You see these claims every day on all these YouTube channels and blogs; “bro scientists”, saying you need to sip BCAAs all day long so you can “stay anabolic 24/7”. What they won’t tell you however, is that they don’t have any scientific evidence to support their claims. In fact, following this very advice may be one of the reasons you’re not seeing gains.
If you want to know the truth about BCAAs supported with real scientific evidence and how to avoid destroying your gains, you need to read this article...
What Are BCAAs?
BCAAs are a popular supplement for many athletes, but I have recently noticed many examples of those who don’t fully understand what they are, or how they can be properly used effectively.
If you missed the RADLAB™ live video where I spoke about BCAAs and how they can be used for maximum benefit to get the most out of your supplements instead of wasting them, or simply want to read a little deeper into it; I have highlighted the research in this blog post.
BCAAs (or branched chain amino acids) are only 3 amino acids out of the full spectrum of 20, namely leucine, isoleucine and valine. They play a role in the stimulation of protein synthesis and because of this fact, I see many people who advocate continuously sipping them throughout the whole day in order to remain “anabolic” all day long. Let me explain why this is not a viable strategy.
Protein Synthesis and Insulin
In order to stimulate protein synthesis, the amino acids need to be transported into the muscle cells and this is typically done via insulin. When you sip small amounts of nutrients, this does not trigger a significant insulin response and correspondingly does not induce a great increase in muscle protein synthesis.
Insulin is an important component for nutrition based muscle growth on at least two fronts. The primary role of insulin is to store nutrients in cells. In regards to amino acids, that means controlling their transport into muscle cells, but insulin also plays a role in signalling the muscle cell to initiate protein synthesis, to properly store the amino acids into muscle protein. For this reason, it’s important to understand the relationship between nutrition induced protein synthesis and insulin because these two factors often increase and decrease together.
A great example of exploring the distribution of nutrition intake was from a study by Areta et al. in 2013 that compared a variety of nutrition distributions. Two of which involved supplementing only once every 3 hours compared to a form of grazing, where participants supplemented smaller doses every 90 minutes while keeping the total content over 12 hours the same.
Each ingestion protocol resulted in an increase in muscle protein synthesis, but what the data show is that over the full 12 hours time-frame, a net 32% larger amount of protein synthesis occurs with acute boluses despite the total amount of amino acid ingestion being exactly the same.
Why You Can’t Stay “Anabolic” 24/7
The reality is that your insulin can’t stay elevated forever, but that’s a good thing (you don’t want it to). To maintain a healthy metabolism, you want your insulin levels to increase and then promptly return back to baseline levels. For this reason, you don’t want to keep taking amino acids throughout the whole day. But as it turns out, it doesn’t work that way anyway.
In a famous study in 2001, researchers decided to infuse amino acids directly in the bloodstream at a constantly high rate for 6 hours straight. Using this model they could directly see what would happen with constant nutrition for a long period of time.
By measuring the rate of protein synthesis over time, they observed a 30-minute latency period where protein synthesis was unaffected, followed by a dramatic increase in protein synthesis that persists for the next 90 minutes.
However, between 2-3 hours, it begins to decline and returns back to baseline levels even despite the delivery of amino acids remaining elevated.
For the remaining 4 hours of this study the rate of protein synthesis remains low.
This is known as a refractory period, where despite the high availability of amino acids to stimulate protein synthesis, their constant presence effectively shuts down protein synthesis until you give the system a break. This curve also follows the insulin response again. Even with a constant infusion of amino acids, insulin will still drop after 2 hours.
Therefore based on this data, an anabolic stimulus is only stimulating when you first turn it on. Then you need to have a healthy decrease in insulin and protein synthesis before you are able re-stimulate it again. For this reason, the optimal way to get the most protein synthesis out of your supplementation is to supplement at most, once every 3 hours.
The Bottom Line on BCAAs
Before you start trashing your BCAAs, I want to be clear. I’m not saying that BCAAs are useless or a waste.What I am saying is that sipping BCAAs all day long in order to “stay anabolic 24/7” is a waste and may actually reduce your net protein synthesis throughout the day.
If you’re going to take BCAAs, or any protein supplement for that matter, consume it all at once and then allow time for your muscles to be primed for the next dose.
The truth is, BCAAs are best used as an intra-workout supplement when combined with carbohydrates and electrolytes. I found that a supplement that contained all of these components in proper clinically validated doses simply didn’t exist, so I decided to make one.
Blue Star Nutraceuticals™ AminoFast™ is what I created...
Each serving of AminoFast™ contains clinically validated doses of fast-acting, long-lasting carbohydrates, branched chain amino acids, and electrolytes that provide you with the energy your body needs to conquer even the most gruelling workouts.
- Bohe J, Jow JF, Wolfe RR, Rennie MJ. Latency and duration of stimulation of human muscle protein synthesis during continuous infusion of amino acids. J Physiol. 15; 575-579, 2001.
- Areta Jose L, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley, Coffey VG. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol. 591; 2319-2331, 2013.