Monday, February 7, 2011

Question Via Comments - BCAA ?

Great Question Via Comments from My Post on Peri-Workout Nutrition and my use of BCAA, especially on long days (read that post here)

What are Amino Acids? Basically, the building Blocks of Proteins, there are 22 and 8 are essential because the body can not make them, including the 3 BCAAs.

What are BCAA? Branched Chain Amino Acids are 3 amino acids (isoleucine, leucine and valine) that are predominately used in skeletal muscle so have been studied for years for potential benefits in exercise.

So what ? It has been theorized, with debatable success, that taking BCAA before, during and after exercise may increase or support performance in a few ways. By maintaining BCAA supply to the brain (limit central fatigue?) and help to fulfill any protein derived energy requirements (link suggests not really ). Most supported seems to be the anabolic (muscle repair/recovery/immunity) potential that BCAA may offer post-workout (although maybe not?). 

What am I doing with it? I have been playing around with it for sleep benefits (based loosely on these studies on sleep in Liver Cirrosis) and to replace soy/whey protein in and after endurance ride fuels (BCAA+Hammer HEED) in hopes of preventing muscle breakdown. I have been sleeping pretty well recently (but have changed pre-sleep habits a bit too) and recovering decent too, but not sure I would endorse, without seeing a client with all their sleep/stress/training in A+ shape.  

Should You buy it?  
 - For most people it is not worth it. Until you are taking care of your sleep/stress and basic nutrition you have many other cheap ways to greatly increase your performance and recovery. Further most people are not training at a level that BCAA would make a significant difference. Remember that a good diet with quality lean protein (like eggs) contains a LOT of BCAA (see paleo cliff notes)

If you try it, remember to do it smart and track performance, perhaps with some double blind bottles on a few rides, and how you feel on-off the bike and set a deadline to decide rationally if it is worth spending money on.  

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It should only be used as a supplement and not as the main energy source.

Thanks for the Comment Lorna.

I am not sure there can ever be a blanket statement that something should always be done this way or that (good or bad). There is context for most things.

In the case of fueling a workout with BCAA and electrolytes as opposed to a carbohydrate solution (what I am guessing you are commenting on?). There is a fair bit of science behind the idea, but it is definitely a more advanced intervention. That said many people train fasted (ie. without sugar/carbs) without supplementing with BCAA and electrolyte (ie. water or nothing) everyday and do alright, so adding some amino acids and electrolytes to try and reduce the strain on the body a bit isn't a wild idea to tinker with ?

as far as supplementing a diet vs. sustaining oneself on BCAA powder, I am not sure I suggested that so perhaps we are on the same page ?

Love to hear more about your thoughts on this !

Thanks again for the comment .

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