For many years it was a deeply guarded secret in the supplement industry when it came to where most branch chain amino acids were derived from. Were you even aware? Chemically treated duck feathers and pig fur. Yes, that’s 100% the truth. Duck feathers and pig fur contain a BCAA rich component called keratin. Ancient herbalists were using keratin based treatments for wounds as far back as the 17th century due to their amino acid composition.
However, as food processing techniques became more efficient in modern times, and what we mean by more efficient is that they figured out how to monetize keratin waste products like feathers and fur, BCAA’s became more widely available for medical foods and subsequently sports nutrition. When you treat feathers, fur, and hair with certain acids and cleanse them with various chemicals, BCAA extraction become possible. Once upon a time, BCAA’s were actually considered expensive so the use of animal based BCAA’s were more attractive than their plant based alternative to most sports nutrition companies.
On the other end of the BCAA sourcing spectrum you have plant based sources derived from either soy or corn. Corn has become a more popular starting material in the fermentation process of BCAA’s because it is not considered an allergen like soy. The Japanese began exploring many of these processing techniques in the early 1900’s. As these techniques improved and the body of research supporting the use of BCAA’s in disease based nutritional intervention grew, so did the demand for BCAA’s. Much of these were used for medical foods as well as parental nutrition IV protocols in the latter half of the 20th century.
So where are we with all of this today and how is this relevant to you? Most sports nutrition products are still using animal based BCAA’s. Why? I honestly don’t know why other than it’s been considered status quo except for a very small minority of companies who were willing to spend 3-4x more on plant based fermented amino acids all along. However, times have changed and more companies will be joining the plant based BCAA movement soon enough. So how will the companies that aren’t adopting plant based BCAA’s going to fend off harsh criticisms for not changing their ways when you are start asking them the tough questions? With that in mind, here are some clear cut answers to help you educate yourself with.
Myths Companies Will Tell You about Animal vs. Plant Based BCAA’s.
- “They don’t taste any different.”
Wrong. Plant based BCAA’s are slightly more bitter, especially since they are instantized with sunflower oil. To get them to taste on par with products utilizing animal based BCAA’s and soybean oil instantizing processes, a more expensive flavoring and sweetening system must be used in products containing them to be pleasing for the customer.
- “There is no way to tell the difference in the lab.”
Wrong. Newer analysis techniques were developed to limit adulteration and the claims some animal based amino acids were from plant sources. The process is called nitrogen isotope composition analysis and it is very real.
- “Plant based BCAA’s are 3-4x more expensive than animal based BCAA’s.”
Wrong. They are about the same price these days and have been this way for well over two years now. In the past, this may have been true but not now. Flavoring and testing techniques will be pricier, but creating quality products generally comes with a greater cost anyway.
At the end of the day, both types of BCAA’s will help boost recovery and limit delayed onset muscular soreness. The research has not inferred otherwise. However, when it comes to having a sustainable source of BCAA’s and the need to shift away from animal sources, plant based fermented sources of amino acids are the clear winner. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and most certainly don’t shy away from asking what your favorite BCAA product is made from.
Kim, Dong-Hee, Seok-Hwan Kim, Woo-Seok Jeong, and Ha-Yan Lee. “Effect of BCAA Intake during Endurance Exercises on Fatigue Substances, Muscle Damage Substances, and Energy Metabolism Substances.” The Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry J. Exerc. Nutr, Biochem. 17, no. 4 (2013): 169-80.
Huang, Jingyu, Philip N. Nkrumah, Gloria Appiah-Sefah, and Shijiang Tang. “Authentication of Pure L-Leucine Products Manufactured in China by Discriminating between Plant and Animal Sources Using Nitrogen Stable Isotope Technique.” Journal of Food Science 78, no. 3 (2013): H490-4.