Do BCAAs Have Calories? Settling the Debate Once and for All

January 13th, 2017|Supplementation, Nutrition|
Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness

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Do BCAAs have calories?

Countless times we have seen this question get asked by people trying to build muscle or lose fat and, usually, incorrectly answered, which is why we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to settling this debate once and for all.

But before we do that, let’s quickly look at what BCAAs actually are.

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are amino acids which have a non-continuous link of carbon bonds (i.e. a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms).

The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine, all of which are classed as essential amino acids, which means that they must be ingested by humans since they cannot be made by our bodies.

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness BCAAs

Unlike whole proteins or most other amino acids, BCAAs are, generally, not metabolized by the liver directly but, instead, are transported to muscle tissues where they are oxidized by the muscles.

Do BCAAs have calories?

So, do BCAAs have calories?

Yes, they absolutely do!

According to scientific research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, BCAAs have the following caloric values:

Leucine: 6.5 calories per gram

Isoleucine: 6.5 calories per gram

Valine: 6 calories per gram

This means that 10 grams of BCAAs contain 63 calories.

Just in case you don’t want to take our word for it, here’s a table from the study above showing the metabolizable energy of all free form amino acids.

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness Energy

Adapted from: May and Hill (1990)

Why is my BCAA supplement labelled as having 0 calories?

It makes sense that your next question is:

“If BCAAs have calories, then why does the label on my BCAA supplement state 0 calories?”

The reason most supplement manufacturers don’t list the calories from BCAAs in their products is simply because they can legally do so, since:

  1. the FDA regulations state that supplement manufacturers can’t declare the protein content of a product when this only contains individual amino acids.
  2. the FDA regulations allow supplement manufacturers to calculate the caloric content of their products using a number of methods, including the Atawater method, which involves adding up the calories from protein (4 kcal/g), carbs (4 kcal/gram) and fats (9 kcal/gram).

Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness - FDA1

Adapted from: FDA (2016)


Do BCAAs Have Calories - Myolean Fitness - FDA2

Adapted from: FDA (2016)


Simply put, if a product only contains free form amino acids and no carbs or fats, it technically is listed as having 0 protein (and 0 carbs and fats, of course) and, therefore, 0 calories.

So there you have it!

The next time you see a debate on whether BCAAs have calories, help us do some myth-busting by sharing this article!

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