Many people consider BCAAs one of the best supplements for muscle gain, fat loss, and recovery. And yet, the science behind the effectiveness of BCAAs is surprisingly empty.
BCAAs are a collection of the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine (usually in a 2:1:1 ratio). Leucine is an “anabolic factor” and signal for muscle protein synthesis, which helps prevent muscle loss or even promote muscle gain. So, on paper, it would make sense to take BCCAs to support your body’s needs. However, there’s a fundamental flaw that makes BCAA supplements a complete waste of money.
What's the Difference Between BCAA and Protein?
It’s not that BCAA’s are ineffective, it’s that they need other amino acids to unleash their magic. There are 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) that your body can’t produce on its own, meaning you need to get them from your diet. Taking BCAAs without the other EAAs is like going to a Destiny’s Child concert without Beyoncé.
Your body breaks down protein into amino acids, and then those amino acids work together to support the different needs of your body (whether it's building muscle, speeding recovery, or even supporting the health of your hair or skin).
But here's the key: there is a scientific principle known as the limiting amino acid. If your body is missing any of the essential amino acids, then the ability to make use of the essential amino acids you have consumed is limited. In other words, only taking BCAAs means your body is missing important pieces of the puzzle (the other essential amino acids) and you won't see the benefits.
Do You Need BCAAs If You Take Whey Protein?
How do you get BCAAs and EAAs? Just eat a complete protein, like that found in beef, dairy, poultry, eggs or a whey protein powder or pea protein. (Note: if you're taking plant protein sources, most are incomplete and don't have all the essential amino acids, which is why pea protein isolate is best, or you need a blended source of proteins).
While BCAAs are high in leucine, so are most complete protein sources. So, whether you’re chugging down a protein shake or enjoying a delicious steak, you’re getting your BCAAs (and a significant dose of leucine).
And research backs it up. When comparing muscle protein synthesis of BCAAs to whey protein, the BCAAs alone increased muscle protein synthesis only half as much the whey protein.
Benefits of Protein Powder
Some might still argue that BCAAs have two advantages over whey or plant protein: rate of digestion and calories.
Much like other claims, protein powder is still undeniably superior.
The total amount of protein you eat is what matters most for gaining muscle and losing fat. The speed of digestion or absorption just doesn't matter all that much.
And, while many BCAA products appear to be “calorie free,” please don’t be fooled. The FDA has a loophole where anything that has less than 5 calories per serving doesn’t need to be listed on a label. One gram of BCAAs is 4 calories. Technically, 1 gram of BCAAs is calorie-free. They are not. For example, if you’re taking 10 grams of BCAAs, then you’re consuming 40 calories.
In other words, if you want to get 30 grams of protein from BCAAs, then it would be the exact same number of calories as getting 30 grams from a high-quality whey protein isolate.
Final Verdict: Which Should You Choose?
Bottom line: If you consume enough protein, then there’s no need to worry about purchasing extra BCAAs, which tend to be rather expensive, especially compared to whey.
For the most premium source of protein, Ladder offers a grass-fed whey and milk protein isolate, which is loaded with all the BCAA's and EAAs you need. If you are vegan or are sensitive to dairy, try Ladder Plant Protein, which includes the highest grade of pea protein isolate and pumpkin protein. Both proteins are NSF Certified for Sport, meaning they meet the highest standards for quality and purity.