Written by Tim Rigby & photography by Aresnik Stuidos
These days, it’s hard to visit fitness-based social media without running smack into an enormous wall of misinformation and unsubstantiated opinions. What’s alarming is that recently there’s been a proliferation of TikTok fitness “influencers” spewing forth inaccurate information, questioning the legitimacy of supplements. These videos are produced by self-proclaimed “experts” who, in their dogged pursuit to stand out from the crowd, are merely trying to be controversial and go against conventional truth, by taking the position that supplements are ineffective (or not all they’re cracked up to be).
This is where you need to be careful. You’ve heard the expression, “don’t believe everything you see on the internet”; well, this TikTok epidemic is a perfect example of why you should be wary of social media entertainers in the guise of “fitness experts”. Since you’re motivated and fitness-minded (plus, you want big gains consistently) it’s important to realize these self-righteous “influencers” are simply out to attract more followers and likes – and ultimately monetize their exposure, and profit from this virtual engagement. Since fitness content on this platform is currently unchecked, they’re free to proclaim anything they want to their followers – without even knowing what they’re talking about.
Don’t fall for their TikTok trash!
One simply cannot question the effectiveness of supplements like protein, essential amino acids and creatine. Protein, of course, is a macronutrient unto itself, so to question its role in human physiological growth would be like questioning water. Amino acids, in basic terms, are proteins which have already been broken down and therefore are assimilated by your body more immediately. No matter who you are, when it comes to building muscle, the specific end goal is universal: to assume a state of positive nitrogen balance. When you train hard, you enter into a negative state, where more nitrogen has left your body than what your reserves hold. Supplementary protein and amino acids flip the switch and give you a positive nitrogen balance so you can repair tissue and grow muscle.
For decades, scientific literature has proven and re-proven the legitimacy of these supplements regarding their roles as muscle builders. Let’s look at some scrupulous scientific evidence:
A recent study by Jackman, Witard, Philp, et al. from the Universities of Exeter, Stirling and Birmingham (United Kingdom) proved that consumption of BCAAs exclusively (the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine) “increases post-exercise stimulation of myofibrillar-MPS and phosphorylation status mTORC1 signaling.” Specifically, a 22% increase in muscle hypertrophic response was produced, bu all you need to know is that yes, you’re going to create more muscle growth by using BCAAs compared to not. This study was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Physiology.
The same study then took this development further, and next investigated the effects on muscle hypertrophic response when the other essential amino acids (EAAs) were consumed in conjunction with BCAAs. Specifically, these other EAAs are histidine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan. The scientists discovered an even greater response, to the extent of adding an extra 50% increase in protein synthesis stimulation. Now you don’t have to be a research scientist to understand that supplementing with the full slate of EAAs (including BCAAs) makes a significant difference in being the catalyst for muscle growth.
Yet another study supports this same conclusion. Scientists Moberg, Apro, Ekblom et al. from the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), scrutinized the effectiveness of a placebo, leucine, BCAAs, and EAAs, in terms of anabolic signaling (the measure of your muscle’s potential for growth). At the 90-minute mark post-exercise, it was observed that S6 Kinase 1 (S6K1) activity was highest in the EAA trial – in fact, consumption of EAAs made a 900% difference compared to the placebo. The second-best response was from BCAAs, followed by leucine by itself, and of course, the placebo.
Look, it’s simple. You want to build more muscle? Listen to real science, NOT “influencers” whom you never heard of before anyone could create a TikTok account. These are usually non-experts who simply come out of the cyberspace woodwork with hidden agendas. So, ignore them and take the right path: build your muscles and grow big by consuming your supplemental EAAs, BCAAs and protein. Looking for that extra boost in strength too? Make sure to take your creatine consistently, especially before and after your training.
Food for Thought: A Taste of Truth on Tiktok
Occasionally, you do get a bit of true, accurate information from some of TikTok’s biggest names. Case in point: Pamela Graef is a New Orleans-based TikTok influencer whose #1 video has, as of April, 2023, been viewed over 9 million times on TikTok and over 27 million times on Facebook. She is a multiple-time aerobics champion who has placed 3rd and 6th at the United States national championships. Pamela is currently the lead personal trainer at a corporate fitness facility in Louisiana. In her opinion:
“Supplements have a great deal of merit. You can’t argue with the positive and safe effects of additional protein and essential amino acids on building muscle and recovery. I’m also a strong believer in creatine for muscle building and strength; in fact, creatine was my ‘go-to’ staple during my competition days. The key to effective supplement use is knowing how to identify and consistently consume ‘real deal’ supplements like protein, essential amino acids and creatine, rather than those newfangled gimmicky supplements which don’t make any difference.”