BCAA Benefits: Is Fasted Training with Branched Chain Amino Acids Effective for Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle? | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

BCAA Benefits: Is Fasted Training with Branched Chain Amino Acids Effective for Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle?

Today I’d like to discuss branched chain amino acids.  You may have heard of BCAAs before but do they really live up to their claim of being effective for losing fat and gaining muscle?  While I’d say there are many benefits of BCAAs, whether you decide to supplement with them will depend in part on when you exercise and how restrictive your diet is.  For fasted training, I’d highly recommend using branched chain amino acids to help prevent muscle loss while maximizing fat loss.  Any other time, there’s probably only a marginal benefit at best.

Branched Chain Amino Acids

Let’s start with the basics.  What are branched chain amino acids?  In short, they’re the best building blocks of protein (essential amino acids known as valine, leucine, and isoleucine).  While your body cannot produce BCAAs on its own, you’re likely getting plenty of these amino acids from your diet, primarily through protein.  However, anyone pursuing a calorie restrictive diet knows that increasing protein intake leads to an increase in calories eaten as well.  Therefore, the primary benefits of branched chain amino acids in raw form are that they are essentially free of calories and provide your body with the materials it needs to build and preserve muscle.

BCAA Benefits and Side Effects

There have been a variety of studies done on BCAA benefits.  Here are some of the key findings associated with branched chain amino acids:

  • Reduction of cortisol levels when combined with weight training (read this article to see why that’s important)
  • Increase metabolism and fat loss
  • Improve exercise performance and reduce fatigue
  • Preserve muscle mass during endurance training
  • Taking BCAAs after a workout may increase lean muscle mass
  • Taking BCAAs before or during a workout may decrease soreness, help repair damaged muscles, and reduce breakdown of muscles
  • Improve immune system (read this article for more)

As with any supplement, there’s always the potential for side effects.  I haven’t found any definitive research that shows serious short or long term side effects.  One key recommendation is to stay hydrated.  Otherwise, it’s really no different than eating a lot of protein.  To be safe, I wouldn’t use these in excess (30g per training day should be more than enough for the average person) and maybe cycle off every couple months just to make sure.

Benefits of BCAAs During Fasted Training

With all the benefits of branched chain amino acids listed above, BCAAs are most valuable when you’re performing fasted training or eating a calorie restrictive diet in general.  It’s those times that you might not be getting an adequate amount of amino acids where supplementation can be important for preserving muscle mass while you focus on burning fat.  Because they are essentially calorie free, BCAAs only produce a minimal insulin response (if any) allowing you to gain the all the benefits of fasted training without the potential for muscle breakdown.

This is important because you can ensure your muscles have the proper building blocks in place while still training in a fasted state.  In a fasted state, your body is primed to burn fat since glycogen levels are low.  One concern, although modest in my opinion, is that you may risk losing muscle by performing fasted training or early morning cardio.  Think of BCAAs as an insurance policy.  There’s no guarantee but why not give yourself the best chance to preserve muscle while taking advantage of the fat burning that comes from fasted training?  In fact, this article shows how 12g of BCAAs taken around workout time is enough to significantly reduce muscle breakdown which is especially important if you are in a calorie depleted state.

Timing of BCAA Supplements

So when should you take branched chain amino acids?  Personally, I like the approach advocated by Martin Berkhan on Leangains:

  • 10g of BCAAs right before early morning fasted training
  • 10g of BCAAs 2 hours later
  • 10g of BCAAs another 2 hours later (4 hours after first serving)
  • Post workout meal 2 hours later

It’s a great method for fasted training whereby you can maximize fat burning while preserving muscle.  When I do morning cardio, I’ve been having 5-10g right before training, 10-15g 2 hours later, and then breakfast 1-2 hours after that.  This allows me to maximize the HGH release from an intense HIIT workout while the steady flow of branched chain amino acids prevents muscle loss.

Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplements

You have a couple choices for branched chain amino acid supplements.  My preferred drink is Scivation Xtend.  While the old formula was drinkable, the new formula is outstanding.  To me, it’s like drinking Gatorade with the essential building blocks of protein, no calories, and no sugar.  Honestly, when I first opened the new formula tub, the smell from the powder was not appealing.  However, once mixed with water, I loved all three flavors I tried (grape, orange, and lemon lime).  I recommend getting a few different flavors so that your taste buds get a nice variety over the course of a couple days.

Another consideration is to take BCAAs in pill form.  This may require taking a lot of pills if you follow the fasted training routine above.  However, it’s unclear how many grams of BCAAs you really need to prevent muscle loss.  Depending on how many branched chain amino acids you get from your daily diet, you might only need a few additional grams around your workout to get the maximum benefit.

