BCAAS: What are they? What do they do? Who should be using them? Are they worth it?
BCAA stands for branch chain amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. The logic behind supplementing with BCAAs is that they will help build muscle tissue. However, studies have shown that BCAA supplementation does not improve athletic performance in terms of strength or endurance, and will not promote muscle growth in untrained individuals. However; in the 2008 review published by the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, it was determined that branched-chain amino acid supplementation does affect muscle recovery and the immune system.
How can you determine if BCAAs are something you should be using and whether they are worth it or not?
If you are training at or near your maximum recoverable volume (MRV) and are already following a nutrition plan that is geared towards optimizing performance and recovery, then BCAAs may be a small factor in helping you to optimize you training program. Or if you aren’t already doing the most important things (training and eating) optimally, the supplementation will have little to no significant effect. If you aren’t eating enough quality protein to rebuild your muscles after a workout, BCAAs are not going to make up for it.
How can you determine which BCAA supplement is the best for you?
Leucine is often touted as the most essential amino acid in BCAAs, and the workhorse when it comes to muscle recovery. However; most studies showing this effect have been done on rats and human studies have not had the same results. For example, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a 2010 study on the effects of adding leucine to pre- and post-exercise beverages and found that there was no effect on acute muscle recovery or performance. So, take what you hear about leucine and other amino acids with a grain of salt.
At the end of the day, if you want to supplement with BCAAs, choose one that you like from a reputable brand and try not to overthink it. On the other hand, if you don’t want to spend the money, you probably won’t be impeding your progress much, if at all.
Negro, M., Giardina, S., Marzani, B., & Marzatico, F. (2008). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system. Journal of Sport Medicine and Physical Fitness,48(3). Retrieved April 24, 2018, from https://search.proquest.com/openview/15d14fc4aa708f06ba13ed459aa767e1/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=4718.Stock, M. S., Young, J. C., Golding, L. A., Kruskall, L. J., Tandy, R. D., Conway-Klaassen, J. M., & Beck, T. W. (2010). The Effects of Adding Leucine to Pre and Postexercise Carbohydrate Beverages on Acute Muscle Recovery From Resistance Training [Abstract]. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research,24(8). Retrieved April 24, 2018, from https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/08000/The_Effects_of_Adding_Leucine_to_Pre_and.33.aspx.