STIRLING, Scotland — Popular protein powders alone may not be enough to achieve maximum muscle growth. But with the right combination of supplements, bodybuilders might see double the muscle development, a recent study found.
Researchers at the University of Stirling studied bodybuilding and the role of amino acids — the simple organic compounds that build proteins — found in various workout pills and shakes.
One popular supplement, the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA), stimulates muscle development and is a staple for many weightlifters and bodybuilders. But this favorite additive came up short in tests.
“Our results show that the common practice of taking BCAA supplements in isolation will stimulate muscle protein synthesis – the metabolic mechanism that leads to muscle growth,” says Kevin Tipton, one of the study’s co-authors, in a university release. “But the total response will not be maximal because BCAA supplements do not provide other amino acids essential for the best response.”
A group of 10 healthy, trained weightlifters participated in the study. After they did a resistance training workout, they took were given a dose of BCAA equal to about 20 grams of whey protein.
Scientists compared the muscle growth results of a placebo to the BCAA supplement alone. They found BCAA beefed up muscle growth slightly.
Conversely, whey protein supplements with the full complement of amino acids and an equivalent amount of BCAA, produced a much higher muscle growth response: the result was more than double compared to the BCAA supplement.
The scientists also looked at how the supplements work inside the muscles to form new muscle strands. They determined that BCAA drinks did stimulate the muscles to grow, but they did not have the full range of amino acids needed to sustain the greatest muscle development.
“A sufficient amount of the full complement of amino acids is necessary for maximum muscle building, following exercise,” Tipton concludes. “Athletes interested in enhancing muscle growth with training should not rely on these BCAA supplements alone.”
The study’s findings were published in Frontiers in Physiology.