Advocare’s ‘catalyst’ is a dietary supplement that combines a variety of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in order to promote the development and maintenance of muscle for those who are also on a balanced diet and exercising.
AdvoCare introduced this product in the 1990s, when BCAA research was incredibly popular and had a larger cultural role in health and fitness. This period of time is the main reason that many fitness enthusiasts and athletes include them in their training regimen. Advocare have a large market presence and have been well-reputed for the past 20 years in the field, suggesting that they are both subject to immense scrutiny for manufacturing practices and claims. This may reassure us that there is at least a good chance that we will be receiving a product that contains what it says it does. In this article, we’ll be discussing the efficacy of these BCAAs in improving muscular development, maintenance during diet and the effectiveness of Catalyst in particular.
The way that Catalyst claims to improve muscle development and maintenance during diet is through the increased dietary intake of BCAAs. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and proteins are the building blocks of tissues – including muscles. The idea is that an increased consumption of these BCAAs provide the body with all the necessary ‘raw materials’ necessary to increase the amount of muscle that can be built. Additionally, a high concentration of amino acids in the diet may be analogous to a high-protein diet which has been repeatedly shown to improve the development of muscle, reduction of bodyfat and the maintenance of muscle tissue during weight loss .
The main problem with this approach is that BCAAs are usually heavily represented in the diets of those who are already interested in sports and fitness. BCAAs are not fundamentally different from regular amino acids – BCAAs are found in some foods and can be constructed from amino acids in the body. This means that any individual with a high protein intake in their diet can construct amino acids out of the proteins that they consume . What this means is that eating a diet rich in high-quality, complete protein sources – those which contain all of the essential amino acids – reduces the need to supplement any form of amino acid.
An individual whose protein intake is high will deconstruct these proteins into their constituent amino acids for use in the body, and BCAAs can actively be consumed in the forms of meat and eggs. Recent research suggests that the early years of BCAA research exaggerated their usefulness to athletes and suggests that their efficacy for individuals who are not performing intense or prolonged exercise is limited. Whilst there are some benefits to those who are performing long sessions of intense exercise (2+ hours of power, strength or endurance work), these are rare and highly-committed individuals who are likely consuming a large quantity of protein in their diet.
The main role of BCAAs in a balanced and effective diet, then, is intra-workout nutrition. During long bouts of exercise, there is a need to replenish cellular fuel stores. This can be buffered through the consumption of BCAAs – the idea being that they are pre-digested in some sense (the body will not need to break down long-chain proteins in order to create the constituent amino acids) and will be more readily available for replenishment. Certain amino acids have an extended role during this period – with Leucine being heavily involved in the signalling for muscle protein synthesis (the process associated with recovering and building muscle tissue) and isoleucine has an important intra-workout role: Isoleucine causes cells to uptake glucose, increasing their ability to break nutrients down and produce more cellular ‘fuel’.
The problem with a variety of the ingredients in Catalyst is that they are only positively effective when the individual is already deficient in them. For example, L-Glutamine can have large positive effects in some populations, but the main reason that it has positive effects is because these individuals are excessively low in glutamine. This means that, once we have achieved non-deficiency in the compound, there are no extra benefits to consuming it . It is important to figure out whether your diet has high enough levels of glutamine and leucine before supplementing BCAAs.
One situation where BCAAs are incredibly effective is in those who eat plant-based diets but do not use a complete protein supplement. Plant foods tend to be incomplete in their distribution of amino acids. For these individuals, the supplementation of BCAAs may be positive, as it can improve the dietary intake of essential amino acids (those which cannot be produced by the body from other compounds). However, it may make more sense for these individuals to alter their diet through the addition of complete protein supplements such as soy.
The main problem that we might have with Catalyst is that it’s basically ineffective. Whilst some other supplements make huge claims and affect very little change, Catalyst has almost no claims because it does almost nothing. Branch chain amino acids may help some advanced athletes cover their nutritional bases and ensure that they are never deficient in anything, but for the average fitness enthusiast or dieter, they are almost totally innocuous: the reduction of muscular fatigue is rarely a problem for these individuals (who may never have pushed themselves to muscular failure, due to the psychological and co-ordination interruptions that occur with maximal exercise in novice athletes).
A secondary problem here is that there are hundreds of brands of BCAA on the market and there is no real reason to prefer Catalyst to any of these other brands. If there are no large positives associated with this product – or with its competitors – then there seems to be no reason to buy this rather than any other product. Customer reviews give us very little to work with: whilst some claim that the product is effective and they have noticeable changes in their performance, others suggest that it is either ineffective or has adverse reactions. These should be taken with a pinch of salt as different individuals will react differently to the contents of Catalyst and some adverse reactions from a company with as large a market share as Advocare are likely. BCAAs in their pure form can cause negative reactions depending on the individual’s digestive health and makeup – it is important to consult your physician prior to beginning a course of supplements, especially for those who have preconditions affecting digestion or blood sugar.
We can’t make an argument for Catalyst: from a value standpoint there seem to be very few benefits associated with this product over dietary choices or other supplements. The urgency of BCAA replenishment during exercise is basically nil for most people and, among athletes, there are a variety of other ways of meeting these needs such as consuming an increased quantity of egg whites prior to training. The cost is far from outrageous: at around $32 for a supply of 10-30 days, this is a fairly standard price point within the industry. There are easier and cheaper ways to achieve these goals – both as tablets and water-soluble powders (the latter may be preferable if the goal is rapid absorption and utilisation).
The dietary alternatives are also likely to be cheaper and equally effective, whilst providing a variety of other nutrients that can positively affect health. For example, the consumption of a meal containing BCAA sources (either eggs, high-quality meats, or both) with complex cabohydrates, prior to training, can result in the continuous digestion and utilisation of the various nutrients in these foods over the course of several hours – including the BCAAs that will fuel effective training.
The final option is simply to replace the BCAAs with complete proteins – intraworkout shakes have been known to include complete protein powders among those who are enthusiastic about training for strength, size or endurance. A mixture of simple carbohydrates and complete proteins in a 2:1 ratio has been the received wisdom for decades (ask Joe Weider!) and there is very little difference between the two when we look at the possibilities for recovery within a single session. The inclusion of simple carbohydrates and proteins in a liquid form will all improve the speed of absorption and utilisation for the proteins and their constituent Amino acids.
There isn’t much to say for or against Catalyst: the overwhelming criticism is that it doesn’t really do much but it might do something. There are mixed reviews on the effectiveness of the product, the likelihood of adverse reactions and even the science suggests that findings are mixed and only conditionally useful. Overall, our main recommendation is that it’s probably not worth your money, though it’s equally not going to hurt your chances if you really feel like those $30 are burning a hole in your pocket and you’re in the market for incredibly underwhelming supplements!
Related to Advocare Catalyst: Phentaslim Review (New 2020) - Why we rate it as #1
 Clifton et al (2009): ‘High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglrycerol’. Nutrition, metabolism and cardiovascular disease, 19(8), pp.548-554
 Paddon-Jones and Rasmussen (2009): ‘Dietary protein recommendation and the prevention of sarcopenia: protein, amino acid metabolism and therapy’. Current opinions in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 12(1), pp.86-90
 Lacey and Wilmore (1990): ‘Is glutamine a conditionally essential amino acid?’. Nutrition reviews, 48(8), pp.297-309
Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children. You can contact her via the "About Us" page.
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