Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You? – Part 2

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If you missed Part 1 of this article series on the tiny, possibly over-hyped protein building blocks called “amino acids”, you can read “Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You? – Part 1” by clicking here

 

So you probably already know all about Essential Amino Acids, or “EAA's” if you read that article linked to above. EAA's kissing cousin are the Branched Chain Amino Acids, or “BCAA's”, and the BCAA's include leucine, isoleucine, and valine (good names for preppy kids, if you ask me).

The BCAA's are interesting (at least to people in white lab coats) because they are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver. This means that BCAA's can be relied on as an actual energy source during exercise, and could therefore prevent premature muscle breakdown. There was actually one compelling study done by a guy named Ohtani that showed exercising individuals who got BCAA's had better exercise efficiency and exercise capacity compared to a group that didn't get BCAA's.

Other studies have found that BCAA's could increase a ton of factors that are really useful for an exercising athlete, like red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and serum albumin, and could also lower fasting blood glucose and decrease creatine phophokinase, which means less inflammation, better red blood cell formation, and better formation of storage carbohydrate.

But that ain't all.

BCAA supplementation after exercise has been shown to cause faster recovery of muscle strength, and even more interestingly, the ability to slow down muscle breakdown even during intense training and “overreaching” (getting very close to overtraining). Just Google the branched chain amino acid studies by Sugita and Kraemer for more on that (yes, shocker, this is a blog post, and not a peer reviewed scientific journal report with full citations, because if it was the latter, you'd be asleep by now – so if you're a science nazi, then go get busy on Google scholar).

OK, so continuing onto with the many cool things that BCAA's can do…

When you supplement with BCAA's, they can decrease the blood indicators of muscle tissue damage after long periods of exercise, thus indicating reduced muscle damage, and they also help maintain higher blood levels of amino acids, which, if you recall from Part 1, can make you feel happier even when you're suffering during exercise.  So as you may have guessed, low blood levels of BCAA's are correlated with increased fatigue and reduced physical performance.

Heck, they even use BCAA's in medicine. BCAA's could help people recover from liver disease, could assist with improvements in patients with lateral sclerosis, and could help recovery in patients who have gone through trauma, extreme physical stress (can you say “Ironman triathlon”?), kidney failure, and burns.

But here is what I think could be the two most interesting things about BCAA's, especially for fat loss:

1. In his book, “SuperHealth: The Last Diet You'll Ever Need”, my friend KC Craichy swears by them for decreasing the appetite when taken 30-60 minutes prior to exercise.  I haven't personally used this strategy, but it could be worth a try.

2. When taken prior to a fasted exercise session, BCAA's could increase fat oxidation (and yes, I'll actually cite a study for this one, it was “Branched-chain amino acids supplementation enhances exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during endurance exercise after muscle glycogen depletion.”, by Gualano, et al)

So if you've stayed with me so far, here's the take-away message about amino acids (and thanks to Dr. David Minkoff for helping me with this nice summation):

If all 8 essential amino acids are present, muscle repair and recovery can start before you're even done with your workout – and when you're mentally stretched toward the end of a tough workout, game or race, high blood levels of amino acids (i.e. from the BCAA's in sports gels) can allow the body and brain to continue to work hard instead of shutting down.

Based on all this, do I take BCAA's and EAA's?

You bet I do.

And I swear by them for enhancing mental focus during a workout, keeping me from cannibalizing muscle during fasted morning workout sessions, and decreasing post-workout muscle soreness. When racing triathlons, I personally use a sports gel by GU, called “Roctane” (which has BCAA's in it) and something called Recoverease for even more BCAA's after a workout (in this case, mixed with a cocktail of proteolytic enzymes, another recovery supplement we didn't talk about.

Also, before hard workout sessions, I pop 5-10 Kion Aminos tablets to get my blood levels of EAA's high.

Finally, just in case I've given you the wrong impression with my picture or analogy, do not eat Lego blocks during your workout. If you have questions about that, or anything else I've talked about here, simply leave your questions below.

Ask Ben a Podcast Question




55 thoughts on “Do Amino Acids Really Help You Exercise Or Are Nutrition Supplement Companies Pulling A Fast One On You? – Part 2

  1. Erin says:

    Should I just throw the whey protein out?

  2. George says:

    I would look at articles at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov about bcaa , creatine , l-luecine , HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid ) , casein & whey proteins , and l-citrulline . This has more unbiased research studies of these proteins. the studies are quite technical , but my take from them is that the prime mover (ie: catalyst) of muscle growth is l-luecine, casein is better at muscle building and amino acids compete for absorption. Older adults(+40) absorb less protein. And HMB (for older adults) is promising in preventing atrophy of muscle.

