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BCAAs still useful even if you already use protein supplements

If you ask nutritionists who don't exercise, they'll probably tell you that BCAAs are no use to strength athletes. As long as you consume enough protein the added value of a handful of amino acid capsules during workouts is nil, nada, they'll tell you. But we found an older study that tells a different story.




The study was published in 2000 in Current Therapeutic Research, and doesn't live up to the standards now expected of peer-reviewed journals. The article doesn't say at what time of the day the test subjects took their amino acids and proteins. At daytime? During a meal? Just before training? Afterwards? We don't know, although the article does suggest that the subjects took their BCAAs during the training session.

With this caveat, Carlon Colker's research is still worth reading – not only because the test subjects were pretty experienced strength athletes, but also because the study answers a question that many strength athletes have posed: if I already use protein shakes or quark, is there any point in taking BCAAs or a similar amino acid supplement during a workout?

Half of Colker's subjects got a protein shake every day containing 30 g whey concentrate and 10 g whey isolate [Group 1]. The other half was given an identical shake every day, but also took 5 g L-glutamine and 3 g BCAAs [Group 2]. Immediately after they did their workout, and continued this pattern for ten weeks.

During the 10 weeks the researchers measured their subjects' muscle strength by getting them to do bench presses with their own bodyweight and leg presses with double their bodyweight. The researchers counted the number of reps the test subjects managed to do.

At the end of the experiment the subjects in the protein group could do 2 more bench press reps, and the subjects in the protein + amino acids group could do 8 more reps. For the leg press, the protein bodybuilders were capable of 5 more reps, and the bodybuilders in the other group could do 9 reps more.

At the end of the 10 weeks lean body mass in the protein group had increased by 500 g; in the protein+amino acid group it had increased by 1.5 kg.

Including the protein in the shake, the subjects consumed 2.1 g protein per kg bodyweight each day. Not bad for a strength athlete. Nevertheless the 3 g BCAAs and 5 g glutamine supplementation made a difference.

Of the amino acids, it looks as though the BCAAs may play a role. There are many studies of the positive effects of BCAAs on athletes.

A co-author worked at the time of the experiment for Peak Wellness, a company that advises on health, supplements, diet and training. Colker, the first author of the study, has since joined the company.

Current Therapeutic Research 2000 61(1): 19-28.

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