/modest improvement.  

Ben Coomber, Performance Nutritionist

ben coomber

1) Quite simply due to BCAA’s being found in protein, and we know protein is positive for body composition. So if protein gets the thumbs up, then so do BCAA’s. But if we eat protein, do we really need BCAAs? 

2) Yes and no. They are the building blocks to protein, and protein is essential in muscle growth, so yes they do, but then so does the protein you eat at most of your daily meals. The two most important factors in muscle growth are hitting a minimum (or optimal) protein intake, and having a surplus intake of calories. 

3) Yes and no again. Its the same with protein, protein enables you to maintain more of your muscle mass when you are dieting, so yes BCAA’s can help, but then so does the protein you eat, so again I would stick to just eating adequate protein in your diet. 

4) No. Ensure you are eating 1.4-2g of protein per KG of body weight and you will aid in all your goals. 

What do you think?

This is the interesting part – gathering your thoughts after having read expert opinions from two highly qualified individuals. Did it change what you thought about BCAA supplements? Did you have absolutely no idea what BCAA supplements were in the first place? I want to know your thoughts and whether you think BCAA supplements are necessary or not. 

Honestly yours,

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  • Caitlin October 12, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I recently just came across some BCAA supplements while going through some of my brothers old junk at our parents house. I’d heard of them before but didn’t have any knowledge then quickly started thinking that I was missing out on something while along my fitness journey.
    However I am a believer that supplements are… supplements like Dr.Norton said. After reading this article I have come to the conclusion that BCAA’s may be helpful for bikini competitors or heavy weight lifters, they are not necessary for me to stay strong, fit and healthy. Thanks for the read!

    • Honestly Fitness October 24, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Hi Kaitlin,
      Thanks for taking the time to read this post and for leaving your comment as well! I am in agreement with you in that I am a believer in the fact that supplements are supplements and not 100% necessary. That being said, I do like to use protein powder due to it’s convenience!
      Alice x