2

votes

To BCAA or not to BCAA, that is the question.

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 13, 2012 at 10:17 AM

I'm fat adapted keto; meat, fat, and greens. No carbs; I'm sensitive and they make me feel hungry and irritable.

I have ZERO PROBLEMS motivating myself to push hard in the gym, ZERO PROBLEMS staying pumped to the last set, ZERO PROBLEMS with hunger or cravings, carb or otherwise, when I'm fasting, as facilitated by ketosis, ZERO PROBLEMS with staying energetic and awake when I need to be, and ZERO PROBLEMS eating/drinking whatever I need to be healthy, regardless of taste.

So, I don't need any crutches like BCAA to make me not feel hungry or give me extra power at the gym, or caffeine to give me energy or make me awake.

I fast from 9pm to 1pm on workout days lately, and lift heavy at 12pm, sort of leangains style, but no carbs. Most of the reasons I see posted for why people take BCAA are the above stated which I dont feel that I need. But, there is the question of muscle preservation, fighting catabolism, and protein synthesis.

I'm not going to be dogmatic about Paleo, for the most part. If it works, its up to each person to judge whether or not to be old school or try it out, as far as I'm concerned. Grok didn't have a commercial blender, and I sure love the ease of my raw beef smoothies with garlic.

But really, ancient man hunted when hungry, as do all predators. Their muscles didn't/don't waste away. We are no different. Can anyone show me hard evidence that taking BCAA truly preserves significant amounts of lean mass by taking it pre workout while fasted, or rather, that you'll waste away if you don't take it before a fasted training session? I've actually seen (can remember where, still looking...) it stated that BCAA actually shuts off autophagy. Are BCAA more needed when trying to gain mass, versus maintaining mass while cutting fat?

Seems to me people are rationalizing the use of BCAA as helping to preserve their precious muscle while training fasted, when the real reason is that they don't really have the energy, mental or otherwise, to train without it (and caffeine too, usually), or they get too darn hungry. I don't mean to be picky, but BCAA in your belly before training ain't exactly fasted.

When I train fasted, my energy goes through the roof! I will admit, I've never been able to gain much muscle. If I load calories and do a mass gain lifting cycle, I gain a scant amount of lean mass and more fat. When I cut calories and keep working out to cut the fat, I rapidly lose both the fat AND muscle and go back to where I started a tiny bit more muscular and a decent amount stronger; my body likes its set point and rapidly goes back there. Maybe BCAA would help.

What are the opinions?

EDIT I tried 10g BCAA 10 min pre workout at 12pm, fasted since 9pm the previous evening. I didn't notice anything positive frankly. Actually, I felt much LESS of a rush of exitement, as if adrenaline was muted.

Afterwards today, I feel all the lousy effects as if I ate a carb meal, from high insulin I suppose. I feel irritable, flush in the face, and HUNGRY, when normally I feel great. I have changed NOTHING ELSE about my routine.

EDIT I tried them again today. This time, the workout was very powerful and I felt less drained. Maybe I'm getting used to them.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:28 PM

My 14-16 hr pre-fasted weight training sessions were thru the roof with energy and strength. The first time I did it, inset two personal records and blasted thru a plateau......with NO BCAA

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:25 PM

Point taken. But I stay really strict and isolate factors on at a time, for what it's worth. I felt the same exact symptoms as when I've tried to add back starch while being VLC, which in that case is high insulin. BCAA produces a high insulin respond too, so given I felt the same after-symptoms, my hypothesis is that it's the insulin.

Bcc4479de4f16939076e0a00e2db1261

(94)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:11 AM

I was like you wondering what affect it would have without BCAAs. I'm going to remove them (BCAAs) and lift completely fasted, and see what happens. Some of my reasons are it tastes bad, money, and laziness.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:03 AM

By the way, how do you know it "jacked up your insulin?" Are you measuring it at home?

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:55 PM

It's not up to me if one day is enough, but what would happen if someone came on PH and posted that they tried paleo for one day and it didn't make them feel good, so they're giving up.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:25 PM

I took pure BCAA, with water, no sweetners BTW

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:25 PM

I took pure BCAA, with water, no sweetners.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:24 PM

Amerindian: thanks for the insight. Well put. I'd like to give the BCAA a go, but after the workout I felt the same awfulness ingrt after eating carbs....felt like high insulin; irritable, sleepy, foggy, and HUNGRY even after a huge protein meal (which usually satiates me).