Bottom Line on Branched Chain Amino Acids

There are no absolutes when it comes to training and branched chain amino acid supplements.  I think claims of losing fat and gaining muscle just by ingesting BCAAs on their own may be overstated but it’s hard to say definitively.  In my opinion, the biggest benefit of BCAA supplementation is during fasted training or when you’re engaged in an overall calorie restrictive diet.  The branched chain amino acids provide your muscles with the essential building blocks of protein ensuring that your muscles are adequately nourished.  The lack of calories allows you to maintain the fat burning effects after an intense workout.  Whether you need to take 5g or 30g is up for debate as well, but I’d give Xtend or Prograde BCAA a try if you’re looking to get some BCAA benefits from fasted training.

28 Responses to “BCAA Benefits: Is Fasted Training with Branched Chain Amino Acids Effective for Losing Fat and Gaining Muscle?”

  • Very detailed article I’ve never used them before and I know a lot of people who love the stuff.
    I’m currently fasting 2 days per week and a few guys have said to take BCAA to help stop muscle Atrophy?
    Admittedly I note when I fast not only does the fat drop a bit but my muscle seems a little smaller, I wonder if BCAA could really help?
    Raymond

  • Nice review here. I’ve done a lot of fasted training without them to be honest, but if I was into supplements I definitely like the reasoning behind this.

    Back in the day I used to have my weight gain shakes before and after training. It makes a lot more sense to keep calories down while just getting the nutrients you need.

  • Toni:

    Nice read, Dave as I took my grape-flavored protein shot. Lots of good info. – the timing of this post couldn’t have been better for me, lol.

  • I’m a huge advocate for BCAA’s.
    I haven’t eaten before nor after training since January this year and ONLY ingest BCAA’s.
    Strength and muscle gains in all areas from this technique.
    I reckon they work :)

    Scivation Extend is the winner for me.

  • Raymond,
    If you’ve made it this far without them, then you’re probably good. Wouldn’t hurt to give them a shot if you have a little extra cash to throw around.

    Michael,
    A lot of people have success with fasted training on its own. BCAAs are good for people who fear muscle loss though.

    Toni,
    Glad you enjoyed the post; I figured it would help you.

    Clint,
    I know you’re a big Leangains guy so I’m not surprised to hear you like BCAAs. You’ve obviously had success with them as well. Hope you like the new Xtend as much as I do!

    Dave

  • Dave,

    I only take BCAAs on my fasting days. I usually workout in the afternoon or evening, so I’ll sip on 20g throughout the day, then have a meal a couple hours after my workout. Xtend is my brand of choice. I like the watermelon flavor. Once my current supply runs out, I’m definitely trying the new electrolyte-enhanced formula and may start taking it as a sports drink replacement for during and after soccer.

    Alykhan

  • Alykhan,
    Sounds like you have a good plan in place. Hope you enjoy the new formula as well…just don’t smell the powder on its own, wait until it’s mixed with water…delicious!
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,

    How can I accurately figure out how much protein, carbs and fat (in grams) I should be getting on both my maintenance and workout days? But please don’t talk to me in terms of percentages b/c my mind just doesn’t work that way, lol. (I’m 118 and 5’6″ – current stats.) Thanks.

  • Toni,
    As much as I love math, this isn’t necessarily a simple equation. For what it’s worth, I think you should probably eat around 80-100g of protein per day (320-400 calories) and around 150-200g carbs per day (600-800 calories) with the remainder coming from fat (50-70g, 450-600 calories). On strength training days, I’d eat more calories, particularly carbs and fat. On non-workout or even cardio days, keep calories lower and eat fewer carbs. That’s just a baseline starting point though, not an exact science.
    Dave

  • Fred:

    I know they work from personal experience. For 8 weeks I restricted my calories (especially from carbs) and followed an amino loading plan.

    I used only aminos before and after training. I took my body weight from 234 down to 221. I gained strength and the only place I lost size was my waist.

    I take aminos every day now.

