One of our runners asked us about supplementing with BCAA’s (Branched-Chain Amino Acids). What does the science say for runners?
First and foremost, BCAAs are amino acids. They are called branched-chain because the carbon backbone contains a “branch” structure like a tree.
All amino acids make proteins. BCAAs, especially leucine, are particularly good at building protein used to make muscles.
Therefore, BCAA’s can help rebuild muscles after running to help increase recovery and reduce fatigue.
Second, metabolism of amino acids, including BCAA’s, provides between 10-15% of all cellular energy (the balance coming from glucose via glycolysis and fat metabolism via Krebs/Citric Acid cycle). Amino acids can be converted into ketones by the body, which can then create cellular energy via the same Krebs/Citric Acid cycle used for fat metabolism. Since BCAAs are largely found in muscles, exhausted muscles can turn to BCAAs for energy as glycogen and glucose are depleted.
Therefore, it’s possible that consuming BCAAs while running can serve as an additional energy source for exhausted muscles during running activity.
Finally, there is emerging research that amino acids, including BCAAs, can help with hydration via electrolyte transfer. Traditionally, electrolytes are transported into cells by attaching to glucose (that is a key reason why sports drinks contain sugar). However, oxidized BCAAs can also attach to positive electrolyte ions and aid transport into cells. Indeed, some studies are showing better hydration from BCAA sports drinks versus traditional Carbohydrate sports drinks.
Therefore, it’s possible that consuming BCAAs while running could help enhance hydration by transporting electrolytes into cells.
Hope this helps! Best wishes on chasing your running goals,
1. Kahn Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/biomolecules/fat-and-protein-metabolism/v/overview-of-amino-acid-metabolism