If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. This is perhaps one of the most profound phrases I’ve heard, and it’s damn right too, plus… it transcends into the world of supplements as well. What I’m specifically alluding to is the Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA), which is a group of essential amino acids that are unanimously considered to encourage muscle growth better than any others. Chief among the BCAAs is Leucine, a supremely anabolic, proteinogenic amino acid that is heavily backed by research supporting its efficacy at growing muscle.
Protein and beyond
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions in the supplement world is that the combined use of a BCAA and whey protein is unnecessary… well, that is quite simply not true. Allow me to explain. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins, and therefore by default, a protein contains amino acids… however, not all proteins deliver the BCAAs, and few deliver the BCAAs in the amounts your body needs! So when people select a protein supplement they are tasked with finding the protein that is best absorbed and used by the body, as well as being high in BCAAs.
A whey protein is the best option, specifically a high percentage whey protein that is comprised of mainly whey protein isolate, hydrolysate and concentrate. This protein shake would be ideal for post workout because it delivers the BCAAs needed to maximise recovery and muscle protein sysnthesis (growth), whilst also minimising muscle breakdown thereafter (or at least until the next hit of protein). Now the thing to remember is this… A whey protein shake may be high in protein, but this protein may only keep your muscles topped up for a few hours, and larger muscles need more protein than smaller ones, and growing muscles often need more protein than all of these! So in order to ensure that your body continues to receive the amino acids it needs to maintain muscle protein synthesis over the course of the day, sip a BCAA supplement!
Protein and BCAAs work better when they’re together
I don’t mean that you should consume these two supplements in one go, rather you should aim to combine the two into your daily supplement routine in order to orchestrate a two pronged approach to muscle growth. You see, although BCAAs and protein are pretty much one and the same thing, they do work via slightly different mechanisms when it comes to muscle growth. Protein is designed to be consumed as a mid-meal source of protein, but more specifically as a post workout shake to spike insulin, deliver high amounts of readily available protein, and to provide it in the bodies preferred form…liquid. BCAAs are unique in that they are optimally balanced to provide the key muscle building amino acids (Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine), and nothing else (usually). These amino’s are able to stave off muscle breakdown and encourage muscle protein synthesis during the day. Sipping a good 3: 1: 1 ratio BCAA over the course of the day reduces muscle breakdown AND encourages the release of mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin), an enzyme known as a kinase that sends signals to target proteins (muscle) to grow! Clever stuff hey…and it’s BCAAs that are pivotal in this process.
So if you’re finding yourself at a sticking point with your training and muscle growth, and want to smash through that physical AND mental plateau, then a good quality BCAA may be the key.