  3. Dave says:

    Ben

    Really enjoy your Kion Aminos but just read some scary stuff about researchers linking increased BCAA levels to cancer and other disease. Is this scaremongering or unfair links between cause and correlation. You’re such an advocate though it was worth asking.

    Dave

    1. A lot of it has to do with how inefficiently BCAAs alone are actually utilized https://goo.gl/doVuNs If all essential amino acids are present (like Kion Aminos) they are much more effectively utilized. Amino Acids activate mtor which is necessary to build muscle, but an overabundance can negatively impact longevity… However, strategies such as fasting, protein fasting, etc have been shown effective in helping to counteract such effects

  4. Scott says:

    Hey Ben

    I read/hear a lot of conflicting statements about taking BCAAs while fasted. Many people say it kicks you out of your fast. I changed over from a pre-workout to BCAAs hoping it may be a better morning pwo option during fasting – my feeding period is 1pm to 9pm and I really enjoy a little boost for my morning training to get going. What are your thoughts? Appreciate the info!

    1. It's complicated. I take these EAAs (not BCAAs) https://GetKion.com/aminos while fasting, and while some may say it kicks you out of your fast, you're still going to get most, if not all, of the benefits of fasting.

  5. Liz says:

    Hi Ben, what would you recommend for someone who has severely compromised methylation problems? Extensive tests show I don’t break down proteins and carbohydrates properly and am lacking in amino acids and lots of vitamins and minerals, despite a very healthy diet. Exercise is impossible for me at the moment and my muscles are weak. It has been suggested on a Methylation Forum that amino acids taken separately might help. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. I should begin by clarifying the fact that I am *not* a physician and this is *not* to be interpreted as medical advice. Please talk to a licensed medical professional about all of this! The best two options for you in my opinion would be NatureAminos <a href="http:// (https://getkion.com/shop/body/kion-aminos//)” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(https://getkion.com/shop/body/kion-aminos//)” target=”_blank”>(https://getkion.com/shop/body/kion-aminos//) and a multi that has the methyltetrahydrofolate form of folate, like this: https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/product/mult…

  6. Michael says:

    Hi Ben,

    I have had a lot of inflammation in my shoulders and back and hips in the last several months. I started standing at my desk instead of sitting in the last couple of weeks and doing acupuncture to get the knots out of my back and shoulders and hips. I have also cut out grains and sugar and have been pretty consistent with a ketogenic diet.

    Do you think EAA’s will assist in taking out the inflammation since it is putting the muscles into an anabolic state?

    Are there any other supplements or regimens you would use for getting knots out of muscles?

    Best,

    Michael

    1. Honestly there are a bunch of things that you can do. Deep tissue work is going to be much better than supplementation. You need to read this book <a href="http:// :http://goo.gl/EmFmHE” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://:http://goo.gl/EmFmHE” target=”_blank”>:http://goo.gl/EmFmHE

      If you are going to take one supplement I would actually take NatureFlex.. <a href="http:// .https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/kion-flex” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/kion-flex” target=”_blank”>.https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/kion-flex and if you want to go into further detail feel free to book a consult at bengreenfieldfitness.com/coaching and choose 20 or 60 minutes and we'll get you scheduled.

  7. Alex says:

    Thanks for your swift reply. I still need some advise.

    I gym in the mornings which means I do fasting workout. About 3 days a week. I normally take BCAAs during workout and a protein shake after. I’m 42 years old and looking to cut out protein shakes as it can be tough on the body my age (if I’m not mistaken). After reading your article I’m happy to know that amino acids do help in muscle recovery. The BCAAs I’m using is Fuel: One BCAA Armor. It’s in powder form. Should I continue using it? Or just stick to EAAs all the way. Do I still take whey? Your advise would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Just stick to EAA's man. All the way. And if you do use whey, take digestive enzymes first.

  8. Alex says:

    Hi Ben,

    Does this mean I can take BCAAs during workout and then EAAs for post workout and don’t need to take protein shakes?

    1. Yes, and you could even use EAA's instead of BCAA's during workout.

  9. Tom says:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for a great article, but I still have doubts about BCAA supplementation pre-workout for endurance exercise.

    Whilst preventing muscle catabolism and post workout soreness are two great advantages, I have concerns that if supplementing BCAA I’d lose the benefits of improved muscle glycogen storage that fasted training has been proven to have, particularly since valine and isoleucine are both glucogenic and could therefore negate the stimulus fasted training gives for the body to adapt.

    What do you think?

