Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in #AskGrizzly, Lifting and Crossfit, Master, Music and Rants, Product Reviews, Rant, Strength Training

The Grizzly Guide to BCAA (A Cheat Sheet)

The Grizzly Guide to BCAA (A Cheat Sheet)

I’ve already written pretty extensively about protein in a couple of places, Progenex Review, Progenex Cocoon, & Blonyx HMB. Recently there’s been a lot of chatter in the comments section and around the gym on about BCAA – branch chained amino acids. I wrote a bit about them in the Progenex posts, but I think a full scale post is long overdue. So here we go…

BCAA For Dummies

branched-chain-amino-acids

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are three amino acids with similar structures that beneficially influence muscle. Of these three amino acids, leucine appears to be an important player in muscle protein synthesis and preventing muscle protein breakdown (via its metabolites HICA and HMB) while isoleucine appears to be a fairly potent amino acid to induce glucose uptake into cells; the combination of the two potentially aids in muscle cell growth. Valine is underresearched relative to the other two, and the role valine plays in a BCAA supplement (whether it is actually vital or whether it is just included due to its structure) is not ascertained. – Examine.com

There are several product options for adding them to your supplementation. Short of Creatine, and a full fledged protein supplement, BCAA’s are at least tied for 2nd on my list of things I don’t want to train without.

True Nutrition Sciences makes a leucine enriched whey protein that I’ve tried and liked a lot, it’s a pretty solid price point and tastes great and mixes well, but is only scratching the surface of a BCAA product.

Outside of TNS, there are several flavored and unflavored BCAA options out there that make it really pretty simple to add them to your routine. There are literally dozens of products out there, just about every supplement company makes their own version. I’ve listed a few of the most popular ones as well as my favorites, most of which I’ve tried at one point or another. The most common formulation, and one of the most studied is a ration of 4:1:1 or Leucine, to Isoleucine to Valine. There are some companies that make changes to that, but its unproven that it makes much difference. I like to stick to 4:1:1 wherever possible, even if the Leucine content is altered, I like to make sure the Isoleucine and Valine stay above the 1g/serving mark.

AI Nutrition RECOVER PRO is one of the cheapest options, but it uses a strange ration of BCAA with more Leucine than might be required. The cost per 5g of BCAA is roughly $0.26 and comes in two flavors.

At $52.99 per tub, CORE ABC is one of the most expensive options but it also includes Citruline Malate & Beta-Alanine which are somewhat supported in science, I personally take beta-alanine but it can be added much more easily than for doubling the cost of your BCAA product. With a cost of $0.53 for 5g BCAA it’s a hard sell, but it comes in some nice flavors if you get tired some of the more “traditional” options.

Scivation XTEND is one of my favorite products in the lineup, I’ve been using it, on-and-off for over 3 years, it’s a great product at a fair price, with a solid BCAA content and little filler. It comes in something like 8 or 9 flavors so it’s hard to get tired of if you keep rotating them. It also comes in a 30 serving size if you’re hesitant and want to try a few out. Further it also includes Citruline Malate which is hardly a huge selling point, but a nice bonus to the already fair price and fun flavors. The cost is $0.39 per 5g BCAA.

USP Labs Modern BCAA is probably one of my least favorite on this list, but I included it for completeness sake. They hide behind a proprietary label which is my least favorite thing in the world, it’s almost impossible for me to actually calculate price per 5g/BCAA because they lump the claims in with a bunch of non-BCAA protein’s. So you technically get 15g per serving and 8:1:1 ratio of BCAA, but it’s impossible to know how much of the 15g is BCAA, so I used the 15g, but it’s likely much lower, maybe only 5g, which throws off the comparison. Though again, if you’re hesitant to invest $50 or so on a larger tub, this smaller tub might be a good option. Cost per 5g BCAA – ~$0.31.

