Optimal sports nutrition supplementation can be overwhelming and downright confusing. There are so many different products on the market that beginners, and even advanced athletes can get tricked into buying. The hype and potential misleading information that infiltrates magazines, social media ads, and internet articles are largely to blame.
The saving grace statement we often hear to siphon through all the hogwash is:
“Stick to your foundation supplements.”
The common “foundation supplements” often include - -Whey protein isolate
Since this above list is our industries set in stone dogma -- we are convinced these are our supplement staples or “must haves.”
I’ll just come right out and say it -- BCAA’s should not be on this list.
Whey protein isolate contains all Essential and Non Essential Amino Acids within its contents and will cover your full-spectrum amino acid needs. People reading this article, and whom partake in living an active lifestyle, whether lifting weights, playing sports, or all of the above, presumably adopt proper nutrition habits too.
Therefore, eating ample protein meals throughout the day will negate the use of additional supplementation with BCAA’s. After you ingest a whey isolate shake or eat a protein laden meal, you have essential amino acids floating around in your bloodstream during this post-prandial period. This state of elevated amino acids in the blood will shift your body into a state of protein accretion or muscle protein synthesis. When this elevated blood amino acid level decreases, you now face the dilemma of muscle protein degradation.
Remember -- you are always in a constant battle of protein synthesis V.S. protein breakdown.
Misleading marketing from magazine or social media ads, product write ups, YouTubes, etc… have conditioned people to believe that supplementing with BCAA’s will put the brakes on protein breakdown, and possibly augment protein synthesis. The problem with this train of thought is the BCAA’s are missing the other 6 essential amino acids (EAAs) to fully initiate the process and accrue protein into muscle tissue.
NOTE: The the other 6 essential amino acids are; phenylalanine, lysine,threonine, histidine, tryptophan and methionine.
In fact, when you use the 3 BCAA’s (leucine,isoleucine, valine), during a fasted period, your body will pull essential amino acids from actual muscle tissue to complete the muscle protein synthesis process in the absence of ingested whole-food protein from a previous meal.
So your body has 2 options: Derive essential amino acids from muscle or hopefully pull from elevated blood plasma levels from a prior ingested meal.
It is therefore impossible for consumption of only BCAA’s to create an anabolic state in which muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. The availability of the other 6 EAA’s will rapidly become rate limiting for accelerated protein synthesis.
Interestingly enough -- we all know insulin is anti-catabolic (or should know). The ingestion of glucose or glucose polymers turns on anabolic signaling pathways from the insulin response. However, regardless of this activation, with a deficiency of essential amino acids ( via no protein ingested with glucose), we cannot activate muscle fractional synthetic rate. Conversely, with zero insulin activated from glucose consumption, but when a small amount of EAA’s (3g) are ingested, muscle protein synthesis is activated without being dependent on other initiation factors such as; Akt, S6 kinase, and 4E–BP1 etc…
Could BCAA’s be useful to enhance the flavoring of water? Sure. But I think MIO, Crystal Light and sugar-free Kool-Aid squeeze bottles are far cheaper and just as tasty “flavor enhancers.” (mild sarcasm)
The take home message is this: When wanting to maximize protein synthesis, which enhances your likelihood of muscle mass accrual and strength gains, make sure you are eating adequate protein every 2-4 hours with a complete amino acid profile (e.g. chicken,turkey,beef,pork, eggs, yogurt, etc…). As for supplements, whey protein isolate, egg white powder, or beef protein isolate powder are good choices. Last but not least - using a high quality Essential Amino Acid (EAA) formula such as Ajinomoto brand amino acids, which are found in MPA PharmGrade™ would give you the necessary raw materials needed -- without stealing aminos from muscle and blood.