    Tom

    1. Yep, that's exactly why I'm a bigger fan of EAAs compared to BCAA's…slower release of those and less potential for insulin response, etc.

  10. Alyssa says:

    What are our thoughts on taking both BCAA and EAA? … i was considering taking 1 BCAA for my fasting workout in the morning and then 1 EAA later in the afternoon

    1. Too redundant. I don't recommend. If you do it, it would be to save money by using EAA's *apart* from exercise then BCAA's *during* exercise. Apart from exercise, BCAA's are relatively useless.

  11. Mike says:

    I was thinking about trying Bluebonnet amino acids before my 1/2 marathon this weekend. Would taking them fasted be safer on my gut, or would you recommend coffee/small meal beforehand?

    1. I would recommend trying them both ways – but not on race day! Try it on a day when the stakes are low/none.

  12. Administrador says:

    Hi Ben, What do you think about this studies :
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-0… http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23007065

    Basically they couldnt found any benefit of branched-chain amino acid supplements for distance runners.

    Thanks!

    1. I see no evidence that they used 5-10 grams per hour DURING the actual event…which would be the most important time to use this!

      1. acaler says:

        Hi Ben! Im checking the studies and in the full version (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jnsv/58/1/58_36/_pdf) i can see that during the race they consume a total of 10g of leucine, 5 grams (each one) of isoleucine, valine, agrinine, 4 g of cysteine y tyrosine.

        What do you think?

        1. They used about 1/3 of what I would recommend…

          1. acaler says:

            Perfect Ben! Thanks!

  13. Seamus says:

    Quick question what do you make of the herbalife rebuild strength? I have been using it and it seems great and have heard a lot of good things about it? Packed with bccas and low calorie intake also. Just taught I’d ask you you seem to know a lot cheers.

    1. Herbalife makes great products but BCAA's is only 3 aa's. MAP is 8! http://www.pacificfit.net/items/map

  14. Steve says:

    I don't think there was really any question as to whether EAAs or BCAAs were beneficial to athletes. The bigger question is: Is *supplementing* with additional EAAs/BCAAs beneficial to athletes? I generally have a serving of protein in the AM (1:1 casein/whey mix), a PWO shake (whey), and then a serving of casein before bed. Of course, the majority of the rest of my protein comes from chicken, beef, nuts, and so forth. I am already getting a ton of EAAs/BCAA's through all of that so is there really any benefit at all to supplementing with additional aminos? It doesn't seem like it would be beneficial at all.

    1. This may answer your question – check out FAQ section, etc here: http://pacificfit.net/items/map/

  15. Guy Brown says:

    I agree with this article but have only one reservation. I firmly believe the only true and safe way to dose BCAA in through injections. I can testify to the effectiveness of this procedure specifically when injecting BCAA (liquid concentrate) into both the anus and the testicles simultaneously. I realize this is a difficult procedure but well worth the effort especially when utilizing a 4 or 6 gauge needle. Numerous studies have shown this to be both safe and effective. Great article!

  16. Bon says:

    Hi Mr. Greenfield,

    I recently started working out 4 days out of the week and started to take Creatine Supplements. Shoud I add Amino Acid to this combo?.. I weigh 165lbs , 5'11 . How much Amino Acid I should take? and what other product should I focus on as well?

    1. If you want really good results, I'd go to here and do the recommendations under Strength: http://goo.gl/Zu02D

  17. james davis says:

    Hi Ben.

    Interesting article. I probably need to go over it again but i was wondering if there was a straight forward answer to my following question – A trainer that seems to know his stuff at my gym told me that the most beneficial supplement (along with a good diet) for gaining muscle mass are eaa tablets. Taking 5 pre workout. I also purchased a tub of bcaa’s and an all in 1 powder mix (protein, carbs, creatine, glutamine etc). Based on this info could you advise on the best time and amount I should be taking my supplements. I workout either late afternoon or evening and weigh 75kg.

    Best regards
    James Davis (hard gainer)

  18. Jay says:

    Assuming I don't want to take Roctane and based on your recommendation of 2-4 g/hr, would 1 MAP (5g) be okay or should I only take BCAA? Or am I wasting money by taking during exercise?
    Thanks!

    1. Yes, 1 MAP would work…Recoverease would also be an option.

  19. marco says:

    Ben, I am an ultrarunner and I would like to know what you would recommend before a 50 mile race and after in regards to EAA's and BCAA's. is there a sports drink that can provide the BCAAs or EAAs for during the race or do those only come in tablets? I'm not very familiar with supplements. I normally use GU or whatever sports drink is provided at the event.
    Thanks in advance.

