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Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's) on Steroids

Amino Acid Structure
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are naturally occurring substances which are essential for normal growth and development. The three most common BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine.



The three branched-chain amino acids are dietary substances that play a variety of biochemical and physiological roles in the body. In addition to their critical role as substrates for protein synthesis, these amino acids are important regulators of a variety of cellular functions. The levels of these BCAAs are delicately controlled in the body. Exercise is associated with increased oxidation of BCAA, although they remain minor fuels compared with carbohydrate or fat.


Skeletal Muscle Breakdown of BCAA Skeletal muscle is a major site for the breakdown of the BCAA. This is one major difference between the BCAAs and the other dietary amino acids which are primarily broken down in the liver or intestine.

When an individual performs exercise, carbohydrates and fats are the first to be broken down. Protein breakdown is not common during regular exercise. Only during extremes of exercise is muscle broken down to generate energy. It is widely believed that once the body is preconditioned with supplements of BCAA, these amino acids in the muscle do contribute to energy production but the exact mechanisms of breakdown is not well understood.


Body Building

Body builders have been seeking the one magic bullet that can increase muscle mass, strength and power. The BCAAs are not anabolic. However, they do increase strength and performance.
Bodybuilding & BCAA

All organs in the body have BCAA but the highest concentrations are found in the muscles. For years, it has been known that BCAAs are essential for the normal body growth and these amino acids are vital for protein synthesis. Now the athletes seem to have taken over. Every time there is any mention of protein and pill, body builders want to consume everything in mega doses.


All three BCAAs are oxidized and help to regulate insulin levels in the body. These three BCAAs do protect muscle during normal activity and in extreme conditions do act as a source of fuel. Many studies in the labaotory have shown that the BCAAs can increase exercise performance, endurance training and oxygen consumption. Others have shown that the BCAAs play an important role in the repair and healing of tissues after injury or surgery.



Studies in professional athletes has shown that a diet rich in BCAA can not only improve performance but increases strength of the muscle. While not strictly anabolic, the BCAAs can improve tolerance to extremes of stress and exercise.


BCAA and Exercise performance

BCAA bodybuilding results There are some case reports and also population based studies which do indicate that BCAA are effective as performance enhancing agents. Numerous studies have shown that a diet rich in any of these three BCAAs for 6 or more weeks, can lead to improvement in exercise, faster build up of muscle, increased energy and speedier recovery after injury.

One has to remember that while BCAA can improve exercise performance, the diet should also be complimented with other good nutrition. Most individuals see a difference in their exercise performance after taking these Amino acids for greater than 6 weeks. To maintain the beneficial effects, the BCAAs have to be taken for a long time.


Many body builders do combine BCAAs with anabolic steroids, GH and thyroxin.


While many studies do show that BCAAs can increase endurance and power, there are a few good studies which show no affect. The reason for these confounding results is unknown- let use hope it is not linked to fake products


Medical Uses


While there are no disorders which have been linked to a deficiency of the BCAA, excess amount of leucine can worsen pellagra. Pellarga is a disorder of niacin deficiency which results in dementia, diarrhea and dermatitis.


Over the years, it has been observed that individuals who have tardive dyskinessia (a body movement disorder) may show some response to the BCAAs. However, not all individuals respond to BCAAs.

Other conditions where BCAAs have been tried out is in inividuals who have undergone long complicated surgeries, long term patients in the ICU, individuals who have extensive burns of the body, those with wasting disorders from cancer, HIV or renal failure. BCAAs are also a vital component of parenteral nutrition in individuals who are unable to eat. Uses of BCAA

Some studies show some benefit, whereas others show absolutely nothing.


BCAA found in Meats BCAAs can be found in many foods like red meat, dairy products, chicken, fish, lentils, nuts, beans, brown rice, soy flour, whole wheat and eggs. It is extremely rare for an individual to develop a deficiency from BCAAs because they are so widely found in many foods.



For the individual who eats a normal healthy well balanced diet and is not into body building, there is absolutely no need to consume any supplement pill, including BCAAs. There is no evidence that consuming BCAAs as a pill in a normal person has any extra health benefits. However, athletes and body builders love to put something in their mouth. If it is a pill and rhymes with protein, then body builders are easily attracted to it.

While the exact dose needed to improve exercise tolerance is not known, some experts indicate that anywhere from 1-5 g/day may help. The pills come as 500 mg tablets. It is highly recommended that one take a mixture of the BCAAs. Some body builders take 2 pills in the morning, 2 in the after noon and 2 at night. Others take 3 pills three times a day.

One should take a balanced regimen of the BCAAs and refrain from taking just one single BCAA. In most health food stores supplements containing all three BCAAs are available.




All BCAAs are legal and there is no rule that one can’t take them.




120 capsules can cost anywhere from $10-$15.




There have been no reported side effects after consumption of BCAAs. However, some BCAAs may interfere with L-dopa which is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.



Individuals who have kidney or liver disorder should not take high doses of BCAAs. Dont Use BCAA with Liver Disorders



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Bloomer RJ. The role of nutritional supplements in the prevention and treatment of resistance exercise-induced skeletal muscle injury. Sports Med 2007; 37(6):519-32.


Crowe MJ, Weatherson JN, Bowden BF. Effects of dietary leucine supplementation on exercise performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 2006 Aug; 97(6):664-72.


Greer BK, Woodard JL, White JP, Arguello EM, Haymes EM .Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation and Indicators of Muscle Damage After Endurance Exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007 Dec; 17(6):595-607.


Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Ross R, Shanklin M, Kang J, Faigenbaum AD. Effect of a Pre-Exercise Energy Supplement on the Acute Hormonal Response to Resistance Exercise. J Strength Cond Res 2008 Apr 15.


Miller SL, Gaine PC, Maresh CM, Armstrong LE, Ebbeling CB, Lamont LS, Rodriguez NR. The effects of nutritional supplementation throughout an endurance run on leucine kinetics during recovery. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2007 Oct; 17(5):456-67.


Nemet D, Wolach B, Eliakim A. Proteins and amino acid supplementation in sports: arethey truly necessary?  Isr Med Assoc J 2005 May; 7(5):328-32.


Nicholas C. Legal nutritional supplements during a sporting event. Essays Biochem 2008.45-62.


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


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