BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are one of the most well-known and well researched fitness supplements on the planet.
They’re widely used by the world’s top strength and power athletes, marathon runners, boxers, tennis players, almost all bodybuilders and physique competitors, and millions of recreational gym goers across the world.
We all know about the benefits of protein, but did you know that our body breaks down protein into amino acids, which is what we use to repair our muscles?
And the three main amino acids our body uses to repair our muscles are known as the Branched Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs for short. These are:
We can get BCAAs from the food we eat, but many people choose to supplement with additional BCAAs around their workouts to reduce muscle breakdown and increase strength, power and endurance.
BCAAs in food are peptide bound to other amino acids and must first be broken down via the digestive system. Supplemental BCAAs, however, bypass the digestive system and go straight to the bloodstream, where they can get to work faster.
Supplementing with BCAAs is extremely popular as they are safe, effective, and backed by science. BCAAs have been proven to:
Increase physical and mental performance during exercise1
Prevent muscle breakdown3
Increase fat oxidation4
Increase exercise output5
Reduce muscle soreness after a workout6
There’s no denying the evidence. If you’re looking to get more out of your workouts, BCAAs are one of the most effective supplements to help you do so.
But not all BCAA supplements are created equal!
In fact, have you ever stopped and pondered where on earth most BCAA powders actually come from?
Pea protein is made from peas, and hemp protein is made from hemp. The clue is in the name. But BCAA… how the hell is that made?
I was drinking BCAAs myself for years before I asked this very question.
So when I started doing some research into the murky world of BCAA production, I was pretty shocked at what I found.
The truth about BCAA
In order to find out more about BCAA production, I contacted the online retailer I was buying my BCAA from to ask how it is made.
For the next 30 minutes I was passed between various customer service reps providing vague and ambiguous answers, telling me what BCAA is and what BCAA does, but not where BCAA comes from.
It soon became apparent that no one I was speaking to knew the truth behind BCAA, so I started doing my own research.
This was when I discovered an investigation by the Vegetarian Resource Group, which found that ‘regular’ branched chain amino acids are synthesised from duck feathers, kitten fir, and even human hair!7
And in 2013, a separate study by the American Journal of Food Sciences found that the Chinese market for BCAAs (where most brands purchase from due to the low prices) has become notorious for using pig fir and duck feathers as the source of their amino acids.8
What shocked me most, however, is that manufacturers know all this! They just choose not to tell us.
As someone who does not support animal derived ingredients in my health supplements, this left me horrified. Needless to say I threw out my BCAA and expected never to take them again.
But we all know what happened next…
Fast forward just a few years, and we are adding BCAAs to our best selling protein powder and have just launched our very own BCAA sports drink.
So what changed? Did I compromise on my ethics and values in search of a quick buck?
Of course not! But there have been some pretty cool developments in the world of BCAA production that allow us to source BCAAs that we can use with a clean conscience.
Thankfully, new technology means that we can now source BCAAs from sunflowers, using a natural bio-fermentation process. These plant based BCAAs provide exactly the same effectiveness as ‘standard’ BCAAs.
Which means you can still get all the benefits of BCAA without having to worry about potentially consuming human hair or pig fir!
It’s good news for your health, good news for your fitness, good news for the animals and good news for the planet.
The future of BCAAs
As word spreads about the truth behind BCAA production, more and more customers are asking for plant based BCAAs. But we still have a long way to go.
Conventional BCAAs are still much cheaper and easier to produce than plant based BCAAs, which is why 99% of companies still use them.
I hope that one day these BCAAs are a thing of the past, and the more we continue to spread the word about the truth behind BCAA production, the faster this will happen.
Until then, make sure that any BCAAs you use are certified by The Vegan Society so you know that you are safe.
That way, you can keep getting epic results without needing animal fur (or worse!) to do so :)