    Marco

    1. I would recommend you take 10 capsules of http://www.bodyhealth.com/MAP/index.asp?ac=pacifi… before and then a gel during the event that contains BCAA's (like GU Roctane) as about 3-4 per hour during the event.

  20. Dan Slayton says:

    This is without a doubt one of the best postings on BCAA's I've read! Nice Job!! Very clear and well-written.

  21. Pawel says:

    How early should I take my BCAA capsules before the fasted morning workout sessions? Should it be an hour before to let the capsules be digested before the start of the training or should I take them just as my workout starts?

    1. About 20 minutes before is fine…

  22. Justin Fiori says:

    I take a full spectrum amino acid supplement everyday. It contains varying levels of each amino acid, I’m hoping the company has done the work and puts in the right amounts of each. I know this is a shotgun approach to taking amino acids, but how much should I be taking to recover from half ironman training. Thanks.

  23. Mike says:

    Mr. Greenfield, would you recommend BCAA in capsule form (not in the gels)? If so, any in particular or something to look for in a capsule?

    1. Capsules can be hard to carry during exercise, but if you're not wanting to take in calories for weight loss reasons or any of the reasons I describe in my "train low, race high" article, then they would be the way to go – vs. gels which could be more convenient to stuff in a pocket, but have calories.

      1. Neal says:

        based on your 4-10g per hour dosage, are you actually taking 40-100 pills during a full ironman? That seems like a lot to consume.

  24. Bill says:

    Ben, how much BCAAs (g/Hr) intake do you recommend for Ironman training//racing? My gel and electroyle sports drink sources (Power) do not contain BCAAs so I'd like to incorporate BCAAs via capsule supplements. Each capsule contains 500mg of BCAA (L-Leucine 250mg, L-Valine 150mg, L-Isoleucine 100mg). Thank you in advance.

    1. About 2-4g per hour, so that would be 4-8 of those capsules. I'd start with 4.

  25. Mike says:

    Great post. Can you comment on using BCAAs post workout v. EAAs v. a Whey Protein. I normaly take whey post workout in a smoothie that reports to have 5g of BCAAs in it. Do you recommend additional BCAAs post workout as well? And what about Glutamine? :)

    1. To be honest, the only reason I take BCAA's post workout is A) I don't always eat gels in training, so I don't have them coming in from that and B) the Recoverease BCAA source that I use also has proteolytic enzymes in it too, which is what I'm really wanting in addition to protein. Glutamine is always good to add in, as that has some solid research behind it….

      Ideally DURING workout, BCAA's and AFTER workout EAA's + whey protein (EAA's will be absorbed WAY faster – no pun intended – than whey).

      1. Joe Blalock says:

        Ben, you mention that you recommend Whey + EAA's after a workout. 2 Questions:
        1. Why bother with the Whey if the MAP EAA's have so many advantages? Do you specifically want the Whey because it takes longer to digest?

        2. I also notice that on the MAP FAQ it says not to take them with other protein supplements. Can you comment on that with regard to your recommendation to take both together?

        1. 1. because whey has calories. you need to replace calories, and I recommend a balance of protein and carbohydrates.

          2. I don't take MAP with other protein supplements.

          1. Steve says:

            Hey Ben, great write up on MAP. Can you clarify something here for me (sorry, a good bit of this is over my head…): I’ve been doing Orangetheory classes for about 6 weeks now and have been taking 5 MAP capsules pre workout then another 5 immediately post. So from what I can tell, I shouldn’t be taking the 5 post and instead should take some whey, right? Do you have one I can get from Amazon you could recommend?

            Thanks man-

          2. Yep, that would be more anabolic Steve. The whey protein I recommend is DEEP30. You can check it out here: https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/product/deep…

  26. Yannick says:

    after an exerice session is it better to take amino acids with some simple sugar or just 100% amino acids? btw your description about amino acids are the easiest and best one to understand!

    1. Yes, you definitely want some carbs, which will help to increase insulin levels and increase absorption, and are also very good fo restoring muscle glycogen levels.

  27. Jason Adams says:

    Fantastic. This is the most thorough scientifically based description of what BCAAs and can do for me. I am 36 and am just really getting started into my exercise regimine. I do some form of cardio four to five days a week as well as weights. So I’ve been really trying to shock my body into getting used to both cardio and weights, but the price is always soreness and slow recovery.
    I know that this probably bordering on overtraining, especially since I’ve just started a few weeks ago. I haven’t yet supplemented, but this seems to be right up my alley. So, thank you for the enlightenment.
    And the thing about the Legos.. Priceless

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