  • Fred,
    Thanks for sharing the experience. Seems like you did very well by using BCAAs.
    Dave

  • Mark:

    Hey Dave,

    nice post man on one of the best Supplements around: I use BCAA’s on and off as a very potent HGH-Booster, to speed recovery from workouts and increase hypertrophy levels.
    Nice one, ;-)

    Mark

  • Mark,
    Sounds like BCAAs are helping you as well. Thanks for the insights.
    Dave

  • geos1991:

    hi dave, i am using xtend for about 4 days now and i realised that sometimes my pee is pink!is this normal?if u have encountered this before pls tell me cause i am a little fricked and stopped using it!also could u make a suggestion of any particular multy-vitamin supplement cause i feel like needing one of those.i just cant decide if i want to buy a bodybuilding brand like optimum or a pharmaceutical one so i count on u. thx!holy shit that xtend…

  • Geos,
    I’ve never experienced pink pee from BCAAs. If that’s the only thing you have changed in the past few days, then I guess you’ll have to live without them or at least ask a doctor before continuing. Based on some reading, the discoloration could also be related to vitamin B2 (riboflavin)…did you just start taking a multi-vitamin?

    Here’s my preferred multi-vitamin:
    http://notyouraveragefitnesstips.getprograde.com/multi-vitamin-for-men.html

    Dave

  • geos1991:

    ty dave ,i recall taking my normal dose of spirulina on some of the days i have experiennced this but i dont think that this is the cause for that cause i have been taking spirulina for the past 5 years constantly without any side effects (at least noticeable),also spirulina isnt such a a strong multivitamin herself .anyway, thx for ur time.i think i will give xtend one more way to go hoping that this will stop taking effect.btw concerning multivitamins , most of them have exceeded the daily doses of most ingredients they contain, can multivitamin overdose cause any side effects? thx again :)

  • Geos,
    Don’t go too long on the Xtend if you see side effects. I haven’t heard of anything like that, but it’s best to be on the safe side and stop using…supplements are not something to treat lightly!

    There have been a lot of news stories about getting too many vitamins. It’s really hard to sort through everything. If you’re already eating healthy, you may be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. If you don’t eat a lot of fruits and veggies or get calcium or Vitamin D from other sources, a multivitamin could benefit you. Watch out for excess amounts of vitamin A, D, E, K, and B6 though. That’s about all I can offer on that topic.

    Dave

  • Hey Dave,

    Great post once again. It’s nice to see a no-BS article on BCAAs. I think BCAAs definitely has its place when it comes to supplements. I get my BCAAs when I take Whey protein after workouts. Do you think it would help if I get BCAAs separately? I eat a pretty well-balanced diet with a variety of lean protein sources so I feel like I got that covered.

    Thanks,
    Tim

  • Tim,
    It sounds like you’re getting plenty of BCAAs already. If you want to save some money, I’ll bet you could skip them after the workout since you already have whey protein. Either that or possibly take them separately before your workout if you want to be sure to avoid muscle loss. It’s really a cost/benefit question…if you’re tight on money, then try skipping them and seeing if it negatively impacts your fitness level.
    Dave

  • In my opinion, for anyone getting adequate amounts of protein from either natural complete sources or a powder, additional BCAAs will do nothing, as you already are having plenty of them.

  • Evilcyber,
    I’d agree with you in part but some people like to ensure they don’t lose muscle. In my opinion, the ideal use of BCAAs is when you’re doing a highly restrictive diet as that’s the most likely time that you might not be getting enough protein.
    dave

  • I just have a hard time justifying the price and quantity of BCAAs when whey protein contains them and is much cheaper. 1 gram of BCAAs has 4 calories just like any other protein. While 12 grams of whey protein won’t have 12 grams of BCAAs, I think the difference is negligible.

  • Tony,
    From my reading, BCAAs are viewed as “free calories” and have a negligible impact on insulin levels. The key benefit then can be using them during fasted training. That’s just my opinion though.
    Dave

  • I’ve read about BCAAs helping to prevent muscle breakdown during fasted training before. I was under the impression that 10g just prior to training was plenty. Interesting about it helping to keep cortisol in check. I’m prone to stress, so may be good for me.

  • David,
    From what I’ve read, 10g prior to training works well. The Leangains approach utilizes more afterward to extend the fasting phase while avoid any potential muscle loss.
    Dave

  • Bill:

    Hello.

    It is well known that a whole egg has all the essential amino acids. So, I would like to ask you Dave whether it is optimum for someone to have a hard boiled egg(whole) 30 minutes before workout or not.

    Thanx.

  • Bill:

    And what about spirulina or bee pollen b4 workout. (Both have all the essential amino acids).

  • Bill,
    I generally try to avoid calories right before a workout. If I’ve gone a long time without carbs, sometimes I’ll have a piece of fruit an hour before to increase glycogen levels. An hour of two before would be fine for an egg assuming you feel like it’s digested by the time you exercise…never feels good to exercise on a full stomach. Never used spirulina or bee pollen so can’t comment on those.
    Dave

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