BCAA’s Effect on Performance

What are Branch Chain amino acids?  Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine. BCAA’s can produce an anabolic response in humans driven by a stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. A total of 20 amino acids that comprise muscle protein. 9 of the 20 are considered essential amino acids  (EAA’s) meaning the body cannot make these amino acids and therefore are crucial for a balanced diet. For synthesis of new muscle protein , all 9 (EAA’s) and 11 non essential amino acids that can be produced by the body must be present in adequate amounts. Leucine , Isoleucine and valine are 3 of the 9 (EAA’s)

Foods you can find that are packed with all 3 BCAA’s are : peanuts ,lentils, soy protein, beef,chicken,whey protein, brown rice and Brazil Nuts. Honorable Mention: eggs they have 2 of the 3 BCAA’s leucine and Isoleucine. Studies have shown BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has a beneficial effect for decreasing exercise induced muscle damage and promoting muscle protein synthesis. A type of damage that develops delayed onset muscle soreness. A  syndrome that occurs 24-48 hours after intensive physical activity that can inhibit athletic performance.


A recent study examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on lactate threshold, a measure of exercise capacity. The subjects drank a BCAA drink with a high leucine content had higher oxygen consumption (VO2 Max) and work load levels at lactate threshold. The results suggest that BCAA supplementation is an effective method to increase exercise capacity and endurance. Improved exercise capacity for athletes equals better performance during games or improved performance during training sessions. It is well documented in Scientific journals that athletes and active people often have lower immunity due to their intense training programs. Researchers are now uncovering that BCAA’s may also have a potent immune system effect. Italian sports scientists conducted a study in 2008 suggesting that BCAA supplementation not only reduces muscle soreness but also improves immune system function.

Participants showed increased plasma glutamine levels, recovered mononuclear cell proliferation and modified exercise-related cytoke response. All of which are important indicators of improved immune system function. Athletes are more prone to colds and flu than sedentary people which means BCAA’s will not just improve your muscular endurance but will also boost your immune system.


BCAA’s can be oxidized in the skeletal muscle and other essential amino acids are catabolized mainly in the liver. Exercise increases energy expenditure and promotes oxidation of BCAA’s. The entire catabolic pathway for BCAA’s is located in the cells mitochondria. Dynamic exercise stimulates amino acid oxidation of BCAA’s and ammonia production in proportion to exercise intensity. If exercise is intense enough there is a net loss of muscle protein as a result of decreased protein synthesis. Some of the amino acids are oxidized as fuel and the rest provide substrates for gluconeogenesis. Protein balance is restored after exercise and protein synthesis can rebound up to 48 hours. Breakdown can remain elevated and positive balance is achieved only if amino acid availability is increased. Plain and simple take your BCAA’s people.


Not all BCAA supplements are created equal…….

With all this new found knowledge of BCAA’s we are now ready to go to the local vitamin store and get our performance on , Right? Well maybe…..  Whey and BCAA supplements are increasing in attention due to the high nutritional value they provide, or do they. Some supplements may not all they’re cracked up to be. Some brands may not contain the disclosed amounts of ingredients listed on the label. Thus compromising the nutritional quality and effectiveness of these supplements. A study released in 2013 in the Journal BMC Medicine in which 44 bottles from 12 companies were tested. The testing found that ⅓ of the supplements tested didn’t contain the supplement advertised.

Many other supplements contained ingredients like wheat and rice that weren’t even listed on the label even though they can cause allergic reactions in some consumers. When it comes to food labels there are problems too. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that the calorie content on some food labels was an average 8% higher than listed on the label. Restaurant Menus are just as guilty, on average they are 18% higher than stated. Susan B Roberts director of the Energy Metabolism at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on aging at Tufts University says that these kind of inaccuracies are common on other items on the nutritional food label as well.Many times it’s the fault of the manufacturer. Some would say it’s the lax government rules regarding food labels. Calorie counts on food labels can be off by 20% in some cases and still be in compliance with FDA regulations.


Supplements have a bigger problem more alarming problem. Supplements are regulated by the FDA but are not regulated like food and drugs. Some say “ it’s the wild west of rules” In most cases the FDA regulates supplements after they are sold to consumers by keeping tabs on reports of adverse effects. In most cases there are supply chain issues and lack of quality control. Some supplement manufacturers buy their ingredients in other countries or online and don’t test the ingredients purity or efficiency once they arrive in the plant for processing. A spokesperson for the council for responsible nutrition said “  the industry has a purity problem”


What can you do to ensure your BCAA supplement has the right stuff in it?

Be aware of the problem. Get a subscription to www.consumerlab.com which independently tests products for purity and labeling accuracy. Shop at companies like GNC, Vitamin Shoppe . These companies can afford to invest in internal quality control processes to ensure the product meets the purity that’s claimed on the label.

If a new supplement hits the market it’s your job to do the research and read customer reviews. Stick with brands you trust.


Studies show that BCAA’s do stimulate the muscle building response in athletes after they performed intense training but not as much as other supplements on the market ie whey protein. Why? BCAA’s only contain Leucine, isoleucine and Valine which are only 3 of the 9 essential amino acids. We need all 20 for proper muscle building. As studies have shown taking BCAA’s can improve one’s performance during exercise but one should also remember that BCAA’s are not necessarily designed to build muscle but to protect muscle and fuel it during exercise. It is recommended  to take a BCAA drink before and during exercise and have a protein shake after with a full spectrum of amino acids for recovery and muscle building.

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