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:21 PM

Larger amount of fat that is. Anyway, one day isn't enough as you say, with the BCAA experiment. But it made me feel awful, exactly as carbs do afterwards.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:19 PM

Gotcha. Well, I've never been able to gain an appreciable amount of muscle no matter what the diet or training routine. I'm small muscled and my body seems to prefer that set point. I CAN gain abdominal fat, and anytime I eat enough calories of any macronutrient ratio required to gain muscle, even while heavy lifting, I gains tad of muscle and a relatively larger amongst of fat. Frustrating. I'm trying now to hold my current muscle tissue and cut ALL that fat! I'm a climber, so strong and light is best, and one thing that I CAN get from training is stronger.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:13 PM

Actually, they do raise insulin. http://www.livestrong.com/article/503672-branched-chain-amino-acids-insulin-resistance/ And all I can say is I felt EXACTLY the kind of high insulin symptoms after the BCAA as I have felt eating carbs PWO.

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21420)

on June 14, 2012
at 02:40 PM

BCAA's shouldn't give you an insulin response unless you are drinking them in a BCAA+sugar "drink". They are just powdered aminos.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:48 AM

Bottom line, if you're happy with the results you're already getting, then probably no reason to change anything. If you're not, then it may be worth trying something different.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:47 AM

I think like most questions here, the jury will always be out. It is hard enough to even get consensus among the gurus, let alone definitive proof. I was just saying the best way to answer for yourself is to try it for a while and see the results, especially since this is something that shouldn't be too dangerous. My understanding is insulin is a growth hormone, so more insulin during/after weight training should help build more muscle. Feel like crap after is another story, though you could argue 1 day is not a long enough test.

Bcc4479de4f16939076e0a00e2db1261

(94)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:44 AM

Have you tried any BCAAs without the sweeteners? And mixing in water only? They're awful but maybe it won't make you feel like crap.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 10:06 AM

Btw my workout follows Pavel Tsatsouline routines, kettlebells, and heavy 5rep sets. Currently I'm doing pullup/dip ladders with deadlifts.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 14, 2012
at 09:24 AM

@animaleater-You may have to weigh "feeling of accomplishment" with results. I've done both, 12-20 hr fasts with lifting and/or long arduous work and heavy lifting + BCAAs pre workout. The latter is better for body composition and the former for sense of accomplishment. I'm using the BCAAs now, for whatever it's worth.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 09:04 AM

I noticed zero positive effects. But the insulin overdose for the rest of the day sure wasn't feeling positive.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:38 AM

Yeah, I've read those. He has his points. My main goal is preserving muscle while I cut the fat. BCAA made me feel terrible with the spike in insulin lasting all day. I really want to know if fasted training (sans BCAA or anything else) causes one to lose net muscle.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:35 AM

Well, I have no problem working out on a full stomach of morning beef or lamb. In this post though, I'm talking about fasted training and debating BCAA. As for preserving muscle, yes, I want to do that. Is the jury still out on whether or not truly fasted training (12 or more hours) causes a net muscle mass loss, or not? As for harm, well, today I tried BCAA; jacked up my insulin higher than a bowl of ice cream (I'm full time keto adapted), and made me feel like crap afterwards.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:32 AM

I guess fasting to me means taking nothing but water. Part of the pleasure is the feeling of accomplishment at not having eaten anything.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:26 AM

I hear ya both on that one. Thing is, why not just do normal training after a breakfast then. I understand Martin wants to get the best of both worlds, fasted training AND preserve muscle. Frankly, the BCAA jacks up my insulin so high I feel the carb sleepys all day, yawning myself to death in a drugged out stupor....without ever eating any carbs!

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 13, 2012
at 04:49 PM

No, if you are using them on a leangains-esque routine, you do not use them on a rest day. For LG, if and only if working out in the morning, when fasting evening to noon, then they are suggested before workout, 2 hours later, and again 2 hours later.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 13, 2012
at 02:29 PM

If your goal is to gain muscle why not do everything you can to possibly aid that goal? BCAAs may help to avoid any muscle degradation during your lifting session. focus in on a goal - if it's muscle gain then do everything you can do achieve that goal.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 13, 2012
at 01:42 PM

BCAAs in the form of a powdery drink mix have no caloric load to speak of, so while one would be "supplementing" a fast (so to speak), it wouldn't be "breaking" a fast. Tuna, as you noted, clearly would be breaking the fast. Can you elaborate on why you believe use of BCAAs isn't fasting? I'm ambivalent on BCAA supplementation, but I do believe use of them doesn't break a fast.

