Ask The Trainer #27 – BCAAs As A Protein Substitute (Part 1 of 2)

Ask The Trainer #27 - BCAAs As A Protein Substitute (Part 1 of 2)


Hi, Chad,

Great to see you writing for EFX. As a personal trainer with decades of experience myself, the people I rely on for trustworthy advice are few and far between. However, I know I can count on you for fact-based and personally-tested training guidance (and not the dreaded “Bro-science” so many fitness writers churn out uncritically). Additionally, as a natural athlete, your suggestions are widely applicable to the majority of trainees who are drug-free.

So here is my question: When one is seeking to lose fat and gain muscle (and who isn’t?) what is your take on using properly balanced BCAAs as a (sometimes) substitute for protein supplementation in order to keep calories down?

Keep up the good work, Brother, you are a source of inspiration and information to many.

Yours in Health,

Tony DiCosta


Hi, Tony!

Before I talk about using BCAAs as a protein substitute, let me express how honored I am by your thoughtful and dignified words! Coming from someone like you, this type of positive feedback holds a great deal of meaning to me!

The concept of “Bro-Science” is actually kind of amusing. It’s funny (and sad) how the actions of some individuals claiming to detest it, actually epitomize it!

I guess the interpretation of the “Bro-Science” concept varies across a pretty broad spectrum. At any rate, I do try my best to represent well-founded concepts that are meaningful to my audience.

BCAA Benefits

There are mountains of scientific evidence showing that branched chain amino acids are highly anabolic due to their ability to increase muscle protein turnover (protein synthesis).

Furthermore, aside from building cells and repairing tissue, BCAAs aid in forming antibodies, enzymes, hormones, RNA, DNA. They also help transport oxygen throughout the body.

Chad ShawIt’s important that I first explain how and why free-form branched chain amino acids work differently in your body than the branched chain amino acids that naturally occur in various protein foods, such as whey protein for example.

I often hear certain individuals claiming it’s pointless to consume free-form BCAAs because their whey protein shakes already contain high amounts of BCAAs.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this notion…

Understand, the rate at which protein synthesis occurs is based on how quickly amino acids reach the bloodstream.

Whey Protein Amino Acids

This is why whey protein is known to increase protein synthesis much more effectively than casein protein, for example.

Whey protein is notorious for being a fast digesting protein, capable of allowing amino acids to enter the bloodstream relatively quickly.

On the other hand, casein protein is notorious for being a slow digesting protein that allows amino acids to slowly enter the bloodstream in more of a ‘time-released’ fashion.

This is why casein is generally considered a nighttime protein that should be taken before bed. While its slow rate of digestion makes it a lousy protein for boosting protein synthesis, casein is a great protein for helping prevent muscle protein breakdown.

Even though whey protein is effective for boosting protein synthesis, free-form BCAAs are even more effective!

This is because the amino acids in whey protein, and other protein foods, are locked into peptide bonds. Before these peptide-bonded amino acids can enter the bloodstream to activate protein synthesis, the peptides must first be broken apart, or ‘unlocked’, by the digestive system.

Many people have this misconception there’s an instant mouth-to-muscle connection after consuming a protein shake. This simply is NOT the case! When you drink a protein shake, there’s a long, highly-complex pathway between your mouth and your biceps!

Without offering an overly complicated explanation, you’re looking at roughly 3 hours of gastric emptying before the peptide bonded amino acids are actually able freed up to enter the bloodstream and do their job!

The only exception to this timely process would be in the case of whey hydrolysates, which digests more rapidly. (However, you would still be dealing with approximately 90 minutes of digestion before the amino acids can enter the bloodstream.)

(More in Part 2)

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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