BCAA Supplements against real foods


Hi Andrea, @cullenac , I wondered if you may be able to give me a bit of guidance. I’ve had a few issues recently with fatigue which I finally seem to have conquered with help from a brilliant book recommended by @Coach_Theia called Roar, a friend who’s a nutritionist (but doesn’t really specialise in Sports) and general experience and advice from others. I have found my answer by taking a BCAA supplement daily, generally before a work out, of between 3 - 4 g containing Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine and this really does seem to have knocked the fatigue out of the park. What I’d love to do is try and find foods that contain these 3 in similar levels. I have started to have a handful of almonds before my swim and not take the supplement and haven’t noticed any drop of energy levels as yet. I’m 52 so protein is so important in my diet and I’m normally doing around a 650-800 TSS a week. Would love to hear your thoughts or anyone else’s on the forum that have experienced this fatigue. I’m not a lover of taking supplement preferring the real food options, but I have to say it’s really done the trick. Many thanks, Sarah


I’m interested in the answer too. I’ll be 51 in a couple weeks.


Hi @Petals… if you haven’t read Roar it’s has some really interesting and useful advice for female athletes in general and also has a chapter covering issues that affect our age group. Been a bit of a game changer! :+1::+1:


I’m in the process of reading it right now. I’m curious about which real foods to eat. I’d rather get my nutrition through real food than supplements if possible


My mum is 63 (though you wouldn’t know it), and about a year ago had real fatigue in her joints and lethargy. She thought it was the start of arthritis which was causing her to be depressed. After 2-3 weeks she went to her GP who basically said ‘sorry, you’re old, this is what happens’. Undeterred, she saw a nutritionist who put her onto 10,000iu of vitamin D per day. She was right as rain after that. She takes them every day.


That’s great @LizEngland… nothing pee’s me off more than a medical expert saying ‘it’s your age’… when they should be saying ‘this isn’t right, let’s investigate’. Generally there’s a cause and luckily your Mum and myself found it in something missing in our diet… so simple really. :slight_smile:


fatigue is so very complex, it can be as simple as a mismatch in diet, or the result of more chronic stressors leading to hormonal imbalance. other factors can be specific deficiencies, infections, and even emotional or musculoskeletal imbalances. the root cause should always be identified as part of a patient evaluation.

if something like BCAA makes such a big improvement before a session my first question would be are you eating enough before sessions? because such an improvement from this supplement would indicate that protein and perhaps calories in the pre-exercise period may be lacking. BCAAs are helpful. but they dont match in any way the quality of amino acids or their content from real protein foods and taking BCAAs in the long run can throw out amino acod balance off. this is why real food eaten in balance is always the best approach. we generally can meet our needs and the body can convert some precursor amino acids to a point (not all some are essential). Imagine what 5g looks like and then compare this to a real protein food like eggs, fish, cottage cheese etc. food provides a lot of important amino acids in far greater volume and with other nutrients packaged in there too

it is very hard for me to answer without a full clinical and nutritional picture. but i would first be exploring how much are you eating before sessions and then how well are you recovering (nutritionally) after sessions and starting there. supplements are never a solution and usually a stop gap while the nutrition foundations are built.

if concerned about Vit D and also iron/ ferritin and b12 these can easily be checked in a blood screen and are worth doing at least yearly in addition to a full blood panel. I dont recommend taking supplements without knowing these numbers especially re iron and Vit D as they have a optimal window and toxicity can happen.

sorry that i cannot be more specific but i could give the wrong advice without knowing all the details.


vegetarians may run into problems https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/ask-the-macro-manager-what-are-the-best-bcaa-food-sources.html


@cullenac Andrea, thank you so much for taking the time out to answer my question and the article is brilliant… it is those levels of different amino acids that I was really interested in. I totally get it that its tricky for you to answer for me specifically but I think you’re right about what I’m eating before sessions may lay in the answer. My issue is that it was a sudden change in my fatigue levels, I was training at my normal levels and eating what I would normally but something changed within my body and I think that was hitting my early 50’s and suddenly my protein requirements needed changing to fit in within what’s going on with hormones etc. I often do my sessions before work so will just have a banana and a coffee before jumping on the bike or going for a swim or run, this used to work fine but now it’s not enough. I have stopped taking BCCA supplements for sessions under 2 hours, instead adding a large handful of salted nuts to the banana and it does seem to have much the same effect. I do agree that real foods are better than supplements but sometimes I think supplements are necessary. If I compare myself to my sedentary friends of the same age, they also are suffering with fatigue but hardly getting in the odd walk a week whereas I’m doing a high level of training that is going add to that natural fatigue. I don’t want to accept that I’ve hit an age where I’m going to start slowing down, putting on weight and stop competing because of changes going on in my body and maybe if I wasn’t doing that amount of training I could rely wholy on foods but at the moment I think I need that little extra to help with muscle loss etc. But I’m going to make a concerted effort to include more turkey for example as that seems stacked with BCAA along with other vitamins etc. I do have a bloody test every 3 months as I’ve suffered low Iron/Ferritin levels on and off for years, but currently they are good. Thank you so much again, brilliant response to my enquiry. :grinning:


@s.j.king would you be comfortable if we discussed this in a round about indirect way on the podcast on Friday? it is a great topic but i will try broaden it a bit.
Age is not a number, i wholeheartedly agree on this!! Most here are fitter and healthier than your regular 20 year old!! what they dont have that we do; is chronic accumulative stress from life!!


@cullenac. I hope you will discuss this on a future podcast. I know that my sleep habits, dietary intake and recovery times are different than even 5 years ago. Trying to figure out when supplements will be helpful is always difficult.


@cullenac absolutely! Think it would of interest to many Lab users, I’ll look forward to listening. :+1::+1:


Btw… sorry that was meant to read blood test not bloody… although it can be a bit bloody!! Bloody auto Text! :rofl:


This is a very good paper documenting how it is crucial to have amino acids available to the muscle and not just BCAAs. Quite a harsh conclusion. Eat protein :slight_smile:


Interesting reading @cullenac … I’m still not totally convinced as I saw a real reduction in fatigue when I supplemented BCAA’s. However, I’m totally in agreement to get these through real food has got to be better. I was really interested in the Podcast yesterday, you did a brilliant explanation on the subject and it really is true that all these different supplements and caffeine use, carb in take and proteins just becomes all too consuming. I’ve actually started to write a food diary to tally with my exercise programme to see which foods are really helping with energy needs and recovery. Top of the list is peanuts and bananas at the moment! Just need to find smaller pre session snacks for early sessions that give me a bit of omph… can’t quite bring myself to get up at 4 am to eat for a session at 6 am! :rofl::rofl:


Sarah, I too have seen improvements in my energy level with the BCAAs before and after the sessions (I take them in whey protein and not capsules). Must be our age! Because I too train early (wake up around 4-5 AM), I am rarely hungry and have to force the food in… I drink a scoop of whey or Vega protein and eat an oat bar or oatmeal with maple syrup (~60g of carbs) before hard sessions. Then I focus on more whole foods for the rest of the day.


@Coach_Theia yes early starts aren’t easy where nutrition is concerned and I’ve been doing much the same. Coffee and banana and 3-4 g of BCAA’s does seem to make such a difference and joking apart I really do think it’s an age thing :older_woman: :rofl: but I do usually have a real food high protein breakfast post workout. I have found increasing protein on the whole seems to be helping so now trying to just use supplements BCAA only on the tougher longer sessions but I have to be honest if my energy levels start to drop again I will go back to supplementing… or getting up very very early! :wink:


Adrenal supporting herbs could be a solution also, for different reason.


Interesting @cullenac, thank you, just had a google of this. Would these be something I can incorporate into cooking or taking as a tincture or similar?


did i share this one…

if you get into the nuts and bolts of it i would recommend a hydrolysed whey over BCAAs (BCAAs will do very little in a calorie deficit or protein insufficiency). and food sources such as dairy, meat, eggs when possible in the diet are important.

quality whey (hydrolysate) better than cheaper isolate or concentrate straight before or immediately after exercise (NSF/ Informed sport) but at other times points or before bed i dont think it matters as much and i do still think casein can be helpful. the harder the session and the more crucial the recovery the “faster and better quality” you want your whey to be… again think about what the session type and purpose is in the context of the day

I eat vegan proteins so i always aim for a BCAA enriched one. i avoid soy

after reading this if i was doing for example ironman training with multiple sessions and needing fast recovery i would go for the whey hydrolysate on occasion when i didnt have time for real food. but always go for the real food if i could or just 10g whey immediately and then real food. if it was a session that didnt have mega muscle stress or urgency of recovery the vegan proteins and normal foods would be perfect… which makes me happy as i dont believe in chugging a protein drink multiple times a day… it leads to deficiencies in other food nutrients for us mere mortals that arent the size of a rugby player and dont have massive daily kCal requirements.

guess its about building options and understanding these options…and not just marketing!

@Coach_Theia @Coach_Ian @Coach_Flo @MitchD