Today is Thursday, August 17, 2017

BCAAs - Yay or Nay?

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I'll be the first to admit that my weekly submissions may be somewhat scatter-shot. It's because I write each article about whatever is on my mind at the time. At least it's only once a week that you're subjected to this brief peek into my brain, imagine what my poor girlfriend has to deal with on a daily basis.

It's with that in mind that I try to always keep things somewhat simple. I'm aware that while there is some benefit to digging through research papers and writing case studies, the normal Joe and Jane don't care too much for technical jargon. One of my high school teachers summed it up best with K.I.S.S., or keep it simple, stupid.

So while there are things I want to write about, the time may not always be right. After all, what good is a great article if nobody cares about it? On the other side, what good does a great article do that's two years behind the times?

When I was recently asked by a client and friend about branch chain amino acids (or BCAAs), I knew the time had come. I could finally nerd out a little bit and hopefully offer some words of wisdom, because if you haven't heard of them yet I'm sure you will be quite soon.

The idea behind BCAAs is that you drink them like you would any other protein shake. BCAAs are, after all, 3 of the 20 or so amino acids that make up the protein spectrum. If you're worried about a test later, the BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine... but I'm not the test-type, so you're safe.

The supposed benefit to them is that they help your blood sugar from bottoming out and have may have anti-catabolic properties. So they may help to prevent your energy levels from bonking (blood sugar) and may help prevent muscles from breaking down (anti-catabolic).

A few bits of research has suggested these benefits to be true, but from what I can tell nothing is definite. That doesn't stop the health and fitness industry from pumping out a new product and slapping a label on it though. Heck, I even bought into the hype for a bit. But now I'm trying to undo the potential damage.

Here's the thing, and I may get a little science-y here, but BCAAs (particularly leucine) inhibit the uptake of l-tryptophan from the bloodstream. Yes, that's the stuff that's in turkey. Tryptophan is also an essential amino acid (you have to get it from diet) that eventually gets converted into 5-htp and then serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is the feel good hormone. Are ya still with me?

So if leucine inhibits tryptophan in your brain, which inhibits serotonin in your body... wait, soooo what? Well, a decrease in serotonin is linked to fatigue, depression and central nervous fatigue. So that's what.

Long story short, taking BCAAs can cause you to feel fatigued, depressed and lead to a host of other problems linked to CNS fatigue. What do you do?

The obvious option is to simply not take BCAAs. But if you feel like they've helped you and you must continue, at the very least be sure to add in Tyrosine (another amino) to your BCAA shake at a 1:1 ratio with leucine.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, don't buy into the hype of the supplement industry. Be careful about what you consume. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or any other topics! Until next week, live your life to the fullest!

Andy Frisch, NASM CPT, CES, PES, WFS, IFT, NESTA FNC, is a successful personal trainer and nutrition coach who enjoys working with clients of all shapes, sizes and ages. He currently train clients at Sports Village Fitness in Lebanon, works with clients online at and has a budding YouTube channel.

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