Recently a client texted me to ask if she should start taking BCAAs for improved results. This is a typical type of question that I get from clients quite a bit once they start back into the gym after a layoff or even starting out for the first time. Since every person they run into is going to offer some type of tidbit on how to increase results, often I have to be blunt with people, as is my nature.
So I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject and share basically what I told her and would tell anyone in the same type of situation, and here it is in plain English:
If you aren’t doing the first 80% of what you need to do, don’t worry about the final 20%.
So then you ask: “What’s the first 80%?” of course. And here they are:
Exercising regularly – that means 3-5 times a week depending on schedule for at least 6-12 months without more than a week break due to holiday, illness or injury. Do you have your fitness time prioritized so that regular life doesn’t get in the way? No? Work on that.
Establish a system that works for you and you can remain consistent with. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 minutes at home doing bodyweight or 45 minutes at the gym. Just get regular.
Exercising properly – are you getting hurt or sore all the time? Do you know what you’re doing? Are you focusing on the right things ie strength training instead of hours of cardio? Do you track your workouts consistently? No? Consult an expert and work on that. Get a game plan and follow it.
Today there are literally millions of online resources that are free and can guide you, or spend the money and hire a (competent) trainer. It is worth the investment to do things right the first time.
Eating properly – that means within the caloric guidelines for either gaining/losing weight and/or body fat consistently every day. No? Work on that.
Don’t even know what that is? Google it. Your body has an energy requirement and this is where everyone should begin to focus on before any type of details.
Eating for health – meaning real food, not relying on supplements like shakes and powders. Whatever eating profile you decide to go with, just make sure it is healthy – for you. No? Work on that.
My big three are sugar, processed carbs and alcohol. If you can cut out those three things and also increase your fiber intake, it will dramatically change your body and mood in no time.
Recovering properly – that means are you sleeping, taking rest days and trying to lower outside stress levels so that your body can repair itself. No? Work on that.
Stretching, mobility, meditation are all a part of this process. Also, if your sleep hygiene sucks and you’re barely getting six hours a night, you’re going to have a problem. Easy hacks are available so that you can enhance your recovery and feel better every day.
Enjoying the process – Life isn’t about suffering unless you’re a Buddhist. If you are forcing yourself to do things it likely isn’t a good choice for you. An example is people who are in a gym when they would much rather be outside or doing an active sport or other activity. Have you found what you enjoy? No? Go find it.
So, here’s the thing. I get questions often where the answer is simply – it doesn’t matter unless you’re already doing the above. Do I need BCAAs? Should I do Wendler 5/3/1 or Starting Strength? What about Intermittent Fasting? Or keto? How many reps and sets? How long should I do cardio for? What should my heart rate be?
Too many people focus on the details that aren’t important until the above is in place and consistently followed for a period of time. And as much as other people will moan and say it’s important and other trainers’ heads will explode, let’s be honest and say that the difference is generally negligible. If you’re not doing the things above consistently then you are much better off starting there.
There are a ton of people in the industry that will tell you that you should be focusing on things that in the larger picture really don’t matter nearly as much as consistency, strength work, regular recovery and a good diet. Usually, these people are trying to sell you something. Don’t worry about the small details until you have mastered the first amount for a period of time.