What are BCAAs and why are they so important to endurance athletes?

What are BCAAs:

BCAAs are part of a group of 21 amino acids. Amino acids help in the synthesis of hormones, build muscle, regulate the immune system, and repair muscle damage. Amino acids are categorized as essential and nonessential. Essential amino acids are not made by your body and need to be obtained from food. BCAAs are leucine, iso-lucine and valine, and they are “essential” amino acids, “branched-chain” refers to their chemical structure. 

Why are BCAAs important: 

BCAAs are unique because they can be used in the muscle for fuel. They have been shown to make up 10% or more of the energy used during aerobic activity (i.e. running, cycling, swimming). BCAAs also prevent muscle breakdown during exercise. BCAAs can also be used for fuel when glycogen stores run out.

BCAAs are especially crucial for athletes because they:

  • Promote muscle growth
  • Assist muscle repair
  • Help reduce soreness
  • Increase growth hormones
  • Supports protein synthesis
  • Reduces fatigue during resistance exercise
  • Supports muscle metabolism
  • Increases immune function

Most of these benefits are seen in resistance and power-based athletes. Researchers have proven that after completing strenuous exercise, muscle damage was significantly less and recovery was faster when supplementing with BCAAs during exercise.

BCAAs and Injuries:

BCAAs are used to increase healing after surgery or a musculoskeletal injury. New body tissue needs to be rapidly made, while making sure the tissue not affected by surgery remain healthy. BCAAs assist with sports injuries because they alleviate muscle atrophy associated with immobilization. They also boost protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. Including BCAAs in your diet may help speed recovery and keep those muscles you’ve worked so hard for.  

How do I get BCAAs in my diet?

Now that you know the benefits of BCAAs, let’s look at the ways you can get them in your diet. 

BCAAs and the other essential amino acids are found in any complete protein such as:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

Also in plant-based foods like:

  • Pea protein
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Chickpeas

Takeaways:

BCAAs are essential for recovery, protein synthesis, and reducing soreness. They are easy to get in your diet with animal proteins, but plant-based athletes will have to plan ahead to make sure they are getting enough. Supplementation can be a convenient way to consume BCAAs, but it’s important to consume BCAAs from real food as well.


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