L-Leucine Bulk Now we’re into the bulk, or non-branded options, where things get a little interesting. If you’re read about leucine, it’s pretty easy to argue that it’s the most important of the 3 BCAA’s, it’s debatable whether you even need the other two in the presence of other whole proteins. Some would argue merely the presence of Leucine with regular whey is enough to derive the benefit of BCAA. Personally I don’t like sipping protein shakes during workouts, so it’s a tough sell for me, but could be an option for you, so I’ll include it. Though cost wise it doesn’t actually do very well on the spectrum of options at ~$0.48 per 5g Leucine, and not including the regular protein you’d have to mix it with.

Now we’ve come to the True Nutrition side of the tracks, who make a couple of good options, the first being BCAA Bulk Unflavored. Note to the user – “raw” BCAA are terrible, they taste like straight asshole, even mixed with a strong flavor like gatorade you can easily pick out the bitter chemically taste. I would only use unflavored products in a larger shake with at least 1 scoop of strongly flavored protein. That being said, it’s very cost effective at ~$0.32 per 5g BCAA.

This is True Nutrition’s answer to Xtend, True Nutrition BCAA Plus is a very solid option at about three cents cheaper per serving, and about the same effective dose per scoop. Similarly, it also includes Citruline Malate. The drawback is that there are only 2 or 3 flavor options, so if you tire quickly of certain flavorings, this might be a tough sell for you. Likewise, if you already order protein from True Nutrition you can save some cash here on shipping, as well as the 5% shavings from LBEB5. The cost for 5g BCAA is ~$0.36.

Alright, so how do I use it?

The before argument is a bit wobbly in my mind, I think it suffices to mix a big drink and just start sipping it while you warmup, in between warmup reps or during mobility or whatever shape that takes for you, then take sips as you train just like water. I like to mix it with some sugars and creatine as well but that’s another question entirely. There’s a pretty strong argument for mixing at least Leucine, if not a full BCAA in with whatever post workout nutrition you’re getting, the idea being that the triggering mechanisms in the BCAA will increase the effect of whatever whole form protein you’re taking in, hence the Leucine laced whey given at the front. Personally I would do something like the following; given the above information.

1 of either Bulk BCAA Flavored or Scivation XTEND – which have nice flavor choices and are pretty close cost/serving as well as total servings per container.
1 of the BCAA Bulk Unflavored or L-Leucine Bulk to put in whatever protein shake you’re getting.

Obviously the idea being you use the flavored one during training, and mask the unflavored one post training with a protein supplement, as the unflavored products taste awful.

Off the Books Option

Another option entirely is a mix I’ve been working on at TN, I think it’s about as close to perfection as I’ve ever come.

– Whey Protein Isolate Microfiltrated [Milk] (25%) ~ 8g
– PeptoPro – Hydrolyzed Caseinate [Milk] (60%) ~ 15g
– Leucine Peptides [Milk] (15%) ~3g

This mix should tap all the bases, 1 serving during your workout, 1 serving after your workout and you’re good to go. The Hi potency di- and tri- peptides in the PeptoPro are gram for gram the most effective protein you can buy with 15g doing the work of 40-50g of other whey proteins, with the leucine peptides contributing to the BCAA effect or as some literature calls it an “anabolic trigger” – and the whole whey isolate contributing just plain old whole form protein to the mix to round it all out and give it a good texture and flavor. Pound for pound I’m excited to give this one a try. Another option is to get a flavored BCAA option above, and then use this mix as your post-workout with no need to add unflavored BCAA to it.

Hopefully this was a nice primer to the world of BCAA, and a look into my weird ass mind. Good luck!

23 Comments

  1. What would be a good hybrid if any of a muscle/recovery protein and BCAA blend?

    • The two best options for synergy are either the mix I posted at the bottom of this post, or the “More Muscle” blend, with raw BCAA added, that I detailed in the Progenex Review post.

      • Hi Dan I’ve been doing crossfit for just over 8 months now i train 6 days a week and thinking about implementing some kind of supplement to my training. Is there any you would suggest I try ie; the blend you mentioned at the bottom of this post or something else? I’m 20 years old weigh around 72kg’s and stand about 177cm’s tall not sure if that makes a difference or not but any info would be greatly appreciated, Thanks!.

