|"Shed the fat, keep the muscle!" That's a promise you will find not literally, but analogously in every ad for BCAAs, but do they actually do that? Help you shed fat and retain muscle? Scientific prove to support this claim is, as of yet, missing.|
As we are going to see after taking a look at the design and results of Dudgeon's single-blind study in seventeen resistance-trained males (21–28 years of age) on hypocaloric diets, this is yet a potentially misleading conclusion. Not because it was wrong, but rather because it omits an observation that could be of paramount importance to dieters who have the free choice between the two treatments, the subjects of the study were randomly assigned to, namely...
- 14g of Xtend (BCAA) before after workouts or
- 14 g Powerade (CHO) before and after workouts
In the strict sense, this is actually no "BCAA study": Some of you may already have realized that the "BCAA supplement" the scientists used, i.e. Scivation XTend, is not really a "BCAA only" supplement. Next to only 7 grams of BCAAs per 14g of powder the subjects ingested before and after the workout, it also contains 1 g citrulline and 2.5 g glutamine and obviously a hell lot of flavorings, fillers and what not. Now, while the latter are not of any importance, both of the former have been heralded as muscle protectors, as well, with citrulline probably having the more convincing scientific data to back it up (it appears to act similar to leucine, by the way | Moinard. 2007; Faure. 2012; Ventura. 2013) outside of scenarios with extremely high glucocorticoid levels where glutamine unquestionably helps (Hickson. 1995 & 1997; Salehian. 2006). It is thus in my humble opinion at least highly imprecise to conclude that the provision of 2x7g of BCAA ameliorated the the fat to muscle loss ratio during the 8-week study.Now you may be rightly asking yourselves why I am so vague with respect to the energy deficit. Well, everything we learn from the full text of the study is that all subjects were "provided an individualized caloric restricted diet based on individual data (body mass, body composition, resting metabolic rate, etc.)" (Dudgeon. 2015) - a diet the scientists describe as follows:
Since the Harris-Benedict formula is only a really rough estimate of how much energy you actually need, my previous estimations of the energy deficit are as "accurate" as I can possibly be. The 1604kcal that are printed in red bold letters on top of the exemplary meal plan in Figure 2, however, suggest that the deficit on the off days was significantly larger. After all, the subjects' mean weight was >80kg and their daily energy requirements should thus be at least 2,000kcal - even on off days (and the table in which the macronutrient composition is listed actually says that the mean intake was 2046 and 2264kcal/day for the BCAA and CHO group respectively).
"The caloric-restricted diet was designed as an 8 week “cut diet” for reducing body fat, and used a modified carbohydrate-restricted diet approach (percent of total calories for workout days were 30 % carbohydrates, 35 % protein and 35 % fat and for off days were 25 % carbohydrates, 40 % protein and 35 % fat). Each individual’s daily caloric and macronutrient intake was determined using the Harris Benedict formula with an activity factor of 1.35 (lightly active individual engaging in light exercise 1–3 days/week) for workout days and 1.125 (sedentary individual) for off days" (Dudgeon. 2015).
Table 1: W/ the Harris-Benedict equation you calculate the basal metabolic rate and multiply it with a factor (multiplier) that describes your activity level best to arrive at the "real" estimated energy requirements.
|Table 2: Sample dietary card for a subject during an off, non-workout, day (Dudgeon. 2015).|
|Figure 1: Pre and post absolute mean body weight, body fat and lean body mass values before and after the 8-week intervention; * p < 0.05 for the difference within groups (no difference between groups | Dudgeon. 2015)|
|Figure 2: Pre vs. post values for body fat % and lean mass %, the two parameters you would classically use to assess body composition (instead of absolute lean and fat mass); pre-to-post change on top of the post-bars (Dudgeon. 2015).|
- Dudgeon, WD; Page Kelly, E; Scheett TP. "In a single-blind, matched group design: branched-chain amino acid supplementation and resistance training maintains lean body mass during a caloric restricted diet." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2016) 13:1.
- Faure, Cécile, et al. "Leucine and citrulline modulate muscle function in malnourished aged rats." Amino acids 42.4 (2012): 1425-1433.
- Moinard, Christophe, and Luc Cynober. "Citrulline: a new player in the control of nitrogen homeostasis." The Journal of nutrition 137.6 (2007): 1621S-1625S.
- Hickson, R. C., S. M. Czerwinski, and L. E. Wegrzyn. "Glutamine prevents downregulation of myosin heavy chain synthesis and muscle atrophy from glucocorticoids." American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 268.4 (1995): E730-E734.
- Hickson, Robert C., et al. "Protective effect of glutamine from glucocorticoid-induced muscle atrophy occurs without alterations in circulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-I and IGF-binding protein levels." Experimental Biology and Medicine 216.1 (1997): 65-71.
- Salehian, Behrouz, et al. "The effect of glutamine on prevention of glucocorticoid-induced skeletal muscle atrophy is associated with myostatin suppression." Metabolism 55.9 (2006): 1239-1247.
- Ventura, G., et al. "Effect of citrulline on muscle functions during moderate dietary restriction in healthy adult rats." Amino acids 45.5 (2013): 1123-1131.