Have you ever noticed that the nutrition label of BCAA supplements claims zero calories?
This fools many gym members into believing they can drink BCAAs all day long without gaining weight, but don’t fall for it. Here’s what the FDA had to say about it:
“Protein shall not be declared on labels of products that, other than ingredients added solely for technological reasons, contain only individual amino acids.”
What this means is that your BCAA supplement does contain calories, but manufacturers can take advantage of a loophole in the law which states that individual amio acids do not need to be included on nutritional labels (even though BCAAs are protein, and protein contains calories).
Welcome to the world of bodybuilding supplements, folks. It’s a shit show.
What This Means For You
The branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) make up protein, so one gram of BCAAs is basically one gram of protein.
Complete protein contains 4 calories per gram, but research shows us that the calorie content of free-form amino acids is slightly higher at 4.6 calories per gram. That means 20 grams of BCAAs contains 92 kcals. (1)
Now that you know this, we can debunk some of the biggest myhs surrounding BCAA supplementation, including:
Can you drink BCAAs without gaining weight?
Weight loss ultimately comes down to calories in versus calories out, so you’d need to fit this into your numbers just like any other food or drink.
Can you drink BCAAs when using intermittent fasting?
The calories in your BCAAs would break your fast, so no.
Should you take BCAAs before doing fasted cardio?
Some people claim that drinking BCAAs before fasted cardio will increase energy and prevent muscle breakdown. I don’t recommend this, firstly because you’d have to be partaking in the exercise regime of a fucking Olympian before needing to worry about muscle breakdown, and secondly because drinking BCAAs would mean you are no longer training fasted (because calories). (2, 3)
- 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).