        • Hey Adam,

          Thanks for commenting. If you’re just getting going, I can recommend a few easy ones; the first is a quality protein, either the Progenex replacements if you’ve read those posts, or the new one I list here, but I think you’d be fine with those Progenex replacements. Second, is a simple creatine product, any micronized/instantized creapure. Third, if you’ve already covered those two bases I’d say spend your money on high quality food; meat and carbs. At 5’9″ 158, you’re on the light side even for Crossfit, so that extra mass will get you much further from a muscular capacity and endurance side. If you’re insistent on a third supplement, look into HMB, either Blonyx or any other brand. Both HMB and Creapure are trademarked, so they’re all the same. Good luck!

          • Thanks for reply greatly appreciated!

            What would be the best times to take each of them and what amounts do you think would be most beneficial for me? thanks again.

          • Adam,

            Amount is going to be relative, certainly no more than 40-50g of protein, with 30-80g of carbs, anything more would be overkill. Creatine should be no more than 5-10g in that same shake. HMB is 3-4g per day, usually spread in two equal doses in the AM and PM, so 2g in the morning, and 2g at night. Again – nothing will fill the holes created by eating poorly, so that should be priority number one. Supplements should be supplemental.

          • Thanks Dan,

            In regards to my eating i eat all organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, almonds and i eat grass fed beef which where i live in Brisbane Australia sure comes at a price. I think my problem from what I’ve been reading is i have been at a caloric deficit lately not getting no where near enough carb’s and fats my body need’s to support my training routine i recently watched “CrossFit – A Competitor’s Zone Prescription: Part 1” with Matt Chan on YouTube through to part 3-4 which goes through how to work out how much you need to be eating of each foods do you think that is a good place to start? or do you have a different way that you use to work out how much you need to be eating.

          • I’m not a firm believer that organic makes a difference; grass fed definitely does though – so that’s good. I’ve watched those videos, did some research on zone, and didn’t like it. All those numbers drive me crazy, but it can be a nice place to start if you have no concept of how to fuel. I did a lot of trial and error when it came to eating. Tracking training, weight, and eating; I just found a good level, but part of that process involves aiming too high or too low and having some rough days. Try zone, you might love it.

  2. having a hard time finding the Leucine Peptides on the TN mix, where do I find them?

    • These are a good substitute – even almost preferable minus the convenience of not having them in a mix. BCAA

      • ok so order the mix still and then just add this bag in? confused….
        I sent you an email to for your thoughts on a few items from TN. Thanks!

        • You can use the 500g of BCAA anyway you like, it’s probably easiest to just use it on it’s own and not try and mix it in yourself. You want anywhere from 5-10g (1-2 servings) per shake, that’s the only important bit really.

  3. Dan

    I recently start on Progenex and it is expensive, I am taking more muscle 2x a day and recovery after each workout. I went to the true nutrition website mentioned in your Progenex article, to find the mix you speak of and could not find the BCAA peptides to add . Has this been removed and not available or has it been renamed? I have been doing crossfit for 3 yrs, 4 to 5 times per week. Gains have been hard to come by after 3 yrs so I started a oly class 2x’s per week. I am 42 yrs old, 5′-5″ and 150lbs. Do you think this mix will be better for me, it is the one for the above article. If so , are there any other supplements you would recommend to me or any additional supplement to add to the mix for further recovery. Is this a pre and post mix?
    – (Whey Protein Isolate Microfiltrated [Milk] (25%) ~ 8g
    – PeptoPro – Hydrolyzed Caseinate [Milk] (60%) ~ 15g
    – Leucine Peptides [Milk] (15%) ~3g )

    • I don’t generally find there is a need for “pre” workout protein. You should have eaten about 1.5-2hrs previous, that should be getting digested and providing nutrients to your body in ample supply. Whole food is always preferable to shakes, always. So this is generally considered a during or post-workout shake. It would suit either depending on your needs.

