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Science on Swole: BCAAs (A skeptic’s guide to supplementation and training)

As the resident meathead in most of my friend circles, I’ve gotten more than a few questions about supplements. As a skeptic/sort of surgeon/sometime scientist, I’m going to explain my rationale.

The baseline rules:

  1. Primum non nocere – is the supplement going to kill me or make me poop myself? (I’m looking at you Jack3d and NO-Xplode)
  2. Efficiency – Is it cost/time beneficial versus anything else?
  3. Efficacy – Does it do what is advertised?

For the last few years I’ve been traveling to different locations in monthly blocks. Since carrying tubs of protein is space inefficient and often accompanied by some derisive bro-related remarks, I usually end up running to the local shop and grabbing something. My go to is Scivation’s Xtend BCAAs for drinking while I’m training.

Per the product packaging, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) will support muscle growth and recovery. Your body’s BCAAs are catabolized during exercise and free BCAAs are taken up in muscle-protein synthesis. Basically, your body breaks down BCAAs when exercising and uses them when repairing damaged or assembling new muscle. There’ve been a fair number of studies showing that dietary BCAA supplementation reduces lactate production and speeds muscle repair after breakdown. Xtend also happens to have more electrolytes than Gatorade per serving and is <$0.80 per scoop.

It probably won’t eliminate soreness or make you fill out that extra-medium, deep V shirt. But if you’re the kind of person who buys a Gatorade/Powerade/coconut water with your workouts, give it a shot. It’s your own N=1 experiment.

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