Through the years of working at Rush, I’ve had a lot of questions surrounding supplements. What should I take? What Brand is better? How much should I be taking? Do they work? I wanted to clarify some of these questions today and help you make an informed decision when it comes to branch chain amino acids (bcaa’s) and protein supplements.
First I want to clarify the purpose of supplements. Just as the word implies; supplements are meant to supplement your current diet; not be the main source of nutrient. In a perfect world, you are sourcing all your macronutrients through whole foods. When this isn’t possible, you can use supplements to help fill the gaps.
Branched chain amino acids are the building blocks of Protein. A molecule of protein is composed of a large chain or multiple long chains of amino acids. The belief is that supplementing with bcaa will help negate muscle protein breakdown while exercising. There are a total of 22 amino acids of them, 9 are essential (body can’t produce on their own). Of these 9, 3 are deemed as being more effective at muscle synthesis (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). Most BCAA drinks are these three together. Recent research has shown that all 9 amino acids are needed to achieve muscle synthesis. That by isolating these 3 and then the other 6 becomes a limiting factor for building muscle. In other words you would be better off consuming complete protein sources in food (meat) or protein shake (during workouts).
If we look at supplementing protein, there’s a lot of options out there. I always try to get the brand with the least amount of ingredients. This is because more ingredients are in there more chances that there’s 1-less positive ingredients and 2-fillers. After this it’s pretty much a preference on source and flavor. Protein sources could be whey, pea, rice, beef, eggs etc… Might depend on your body’s preference for which kind you chose. If you do go with whey, there’s different kinds that are derived from dairy. Isolate which is the purest form of protein from dairy, this mostly only contains protein (expect to pay more for this type). Then there’s concentrate which includes carbohydrates, and last one worth mentioning is casein protein. Casein is a slower releasing protein that is a great option before bed or when you won’t be eating for a while. This will allow you to digest protein in your system for longer.
My recommendation is always to eat first and if you are not able to consume enough protein to support your goals through the whole food sources, then supplement. Remember protein supplements do not come close to the nutritional advantage of eating complete proteins (meat sourced in this case). But if you do supplement, like the research has shown, go for the protein not the bcaa supplement, save some money and reap the benefits.
Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men – PubMed (nih.gov)
Whey protein ingestion in elderly results in greater muscle protein accrual than ingestion of its constituent essential amino acid content – PMC (nih.gov)
Joey Gour R.Kin, CF L2