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Branch Chain Amino Acids and the Athlete

Branched-chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. The BCAAs are among the nine essential amino acids that humans cannot synthesize in the body and therefore need to be consumed exogenously in food or supplement form.  The human body can produce 80% of the amino acids we need for homeostasis and muscular function.  The other 20% cannot be produced by the body and therefore, are essential.

These nine essential amino acids include Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine, Histidine, Asparagine, and Selenocysteine. The essential branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) include leucine, isoleucine, and valine are of special importance for athletes because they are metabolized in the muscle, rather than in the liver.   Due to the muscular metabolism of essential BCAAs, they can be used for building new proteins or for energy production.   Supplementation of BCAAs as part of your supplement regimen can help provide your body with vital muscle building elements from a high-quality source.

Proteins, in general, are digested in the diet through meat, fish, dairy, or supplements.  Protein is made of amino acids which are in turn made of nucleic acids.  When we consume protein in any form, the protein is broken down into amino acids which are either used to build new protein or be used as a fuel source.  In the athlete, it is important that you consume enough protein (or carbohydrates) throughout the day so that when you exercise, “essential” amino acids will be used for protein synthesis which is optimal for increased human performance.  Research suggests that “the supplementation of BCAA’s are of essential importance to athletes due to their ability to alleviate any deficiencies that the body alone cannot produce. “  BCAA’s have also been proven in research to reduce fatigue in both anaerobic and endurance sports.  For the non-athlete, research has also shown that BCAA’s also improve concentration so everyone can benefit from taking BCAA’s as part of their daily health routine.

The BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, valine, and especially leucine, have anabolic effects on protein metabolism by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation in resting human muscle. Also, during recovery from endurance exercise, BCAAs were found to have anabolic effects in human muscle. Leucine has been the object of considerable research as of late because it is considered one of the most critical amino acids because it plays a vital role in protein synthesis as well as its anti-catabolic properties.

BCAA’s have a great deal of thorough and conclusive research surrounding them. Most studies indicate very positive effects of the supplementation of BCAA’s. There is consistency in the results of research subjects who supplement with BCAA’s showing a significant increase in exercise efficiency due to the heightened levels of aerobic and anaerobic capacity resulting in a considerable improvement in increased physical conditioning, fitness, and. In fact, one study “concluded that a minimum of 2.2 g of the amino acid mixture three times a day significantly improved other physiological markers such as: red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, serum albumin, fasting glucose, and a decrease in creatine phophokinase, suggesting increased hematopoiesis and glycogenesis, and rapid alleviation of muscle inflammation by the amino acid mixture.” All of these beneficial factors may be of huge significance in high performance athletes especially in terms of overall conditioning.

BCAA’s also show conclusive evidence on recovery from muscle fatigue and damage after eccentric exercise training. A recent study suggested a dosage of 5.6 grams of the amino acid mixture twice daily resulted in a faster recovery of muscle strength than that of the placebo group. The oral ingestion of the amino acid mixture was proved to be most effective for muscle strength recovery after the eccentric exercise.  Basically, supplementation of BCAA’s showed significant increases in strength, power, and resistance to fatigue in all athletes regardless of the types of training.

BCAA’s are not only for the athlete, but also those suffering from certain diseases and health issues.   Research suggests that BCAA’s may support liver health in patients with liver disease,  patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), as well as help support health and recovery in patients who have experienced trauma, extreme physical stress, kidney failure, and recovery after surgery.

Dosage recommendations for BCAA’s typically range from 200-300mg up to 5 grams of each BCAA daily.  Some studies showed consumption up to 12 grams for elite athletes with no apparent toxicity or danger associated with the supplementation of branch chain amino acids.  The typical ratio of BCAA’s is 50% leucine, 25% isoleucine, and 25% valine.

As with any supplement people may have mild side effects that are non-lethal and non-toxic.  There may be interactions with medications and you should take them under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.

References

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Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, Volek JS, Hakkinen K, Rubin MR, French DN, Gomez AL, McGuigan MR, Scheett TP, Newton RU, Spiering BA, Izquierdo M, Dioguardi FS. The effects of amino acid supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance training overreaching. Metabolism. 2006 Mar; 55(3): 282-91.

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NHIondemand.com. Branched Chain Amino Acids. Pharmasave Library. 2006.

Ohtani M, Sugita M, Maruyama K. Amino acid mixture improves training efficiency in athletes. J Nutr. 2006 Feb; 136(2): 538S-543S.

Ohtani M, Maruyama K, Suzuki S, Sugita M, Kobayashi K. Changes in hematological parameters of athletes after receiving daily dose of a mixture of 12 amino acids for one month during the middle- and long-distance running training. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2001 Feb; 65(2): 348-55.

Plaitakis A, et al. Pilot Trial of Branched-chain Aminoacids in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lancet. May 1988; 1(8593): 1015-18.

Sax HC, et al. Clinical Use of Branched-chain Amino Acids in Liver Disease, Sepsis, Trauma, and Burns. Arch Surg. March 1986; 121(3): 358-66.

Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. Supplements as Ergogenic Aids. Understanding Nutrition. 2005.

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