Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, include the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids can be found in dietary protein, such as meat or eggs, or they can be supplemented. Branched chain amino acids are most commonly used for their role in building muscle, improving exercise performance and decreasing post-exercise soreness and recovery time.
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Reduce Soreness and Promote Recovery
For those who wish to decrease their recovery time and soreness after endurance exercise, such as running or cycling, BCAAs may provide the answer. A 2000 study published in the “Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness” found that BCAA supplementation can cut down on muscle damage related to endurance exercise. Another 2008 paper published in the same journal noted that BCAA supplementation could promote muscle recovery while helping regulate the immune system. This may be particularly helpful in avoiding illness, as immune function can be weakened after intense or prolonged exercise.
Increase Exercise Performance
Research shows that branched chain amino acids can improve exercise performance by both increasing the resistance to fatigue as well as sparing muscle glycogen, or energy stored in muscles. A 2011 study published in the “Journal of Sports Medicine Physical Fitness” found that the branched chain amino acid supplements provided superior resistance to fatigue when compared to a placebo, in addition to increased fat burning. A 1996 paper published in “Nutrition” noted that an increased supply of branched chain amino acids during exercise helped preserve stored muscle energy.
It appears that branched chain amino acids may have an anabolic effect on the body, which makes them particularly useful for those interested in increasing muscle size and strength. A 2006 paper published in “The Journal of Nutrition” noted that branched chain amino acids trigger important enzymes in protein synthesis, post-exercise. The paper also notes that, for muscle building purposes, leucine may be the most important of the three branched chain amino acids. BCAAs provide an anabolic effect by increasing the rate of protein synthesis – or muscle building – while decreasing the rate of protein degradation, or muscle breakdown.
When a diet is low in branched chain amino acids, which can occur in vegetarian or low-protein diets, supplementation can be beneficial for those interested in the anabolic, muscle recovery and performance-enhancing properties of branched chain amino acids. Protein powder supplements are also rich sources of branched chain amino acids, containing approximately 5 grams of BCAAs per 25 grams. The most beneficial time to supplement branched chain amino acids may be before, during and after exercise.