When Taken Alone, BCAA’s Are Ineffective

by Matt Weik

When it comes to building quality lean muscle mass, we all know it starts with our training and diet. When you are able to stimulate the muscle, break down the fibers, and then feed them the nutrients they need, you’ll be able to rebuild those torn muscle fibers and have them grow back bigger and stronger than before. It’s common for people to be consuming protein shakes post-workout to aid in enhanced and speedy muscle recovery. We have all heard of the benefits of protein when it relates to muscle growth and how protein synthesis comes into play. Yet, another piece of the equation that has been talked about over the years was utilizing BCAAs. However, now researchers are saying BCAAs might not be as effective as we first imagined.

Just when you thought you had it figured out

For years brands have been releasing new products to fill a category that is seemingly booming. The BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) is no different. We all know that protein is made up of amino acids. And thanks to protein, we have the building blocks necessary to promote new growth. However, now researchers are saying that when taking BCAAs (L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine) alone, there really isn’t that much of a difference being made and there are actually better alternatives out there that you should consider.

Brands across the United States have been pushing BCAA products and deeming them the best thing since sliced bread. You can use them pre-workout, intra-workout, and post-workout. You can even sip BCAAs throughout the day or in between meals they tout. Some brands have been pushing the fact that you don’t even need to consume a protein shake after a workout so long as you use their BCAA product. Well, as the research shows that I’m about to further get into, that claim seems false. Yet, each brand seems to come out with a new unique flavor profile in hopes they can steal some share from another brand. In the end, it just becomes oversaturated like the protein and pre-workout market already is.

BCAAs do aid in the muscle building process (it’s been scientifically studied and proven), but in order to achieve the best results possible for muscle growth, it appears there should also be some EAAs (essential amino acids) present as well. When researchers looked at studies where BCAAs were used alone and then when they were combined with EAAs, they found a much better muscle growth response in the studies with the EAAs.

In a study conducted by the University of Stirling, researchers gathered a group of participants who actively trained with weights. They then gave the participants either a placebo, a BCAA supplement, or 20g of whey protein following a weight training session. What they found was that compared to the placebo, the standalone BCAA product only improved the muscle growth response marginally. On the other hand, when the participants used whey protein that included the same amount of BCAAs as the standalone but also had the addition of essential amino acids, the muscle growth response was more than double.

Bodybuilders for years have sworn on the addition of BCAAs to their supplement regimen. Many of them carrying around gallon jugs full of water mixed with amino acids that they sip throughout the day as well as during training. And while the BCAAs indeed have the ability to help rebuild muscle and aid it in growth, they might have been cutting their potential gains short by negating the inclusion of things such as essential amino acids (especially post-workout).

One researcher said, “Our results show that the common practice of taking BCAA supplements in isolation will stimulate muscle protein synthesis—the metabolic mechanism that leads to muscle growth—but the total response will not be maximal because BCAA supplements do not provide other amino acids essential for the best response. A sufficient amount of the full complement of amino acids is necessary for maximum muscle building, following exercise. Athletes interested in enhancing muscle growth with training should not rely on these BCAA supplements alone.”

What’s best for muscle growth?

When it comes to building quality muscle, it appears the use of a combination whey, BCAA, and EAA is ideal. While independently they will provide some benefit, when combined it has been shown to increase growth potential by more than double. Give it a try and see for yourself. New gains could be right around the corner.


1.) Sarah R. Jackman, Oliver C. Witard, Andrew Philp, Gareth A. Wallis, Keith Baar, Kevin D. Tipton. “Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans.” Frontiers in Physiology, 2017.

2.) University of Stirling. “Not all muscle building supplements are equal.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 July 2017.

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