BCAA question - newbie!

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 02, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Hi all,

I'm having trouble with recovery post exercise (ever since a bad injury almost a year ago). Been really cautious about what I eat after, not overdoing it, taking lots of rest. I'm down to 2-3 days of weight training (about 30 minutes of actual work with weights total-the rest of my hour is warm up and mobility) and a day of swimming, sometimes an indoor cycling class also. I do lots of mobility work, get regular massages, drink lots of water, etc. Still struggling to recover (even swimming makes me insanely sore...it's not like I'm trying to break records, just swim). Recently I was reading about BCAA's and thinking I would try them for recovery, but I have no idea how to take them.

In Robb's Paleo guides, fasted BCAA's are mentioned. What if I don't train first thing in the morning? And if I do train in the morning, it's almost 2 hours after I wake because I have to teach a 6am class first (and I'm usually waking hungry so I have a snack like a HB egg before I go teach - this gets me by with my training also, otherwise I get tired and weak).

What about endurance training days? What about non-training (complete rest) days? Will taking them daily depend on if I want to lose just a little bit of body fat?

FYI, I eat a pretty strict lacto-Paleo diet with a decent amount of starchy carbs. It's what I've found works best for me through lots of experimentation. I'm not really training for anything specific other than health, well-being and to stay lean. I do participate in a few short triathlons in the summer, but I really could care less about finishing position - I just do it because I have fun with it. I really enjoy weight training and have been trying to maximize the winter months with more lifting because in the summer I typically spend more time on endurance because I enjoy swimming and biking in the nice weather. I keep my reps to something in a 5 rep or less range depending on the % weight I'm lifting (the exception might be non or light-weight assistance exercises-then I might do sets of 10).


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2 Answers



on February 02, 2013
at 01:50 PM

The idea behind fasted training is to provide several benefits:

a) If you fast long enough you start autophagy which cleans up the dead and broken proteins inside your cells, and it also signals the immune system to start cleaning up viruses and bacteria. So you can think of it as a house cleaning.

b) When you work out fasted you are burning through your glycogen stores, both in muscle and liver. This glycogen depletion is what you want in order to reset insulin resistance. If you're after resetting insulin resistance, you should not have a PWO (Post Workout Meal) for an hour or two after the work out. It's a good idea to do this at least some of the time, if not all of the time. If on the other hand, you want to bulk up, this is the time to take in a load of protein and carbs. But it's unnecessary for health.

Now if you eat a post workout meal containing lots of carbs and protein after a few hours, your body has been exposed to both very low insulin and an insulin spike, so this is where you get an insulin reset, and it prevents insulin resistance, hence you avoid going down the path of type II diabetes.

BCAAs are useful if you are doing intermittent fasting, or alternate day fasting, or not working out all the time, but they are useless if you are eating a good quality whey protein supplement because whey contains BCAAs. Some of the BCAAs you ingest will be wasted as a source of protein, but BCAAs prevent catabolizing muscle protein as a source of protein for use by the body's repair processes.

If you want to do fasted training, perhaps you can try something to suppress your appetite such as bulletproof coffee. Since both coffee and the fats in it (grassfed butter and coconut oil) suppress appetite but don't have an insulin response, it's a perfect tool to use to avoid hunger and still get the benefits of the fast.

In terms of recovery, if you're not eating enough carbs PWO, then you will suffer a long, slow recovery. What's happening here is that you need protein to repair muscle tissue, but, you also need to replenish your glycogen stores.

BTW: this is the only time when it's acceptable to have a source of fructose without causing problems, as when your liver is depleted of glycogen it will convert fructose to glycogen instead of fat. (An over consumption of fructose from the SAD causes Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, you don't get this from eating fruit, but you do from consuming several sodas a day and other fructose laden food like products.)

If you fail to consume enough carbs PWO, you'll feel like a zombie for the rest of the day, and won't be able to recover. What's happening here is that your liver starts gluconeogenesis which breaks down protein to make glucose, and until this process is done, you'll be lethargic because it's a very slow process. If you do consume enough carbs, this is unnecessary and you'll recover quicker.

One of the things that's been mentioned on here is a small dose of L-Glutamine, as this helps lessen the recovery time.

There's a mistaken idea that eating carbs and protein together somehow drives protein into the muscle by signalling insulin. It's true that insulin will force all nutrients into muscle and fat, but we generally want to avoid overdoing it, because this will indeed feed fat cells. So there's a fine line between recovery and gaining fat at this juncture. And it will not cause muscle fiber repairs to go any faster, rather the muscles will bulk up because they're storing glucose and glucose also stores lots of water along with it. So it only makes them look bigger, it doesn't actually make them bigger.

tl;dr Work out fasted, this is most conveniently done either in the morning or early afternoon by skipping breakfast, consume only a bulletproof coffee with some BCAAs before the workout. Wait an hour after the workout and have both sufficient carbs and protein.

I'm not sure that BCAAs can be used for recovery because during recovery you're already consuming protein, and your muscles are already being signaled to grow/avoid catabolizing.

Schedule your workouts so your recovery can take place without interfering with events and just sleep or reset. Or if you find you can't recover, you're probably working out to failure which is both causing far too many muscle tears to recover in time, or also causing central nervous system failures which aren't a good idea.

So maybe take a page out of Body by Science, or New Evolution Diet and only do one set at the highest weight and switch between exercises quickly without a rest period rather than repeated sets to failure. You want to preserve fast twitch muscle by avoiding the workout becoming an endurance workout.

You can also do single day workout. Either Saturday or Sunday, with an eye towards a rest day afterwards, and work your whole body at once by use of compound movements rather than isolating individual muscles. (This is what I do, but each person has different needs.)

Vary your workout based on how you feel, if you're well rested and you find after your first set that you're energized, maybe switch to higher weights and do more. If not, go lower volume. Follow a more fractal/random path to your workouts.


on February 02, 2013
at 01:21 PM

I love BCAAs for a mid-workout energy boost. I'm not sure if there's chemistry to support that or if it's just psychosomatic. The brand I use (Gaspari) is definitely hydrating... beyond plain water. I can't speak on rebuilding damaged tissue.

Try making bone broth or using collagen...

Injury and recovery tend to be issues of symmetry. Whichever part of your body is injured needs to be isolated and nurtured a few times a week. For example, I have a meniscal tear in my right knee. A few times a week I'll stand to the left of a stationary bike and pedal with my right leg only... just 25 forward, 25 backward. I also do 80/20 body-weight squats (80% right leg, 20%left leg). These exercises have greatly improved my condition in every way.

I wouldn't count on BCAAs to recover from an injury, although I'm sure they help with general fatigue recovery.

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