Medium avatar

(2338)

on June 13, 2012
at 12:45 PM

seems like a waste of money for you in my opinion. you made it clear that you are perfectly capable of training at a high level without them so why spend the money? i think i've heard bcaa's can help preserve muscle mass when eating a hypocaloric diet but i'm willing to bet that if you just focused on getting enough protein from whole foods source that you would get the same benefits and then some.

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6 Answers

2
Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 13, 2012
at 12:44 PM

If you want to gain more muscle, why not just try it for a while and see if it works? It likely won't cause any damage, right? Maybe a no regret move? If you want more of a whole food alternative, this site says that the whites from 2 hard boiled eggs will give you 8-10 grams of high quality proteins, including BCAAs:

http://healthcorrelator.blogspot.com/2011/12/protein-powders-before-fasted-weight.html

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:47 AM

I think like most questions here, the jury will always be out. It is hard enough to even get consensus among the gurus, let alone definitive proof. I was just saying the best way to answer for yourself is to try it for a while and see the results, especially since this is something that shouldn't be too dangerous. My understanding is insulin is a growth hormone, so more insulin during/after weight training should help build more muscle. Feel like crap after is another story, though you could argue 1 day is not a long enough test.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:35 AM

Well, I have no problem working out on a full stomach of morning beef or lamb. In this post though, I'm talking about fasted training and debating BCAA. As for preserving muscle, yes, I want to do that. Is the jury still out on whether or not truly fasted training (12 or more hours) causes a net muscle mass loss, or not? As for harm, well, today I tried BCAA; jacked up my insulin higher than a bowl of ice cream (I'm full time keto adapted), and made me feel like crap afterwards.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:21 PM

Larger amount of fat that is. Anyway, one day isn't enough as you say, with the BCAA experiment. But it made me feel awful, exactly as carbs do afterwards.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:03 AM

By the way, how do you know it "jacked up your insulin?" Are you measuring it at home?

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:48 AM

Bottom line, if you're happy with the results you're already getting, then probably no reason to change anything. If you're not, then it may be worth trying something different.

Ae8946707ddebf0f0bfbcfc63276d823

(9402)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:55 PM

It's not up to me if one day is enough, but what would happen if someone came on PH and posted that they tried paleo for one day and it didn't make them feel good, so they're giving up.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:19 PM

Gotcha. Well, I've never been able to gain an appreciable amount of muscle no matter what the diet or training routine. I'm small muscled and my body seems to prefer that set point. I CAN gain abdominal fat, and anytime I eat enough calories of any macronutrient ratio required to gain muscle, even while heavy lifting, I gains tad of muscle and a relatively larger amongst of fat. Frustrating. I'm trying now to hold my current muscle tissue and cut ALL that fat! I'm a climber, so strong and light is best, and one thing that I CAN get from training is stronger.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:25 PM

Point taken. But I stay really strict and isolate factors on at a time, for what it's worth. I felt the same exact symptoms as when I've tried to add back starch while being VLC, which in that case is high insulin. BCAA produces a high insulin respond too, so given I felt the same after-symptoms, my hypothesis is that it's the insulin.

1
72cd359efb959175e2c7786ea0450879

on October 17, 2012
at 07:19 AM

If BCAAs are twice as insulinogenic as glucose as the following article suggests, the question then is: are they enough to cause a large enough insulin spike to bring a person into the fed state?

http://www.gulfcoastpersonaltrainingllc.com/why-supplementing-with-branched-chain-amino-acids-bcaa-pre-workout-will-be-detrimental-to-fasted-training

[ the link in to this statement Caton's article is dead. It was a quote from Alan Aragon: http://www.forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=961653&page=1 ]

My other concern would be whether large BCAA dosing could worsen or even cause leptin/insulin resistance.

1
F8f38dfefde197df8ac1782ab6e65a60

on June 13, 2012
at 10:44 AM

It doesn't have to be BCAA why dont you just have like 50-70 grams of tuna or something instead(however that wouldn't be fasting). BCAA's are not necessary. What are you doing when you workout to cut fat diet and workout routine wise? eg reps, sets, rest. Taking BCAA's is also not fasting either and autophagy is a very helpful thing, it preserves muscle and improves its quality according to a study I read. As brad pilon always states (not a direct qoute) Its what you do in the gym which is responsible for muscle gain and its what you eat which is responsible for fat loss/gain. He showed a study which had 3 groups over a 10 week period:

G1: 'No weight training' 150g protein intake whilst on steroids= 6 pound increase in lean muscle mass. G2: Weight training 150g protein intake, no steroids= 4 pounds of lean muscle gain G3: Weight training 150g protein intake whilst on steroids= 8 pounds of lean muscle gain.

