WHY DO BCAAS HAVE ZERO CALORIES?
They’re essential for muscle growth, but how do BCAAs have no calories?
This was a question I received from website member Alex, who was thinking about using a BCAA supplement during his intermittent fasting window.
If you flip your tub of BCAAs around to view the nutritional information, you’ll likely see the same thing; zero calories!
What kind of sorcery is this?!
HOW DO BCAAS HAVE NO CALORIES?
No, there’s no voodoo at work here.
The reason BCAAs have no calories has less to do with magic, and more to do with a strange loophole in supplement industry regulations.
You see, a supplement manufacturer is NOT allowed to list the calorie content of a food/supplement which contains only free form amino acids. BCAA supplements do contain calories, but they’re not allowed to list them because in their individual form they don’t make up a complete protein.
“Protein shall not be declared on labels of products that, other than ingredients added solely for technological reasons, contain only individual amino acids.”Current FDA Guidelines
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
So how many calories do they contain? When should you use BCAAs? So much confusion!
Well, in my opinion you shouldn’t use them at all. If your diet is sufficient in protein (and it should be), you simply do not need BCAAs.
However, for people who want to use them it’s worth knowing that BCAAs in their free form state contain about the same number of calories as when they combine to form protein. The three branch chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) provide around 4.6 calories per gram. (1)
So we can now use this information to debunk a few of the most common BCAA myths and keep you on the right track.
1. CAN YOU DRINK BCAAS WITHOUT GAINING WEIGHT?
No. 30 grams of BCAAs contains about 120 calories. An unlimited supply wouldn’t be advisable. Cuz calories!
2. CAN YOU DRINK BCAAS DURING INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Muscle building magazines regularly advise us to drink BCAAs during our fasting window in order to prevent muscle breakdown and fight off fatigue. This is BS advice.
First off, you’d need to be attempting the training routine of a damn Olympian to even be concerned with muscle breakdown. (2, 3)
Second, they will also break your fast. Cuz calories!
3. SHOULD YOU TAKE BCAAS BEFORE FASTED CARDIO?
“Do 45 minutes of early morning fasted cardio, bro. Be sure to take your BCAAs beforehand, to prevent muscle loss!”
I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before. Although any potential muscle loss would be minuscule, and BCAAs would indeed prevent this from happening, the answer lies within the question above. If you drink BCAAs before fasted cardio, the calories in those BCAAs would mean you are not actually performing fasted cardio anyway. Cuz calo-f**king-ries!
So next time you see a BCAA supplement claiming that “BCAAs have no calories”, you’ll be able to correct them.
If industry regulations change at any point, I will update this content.
- May, M. E., et al. Energy content of diets of variable amino acid composition. Am J Clin Nutr. (1990)
- Portier, H., et al. Effects of branched-chain amino acids supplementation on physiological and psychological performance during an offshore sailing race. Eur J Appl Physiol. (2008)
- Borgenvik, M., et al. Intake of branched-chain amino acids influences the levels of MAFbx mRNA and MuRF-1 total protein in resting and exercising human muscle. Am J Physiol Endo Metab. (2011)