by Colin Aina
WTF are BCAA's???
I must say, I'm very much not a fan of the nutrition industry for many, many reasons. I'm also not a fan of supplementation unless absolutely necessary. It's a bandage fix to substitute in place of learning how to eat healthy and for not learning how to prepare food (how many of you have taken a nutrition class in school???).
The main reason is our (we, the consumers) need to adhere to what companies' marketing strategies or other individuals tell us. We read one person's article and tend to fall for whatever that person says as doctrine. We tend to go at it 100%. Mostly at fault are nutritional experts that spew info and confuse the consumer into thinking that if we aren't doing what is promoted by them, we are going to die. I've experienced too many people who focus on micronutrients and all all these nit-picky numbers and they eventually stress themselves out and fall off of whatever healthy eating goal that they have set.
So, back to BCAA’s…
Amino acids are "building blocks" of proteins. Roughly about 500 amino acids are known to occur with 22 of them being part of the genetic code. Branched Chain Amino Acids are the three that have a different side chain, blah blah, blah. They are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three differ from other aminos in that our bodies do not make them. We must get them from our food. BCAA's are significant because they promote protein synthesis (metabolization of protein) as well as the breakdown of glucose.
So what the frig does this mean for supplementation purposes and why are jugs of BCAA powder being sold??
Well, the evidence for the benefits of BCAA's is sparse at best. I've scoured a handful of studies and the only benefits that I can see are that BCAA's may be useful for recovery if you are partaking in a multi-day sport or activity. It can be suggested that if you are training "hard" for a few days in a row, they can be useful.
I see more of a benefit of BCAA's for people that are beginning a training program. The biggest benefit derived from a study noticed that subjects could exercise 17% longer. But, there's no evidence that this longer duration also saw better performance. The more I researched BCAA's, the more evident it is to me that they are really unnecessary if you eat a regular, no-frills diet, or if you take a protein supplement of any form (whey, casein, soy, veggie). With most protein supplements you are getting a higher amount of BCAA's in that alone than you would from a strict BCAA powder.
This leads me to my doctrine of what I tell people when I'm asked to recommend a healthy eating strategy. I quote Michael Pollan and say, "Eat real foods, mostly vegetables and you will be okay." If you have trouble adhering to that...you have other problems that we need to address before worrying about BCAA’s.