Now they all had the same protein intake despite people on steroids gaining an extra 2 and 4 pounds respectively of lean muscle mass. Obviously protein intake is not a hugely important factor as many and the fitness industry make it out to be.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 13, 2012
at 01:42 PM

BCAAs in the form of a powdery drink mix have no caloric load to speak of, so while one would be "supplementing" a fast (so to speak), it wouldn't be "breaking" a fast. Tuna, as you noted, clearly would be breaking the fast. Can you elaborate on why you believe use of BCAAs isn't fasting? I'm ambivalent on BCAA supplementation, but I do believe use of them doesn't break a fast.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:32 AM

I guess fasting to me means taking nothing but water. Part of the pleasure is the feeling of accomplishment at not having eaten anything.

34b560c8b9ce660d7839fb7e29d7be89

on June 14, 2012
at 09:24 AM

@animaleater-You may have to weigh "feeling of accomplishment" with results. I've done both, 12-20 hr fasts with lifting and/or long arduous work and heavy lifting + BCAAs pre workout. The latter is better for body composition and the former for sense of accomplishment. I'm using the BCAAs now, for whatever it's worth.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 10:06 AM

Btw my workout follows Pavel Tsatsouline routines, kettlebells, and heavy 5rep sets. Currently I'm doing pullup/dip ladders with deadlifts.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:24 PM

Amerindian: thanks for the insight. Well put. I'd like to give the BCAA a go, but after the workout I felt the same awfulness ingrt after eating carbs....felt like high insulin; irritable, sleepy, foggy, and HUNGRY even after a huge protein meal (which usually satiates me).

0
99ac392257e444e014be6d4da6a900e4

(1036)

on June 13, 2012
at 08:17 PM

My workouts are much better when I take BCAAs before and during a workout.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 09:04 AM

I noticed zero positive effects. But the insulin overdose for the rest of the day sure wasn't feeling positive.

0
De641ff2accb4975e1f42886b43009db

(2227)

on June 13, 2012
at 04:06 PM

Hijacking this question with another question, are BCAA's worth taking before, during or after a fast on non workout days?

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106

(19150)

on June 13, 2012
at 04:49 PM

No, if you are using them on a leangains-esque routine, you do not use them on a rest day. For LG, if and only if working out in the morning, when fasting evening to noon, then they are suggested before workout, 2 hours later, and again 2 hours later.

0
6da7ce6a4a250c46a6e78b5b4e22da83

(987)

on June 13, 2012
at 04:04 PM

I believe Martin Berkhan links to the scientific research he uses to justify his BCAA recommendations and explains why he doesn't consider BCAAs breaking the fast...

For instance:

http://www.leangains.com/2009/12/fasted-training-boosts-muscle-growth.html

http://www.leangains.com/2009/12/pre-workout-protein-boosts-metabolism.html

If your goal is to put on more muscle, I would think following Martin's recommendations would be worth a try at least.

Bcc4479de4f16939076e0a00e2db1261

(94)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:44 AM

Have you tried any BCAAs without the sweeteners? And mixing in water only? They're awful but maybe it won't make you feel like crap.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 08:38 AM

Yeah, I've read those. He has his points. My main goal is preserving muscle while I cut the fat. BCAA made me feel terrible with the spike in insulin lasting all day. I really want to know if fasted training (sans BCAA or anything else) causes one to lose net muscle.

Bcc4479de4f16939076e0a00e2db1261

(94)

on June 15, 2012
at 12:11 AM

I was like you wondering what affect it would have without BCAAs. I'm going to remove them (BCAAs) and lift completely fasted, and see what happens. Some of my reasons are it tastes bad, money, and laziness.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 14, 2012
at 11:25 PM

I took pure BCAA, with water, no sweetners.

Medium avatar

(2417)

on June 15, 2012
at 09:28 PM

My 14-16 hr pre-fasted weight training sessions were thru the roof with energy and strength. The first time I did it, inset two personal records and blasted thru a plateau......with NO BCAA

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