Question:

Hi there, I work out at the Richmond Hill LA Fitness location. I was wondering if you could tell me about BCAA powders… what are the benefits of consuming these during workouts? Also, many of them contain Taurine which I heard is harmful. Is that true?

Thanks in advance!!

– Josh M.

Answer:

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) required for creating new muscle, along with the other six essential and eleven non-essential amino acids. Muscle protein constantly turns over, meaning that protein breakdown is occurring simultaneous to protein synthesis.1

Supplemental BCAAs may reduce the amount of protein breakdown and notably leucine signals the synthesis process. However, this doesn’t necessarily equate to direct muscle building or growth, termed “anabolism.” Most studies compared BCAAs to taking non-protein placebo.

It’s important to note that the availability of the other essential amino acids can limit synthesis1, thus BCAAs don’t act alone. Due to the nature of protein construction, complete protein strands (found in solid food) contain not only BCAAs but other amino acids. Not surprisingly, research including whole proteins post-workout show similar gains in muscle protein synthesis2.

In summary, it makes sense to eat full proteins (such as whey, casein or soy) with additional BCAAs rather than ingest BCAAs exclusively to promote anabolism.

Supplemental BCAA powders generally offer 5 grams BCAA per serving, while capsules may offer as little as 1.5 grams BCAA. In regards to the amino acid taurine, I advise limiting supplemental intake to 3000 mg (3gm) daily, consistent with research3. That level is not likely to be found in strictly BCAA supplements but may be found in pre-workout formulas with other compounds.

Resources:

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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