      I’ve switched back to recommending bulk BCAA, as TN has removed the mixable Leucine peptides. They can be found here. So if you feel so inclined, I would do a 35% Pepto-pro (8.5g) and 65% Hydrolyzed Whey. Then you can mix in about a tablespoon or so of bulk BCAA, for an ideal mix.

      • Dan

        I take the more muscle in the morning and the second time in the afternoon if I have not ate a lot that day. I take the recovery currently within 30 minutes of my workout, but as soon as I run thru the progenex, I will go to the formula you suggest. For a pre -workout I use a creatine monohydrate (5Gm) , glutamine (3Gm) with beta alanime (as carnosyn, 1.6Gm) in it, (it is pre mixed). What are your thoughts on this (21.99 for 31 servings)? I read one of your articles that said you use some beta alamine, do you still? FYI, this is my 3rd year of the open, I felt the same way as you after 14.2 with the 73 I got. I did it on Monday and went up to 81. That made me feel I little better, but still had hoped for more. Good luck on 14.3

        • I still use Beta-Alanine yes, it’s dirt cheap, I think I got like 200 servings for $20, same goes for Creatine, I think I just bought about 100 servings for $19 ish. I don’t recommend glutamine to people because the research is spotty and most whey protein contains a fair bit of it anyways such that supplementation really isn’t necessary. So in general for that mix I’d say you’re overpaying. I would suggest you try to find it in bulk from TN, NOW Foods, or some other reputable brand.

  4. What would you recommend for a women’s protein mix on TN?

    • The exact same as I recommend for men. There’s really no difference other than adjusting the quantity for your bodyweight. Women tend to weigh less, so you need less overall calories and protein than a man. So instead of say 50g post-workout, you might skew down to 35g or so. That’s just individual preference though, you can still do 50g if you wanted. Long story short the mix is the same, your muscles are no different than anyone else, they need the same substrates to rebuild and get fed.

  5. Hi Dan Up top is indicates 60% of PeptoPro and 25% of whey but in this comment it seems reversed with 35% Pepto-pro and 65% of Hydrolyzed. This seemms like a big change in the mix I just wanted to make sure I had it right prior to me ordering it. Thank you for all of your help!

    • First – it’s actually a very small change, 5% is roughly 2g, not a huge difference. A little peptopro goes a long way I’m discovering, there is actually no need for anything more than 10g, so I would actually caution you towards something like an 80/20 mix of Hydrolyzed Whey/Peptopro. Then if you take two scoops, thats roughly 9g of PeptoPro, and the rest being just raw high quality substrate. I need to go back in and edit this post after I’ve done my testing.

      • Dan

        Is the reply you gave me still an appropriate mix. Being
        65% hydrolyzed
        35% pepto-pro

        and them purchasing the bulk BCAA, since it is not available as an option @ TN anymore as part of a pre mix. I really enjoy your site and the information you provide. The most valuable information you shared with me was less supplement and more real food. That has become my goal to reach for even if I hate my vegetables.
        Mayo

        • I actually need to go back and edit this post. I’ve discovered with myself that a little pepto-pro goes a long way. I would actually lean towards 20% PeptoPro and 80% Hydrolyzed whey. And yes, TN only sells BCAA in 500g pouches now, they removed the mix-it option, so thats how you need to do it. Glad you’re making progress – always good to hear!

  6. Just wanted to say thanks for your research and recommendations. TN should be paying you. I just ordered your mix as well.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Grizzly Way 131024 & 131025 (On The Road) | Grizzly Strong - […] check out my post about BCAA it’s a great resource (hopefully) for anyone with questions about wanting to add…
  2. Pullups, Pistols, and Pushups - […] The Grizzly Guide to BCAA (A Cheat Sheet) - Grizzly Strong […]
  3. Product Review: Progenex | Grizzly Strong - […] leaves us the Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine, more commonly known in the fitness community as BCAA or branch chain…

Leave a Reply