Friday, June 18, 2010

Rethinking BCAAs

I've never recommended BCAAs to anyone who's asked me about them.  I generally tell them that they get a sufficient amount in their whey and that to supplement with the necessary dosages to get a beneficial advantage requires an extremely large dose -- which is extremely expensive.

But a new study funded by Scivation on their BCAA + Citrulline product, Xtend, had some interesting results.  In their study, thirty six men were given either 14g of BCAAs, or 28g of whey, or 28g of carbohydrate in the form of a sports drink (like Gatorade), or a placebo.  The group consuming the 14g of BCAAs had a decrease in body fat, increase in lean mass, and increase in strength after only 8 weeks.

That is a pretty interesting result considering the small amount of BCAAs ingested.  The general recommendation for BCAA consumption has generally been around 30g per day taken during the workout, but there has always been contention and a great deal of broscience around what the proper ratios should be for leucine, isoleucine and valine, with leucine being the most important of the three.  Over the years, there have been some interesting leucine supplements sold, but they have never really panned out in real life even though the studies are intriguing.  The most interesting of these being HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid).  An old forum post I made answering a question about whether or not HMB was worthwhile includes some details on this supplement.

You'd really need to take closer to 10gm+ (probably closer to 30) per day [of HMB] for it to be effective. However, [...], there are more studies indicating little to no effect of supplementing with HMB than there are studies showing that it's effective, and most of those were done by the patent holder, Dr. Steve Nissen. Nissen patented it for multiple usages - originally to increase lean muscle mass in domestic farm animals, as well as mood elevation, lowering cholesterol, and of course - "anabolic" effects (nitrogen retention). You can view his patents for HMB here:

Unfortunately, HMB never panned out in the real world for many reasons. The first was because the cost was so high, most manufacturers put it in formulas with minuscule dosages, such as 500mg per serving. It was also introduced after creatine, which proved to be so successful that people were thinking anything was possible - and another amino acid metabolite sounded especially promising. So, when Bill Phillips, founder and former CEO of EAS, said that taking HMB made him "...feel like I'm on Deca [Deca-Durabolin]!" people believed him and bought HMB en masse and were all dissapointed with the results. The quote has since become the de facto joke of the supplement industry.

The other problem when you start supplementing with individual amino acids is that it can have an effect of throwing off the balance of the other EAAs that you want to have and would expect in a normal diet, which is why better results have been shown when using them in a combination (such as with BCAAs, or as I recommend, just using whole protein sources like whey or a full meal). Layne Norton (str8flexed) probably knows a whole lot more about leucine, since he co-authored a study of the effects of it when used during PW - Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise.

The other thing about HMB that was discussed early on was it's conversion to ketoisocaproate aka KIC (see HMB - Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate by Bryan Haycock) which is now available on it's own, patented and sold by Muscletech as GAKIC (Glycine-l-arginine-alpha-ketoisocaproic acid calcium) and Leukic (L-Leucine-ketoisocaproic acid calcium). There are also generic versions of this available [none I could find are still sold, if you find any, let me know] There appear to be more supplements with ketoisocaproate modified amino acids available. So, those might be better alternatives to HMB itself, since they are the compounds HMB would convert to anyway - although there have only been a few studies on them (see the last supplement the blog article I wrote that includes the study and the patents here).

Still, I have seen the very cheap version of HMB that you're referring to [this was HMB bound to calcium], so being so affordable now might make it worthwhile but it's hard to say. Previously, BSL sold a cheap HMB derivative that was modified in such a way as to avoid paying licensing fees to the patent holder, but I don't remember hearing much, if any, positive feedback on that. Maybe some company will come along and start selling HMB ethyl ester or HMB malate to try and make it more bioavailable (there are already companies selling leucine ethyl ester and I don't know if that is any better than the plain jane version). 
The Search for the Ultimate Post-Exercise Anabolic Supplement by Anssi Manninen, M.H.S.
 So, would I recommend BCAAs now?  Maybe, if you can afford them it comes out to about $1 a day and appears to have some good effects, at least during the eight week range.  The true test will to be if someone can duplicate this study.  There is a link to the study (in PDF) you can download below:

Consuming Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplement During a Resistance Training Program Increases Lean Mass, Muscle Strength and Fat Loss


Mike T Nelson said...

Interesting article.
Can you provide the full reference to the BCAA study you mentioned?
I am very surprised that 14 g BCAAs did better than 2X the amount of whey.
Keep up the good work!
rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

pogue said...

@Mike: The link to the study is posted at the very bottom of the article on It's in PDF format.

Michael Bao said...

For those wanting to try out xtend it's on sale at GNC for next day or two. For about 13-15 dollars a tub and it's free shipping. Stacked with bing cash back (20%, you have to sign up for it though, it's free) you can get it for around 9-11 dollars shipped to your door excluding tax. Go to and type in the shopping section "GNC" click on the part where it has the gold coin and it'll link to to GNC then just put the coupon "LASTDAY20" when you're checking out, make sure bing cashback is showing while you're viewing your cart.

Stuartmason73 said...

I agree, I don't recommend it to anybody, specially since my brother suffered a several health condition because of using it. To buy viagra is a better option if you're looking for something new, innovative and with less negative effects. 

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