Do vegans need BCAAs?

 

After posting an article on BCAAs yesterday my social media accounts were inundated with question(s). In fact, a whole one person sent me a message with a good question about what I had written. Here it is for proof (I do have people who read what I write…yay!)

 

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So, does a vegan diet require BCAA supplementation?

I stated yesterday that the protein recommendations for gym goers is 2.3-3.1 g of protein per kg of fat free mass per day (1). It is also recommended that the upper end of the scale is used when dieting, or as one gets leaner, and the lower end used when carbohydrate and fat intake are higher (2). Without meat, fish, eggs or dairy to use, this poses a potential problem to gym going vegans.

There are plenty of vegan friendly foods that provide plenty of protein per serving: nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, legumes and soy, plus the synthetic proteins like Quorn. There are two potential pitfalls with the foods on this list. Firstly, most vegan protein sources (with the exception of soy and Quorn) are relatively high in carbohydrate and fat when compared to common animal based protein sources. This is no problem as long as the diet is planned well and the foods are accounted for. If it ends up being slightly higher carbohydrate that you may have been accustomed to, this is no issue. Carbohydrates DO NOT make you fat (3).

The second potential pitfall surrounds the ‘protein completeness’ of the vegan protein sources. As I mentioned in the previous post, there are complete and incomplete protein sources – complete protein sources contain all 21 amino acids, incomplete sources do not. Typically, vegan protein sources are incomplete. This is only an issue however, if you are going to eat just one protein source for the rest of your life – not likely, I hope! By keeping your dietary sources of protein varied, all aminos should be ingested.

The question of BCAA-needs for the vegan trainer spawned from a concern regarding vegan-friendly ‘peri-workout’ protein intake, or small dose protein intake during fasting periods. Typically, BCAAs or whey are used here and after my post yesterday, my ‘fan’ was worried about using BCAAs. Just to clear something up, there is nothing wrong with using BCAAs – they do provide a selection of useful amino acids to the working muscles and certainly don’t have a neutral or negative effect. To add to that, vegans may be one group that I potentially would recommend their use to! My concern is that people hold them in a higher regard than other, cheaper (and potentially more efficacious) sources of protein. So, if you want to use BCAAs, that is fine; just be aware of the science behind their use. On the other hand, if I have scared you off BCAAs for life here is an eloquent solution for you:

In place of your BCAAs or whey, go for a protein shake mix consisting of 70% pea protein and 30% rice protein – both of which can be purchased from the MyProtein (pea protein and rice protein). Pea protein has been shown to be whey’s equal across a 12-week resistance programme with twice per day 25 g doses (4), and the addition of rice protein would this make the shake ‘complete’. Additionally, the BCAA profile it looks pretty good when compared to whey concentrate and whey isolate:

Pea v isolate

So, there you have it. As long as you remain accountable to your calorie intake and ensure an adequate protein intake from varied sources, there should be no problem, and no real need to spend/waste money on BCAAs. There other considerations a vegan must take when planning a diet, but I will leave that for another day.


References

  1. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 May 12;11:20.
  2. Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A systematic review of dietary protein during caloric restriction in resistance trained lean athletes: a case for higher intakes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Apr;24(2):127–38.
  3. Hall KD, Chen KY, Guo J, Lam YY, Leibel RL, Mayer LE, et al. Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug;104(2):324–33.
  4. Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, Guérin-Deremaux L, Saniez M-H, Lefranc-Millot C, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(1):3.

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