You’re here because you want to maximize your productivity in the gym. To rip through your workout and leave no stone unturned on your quest for a stronger, more athletic physique.
And what’s the solution? A good pre workout.
But with so many different ones to choose from, it can be difficult to know you’ve made the right decision. That’s where we come in.
In this article we’ll take a look at the current evidence for branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) as a pre workout.
Are they a good pre workout supplement?
Let’s find out…
What Makes a Good Pre Workout?
A good pre workout supplement doesn’t only deliver knock out muscle pumps and endless energy; it improves power, stregth, athleticism and motivation too.
You’ll be able to take your training to the next levels, crushing PRs, setting personal bests, and teaching theweights room a lesson.
They are that effective.
But not all pre wrokouts can deliver such benefits. For every supplement that boosts your workout, there another that sells based on false promise. They’ll leave you dissapointed and short on cash.
Where do BCAAs fit into this? They are often touted as a great supplement to take before your gym sessions.
Let’s learn a little more about them…
What are Amino Acids?
Protein is made up of lots of different amino acids – simple organic compounds found in all parts of the body.
Join a few amino acids together and you get peptides. Join peptides together and you get protein.
If you imagine that protein was the building, BCAAs are the individual bricks that make it up. Peptides would be each individual wall that make the building up.
Some amino acids can only be obtained from the food you eat. These are called essential aminos becasue it’s important that you get them from your diet.
There are also some amino acids that the body can make itself. These ones are called non-essential, as your body can manufacture some for you if you don’t get enough from your daily food intake.
How many amino acids are there?
There are around 200 in total, but are 20 proteinogenic ones: 9 essential and the rest are non-essential.
Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs)
The 20 amino acids are grouped together by their functional purpose, each with their own specific responsiblity.
There are 3 essential aminos that make up the branch chain aminos – these are called leucine, isoleucine and valine.
And these 3 aminos are used by the body to regulate nitrogen balance, maintain muscle tissue levels and glycogen stores. They also suppress the breakdown of muscle tissue during exercise.
And that’s where the theory of BCAAs as a pre workout comes from.
If exercise breaks down muscle tissue levels and the 3 aminos suppress break down, then taking a BCAA supplement before a workout would make sense because it would help you remain anabolic and grow muscle, right?
Well does It? Let’s take a look at what the research says…
Are BCAAs an Effective Pre Workout?
Manufacturers of branch chain amino acid supplements claim that using it as either a pre workout or intra workout (during your exercise session) helps you offset muscle breakdown. And that this can lead to better gains.
The main idea is that BCAAs are a good pre workout choice because they:
- Reduce muscle damage
- Decrease muscle soreness
- Inhbit muscle protein breakdown
- Increase protein synthesis
And for a time the industry went mad on them. Everyone from athletes to bodybuilders could be seen chugging away on a pink or blue drink right before their workout.
Every supplement company was pumping out sale after sale and every sponsored athlete was praising them for their lean, muscular physique.
Scientists started to take note and research started being conducted on exactly what BCAAs could do.
Then all-of-a-sudden people started to realise; they don’t actually work as well as what people first thought.
Research doesn’t support BCAA supplementation
A recent research review by renowned nutrition experts Aragon, Schoenfeld and Dieter  found that even when calorie intake was low, BCAAs did not increase muscle synthesis during strength training.
In fact, the review was actually a rebuttal to a previous piece of research where statistics had been misinterpreted by the original who stated BCAA use had resulted in a significant improvement in lean mass.
Research was done on people that didnt eat enough
If you surf the internet for research on why BCAAs are an effective supplement, you’ll come across the same two or three studies each time.
And they’ve all got one thing in common – the participants were all on low energy diets.
Especially this study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine  which used a group of wrestlers whos low-calorie intake included a measly 80 g of protein per day – not exactly brilliant for muscle gain.
So it’s no surprise that the authors reported a drop in body weight and fat with the use of amino acid supplementation (well they were in a calorie deficit so of course they would drop fat).
Eat enough protein each day and you don’t need BCAAs
The current expert opinion is that if you acheive your receommended protein intake each day – which is around 1.3-1.8 g · per kg of body weight for an athlete who undertakes strength training  – then supplementing with BCAAs is both a waste of time and money. And this amount can be easily acheived with a normal diet.
Remember that BCAAs are building blocks of protein, so sufficient protein means sufficient aminos.
And if you choose to take a supplement whilst on a protein-rich diet, all that happens is you either stimulate your appetite (BCAAs have been used as a treatmentin eating disorders ), or you just add extra calories to your diet.
You can get all of your BCAAs from food
Rather than forking out your hard earned cash on an expensive pre workout supplement that doesn’t work, you can get a full amino acid profile from:
Key Point: BCAAs are a big money maker, but the research doesn’t match the claims. There are much better pre workouts around.
Summary – Are BCAAs a good Pre Workout Option?
Branch chain amino acids make up the building blocks of protein anabolism. They have been found to exert a muscle building effect by stimulating protein synthesis and offsetting muscle loss during exercsie.
As a supplement though they do not add anything to your muscle building arsenal that a diet rich in protein can’t already provide.
As research catches up with claims made by supplement manufacturers, BCAAs have been found to offer nospecific benefits at all – not even as a pre workout.
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- Dieter, B et al. The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. JISSN. 2016; 13: 21
- Mourier, A et al. Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. Int J Sport Med. 1997; 18(1): 47-55
- Phillips, SM et al. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011; 29 Suppl 1: S29-38
- Laviano, A et al. Branched-chain amino acids: the best compromise to achieve anabolism? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2005; 8(4): 408-14