Hello everyone! Today I am going to touch on a very popular and controversial topic…. Supplements. Yes, we know supplements are constantly discussed and sometimes an argued topic in the fitness community. There are many thousands of supplements with thousands of brands, and you are always seeing adds for them. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are full of companies that showcase their products and even give certain “influencers” free supplies and push to attempt to get your purchase. Are supplements worth the hefty price tag that usually accompany them? Do they actually work? Can you trust the ingredients in them? All of these are great questions and I am going to answer them to the best of my ability. There are in fact some supplements that help your performance in the gym and of course supplements that are a huge waste of money and provide little to no effect on your performance or health.
I am going to start this list off with (in my personal opinion) the biggest argued supplement offered, AMINO ACIDS! If there is a supplement that has been questioned time and time again, it’s this one. First let me explain what an amino acid is and what it does. Amino acids are compounds found in your body that do a number of different things. They are critical for the process of protein synthesis (process in which cells make proteins.) They are also needed for synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. There are a few different types of amino acids, but we will stick to the ones that supplements companies push the most, Branch Chain Amino Acids and Essential Amino Acids. There are nine amino acids that are considered to be essential. Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Your body needs all nine of these to create a complete protein. Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs supplements only contain 3 of these 9 (leucine, isoleucine, and valine). While EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) contain all 9 essential amino acids. Your body unfortunately does not make any of these amino acids, meaning that you have to obtain them through your diet. Types of food that contain all nine essential proteins are meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
Now having a general idea of what amino acids are and their function, should we take an amino supplement? If you are obtaining the correct amount of protein through your diet, then these supplements are not needed. The recommend protein intake is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight and upwards of 2 grams per kg if you consistently exercise or weight train. I am 275 pounds and lift weights intensely on a regular basis, so I need roughly 240 grams of protein daily. If I meet that protein goal my body will have all the amino acids I need to function properly and recover from training. In a study from 2018, it was shown that the addition of BCAA supplementation may have helped combat muscle soreness but had little to no effect on athletic performance. The study states that BCAAs may have a trivial effect on muscle maintenance during isometric style training, it did not improve dynamic style training. It continues to conclude that if a diet 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day that the effects of BCAAs a negligible. Another study shows that BCAAs alone are not effective due to the lack of all nine EAAs. A study from 2010 stated consumption of EAAs with Protein may prevent muscle catabolism after heavy resistance exercise. That study also stated that the combination of EAAs with Protein could provide results, but EAAs without the presence of protein showed little to no effect.
Take all of that information as you please. I personally would not recommend either BCAAs or EAAs. BCAAs have been tested to have little to no effect on training. EAAs may work if taken with protein, but not enough to justify the $40-$50 a month you will spend for marginal gains. Thanks for reading!
VanDusseldorp TA, Escobar KA, Johnson KE, et al. Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Recovery Following Acute Eccentric Exercise. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1389. Published 2018 Oct 1. doi:10.3390/nu10101389
Jackman, S., Witard, O., Philp, A., Wallis, G., Baar, K., & Tipton, K. (2017, May 24). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Ingestion Stimulates Muscle Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following Resistance Exercise in Humans. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00390/full
Hulmi, J.J., Lockwood, C.M. & Stout, J.R. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. Nutr Metab (Lond) 7, 51 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-7-51