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 (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!