The branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine and valine, are essential amino acids and key players in anabolism and energy metabolism. Since the body cannot produce them, they must be acquired in the diet. BCAAs are found in high concentration in skeletal muscle, where they help prevent protein breakdown and promote protein synthesis, especially during intense training. Recently, athletes have been using BCAA supplementation pre-, intra-, and post-workout, to keep blood amino levels elevated throughout the workout/postworkout window, in an effort to blunt BCAA breakdown in skeletal muscle. With this supplementation approach, many athletes feel that recovery is in enhanced—but what does the science say?
A recent study published in Nutrition is the first systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the effects of BCAA on athletic recovery after exercise. Upon analyzing 8 randomized control trials, the authors concluded that training while supplementing with BCAAs provides greater recovery than passive rest after exhaustive and damaging exercise. Which simply means, taking daily BCCAs, especially within the workout window, provides better muscle recovery than simply taking a rest day without supplementation. The advantages of BCAA supplementation on recovery seem to be a result of reduced muscle soreness and preserved muscle function, as there was less strength and power loss, from workout to workout, in those who took BCAAs.
ACTION POINT: To maximize recovery and ensure consistent strength gains from workout to workout, we suggest taking BCAAs (2:1:1 Leucine:Isoleucine:valine) throughout the day. On training days, the most important time to take BCAAs is around the workout window. As always, we suggest taking 5 g preworkout, 5 g during your workout, and 5 g immediately post workout. On rest days take 5-10 g upon waking and another 5-10 g in the afternoon between meals.
Rahimi MH, Shab-Bidar S, Mollahosseini M, Djafarian K. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation and exercise-induced muscle damage in exercise recovery: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Reference: Nutrition. 2017 Oct;42:30-36.