Nutrition Notes

Supporting Exercise Recovery with BCAAs

Supporting Exercise Recovery with BCAAs

Physical activity and movement are important components of a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining an exercise routine, including a mixture of aerobic exercise and resistance training, can help support many facets of health. However, excess exercise may contribute to strain on the body and exercise-induced muscle damage, leading to problems ranging from mild soreness to injury and increased susceptibility to disease. Adequate recovery from exercise, especially tough exercise activities, can help mitigate the potential damage. In addition to rest, consuming adequate nutrition, especially protein, is an essential facet of exercise recovery.

BCAAs and Exercise

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which include valine, leucine, and isoleucine, play an important role in skeletal muscle inclusive of the main amino acids of structural proteins. In addition to the aid of muscle building, BCAAs provide an energy source during exercise, act as a signaling factor of protein synthesis, and are involved in the anti-inflammatory and immune response. As such, ensuring adequate supplies of BCAA through diet and/or supplementation may support exercise recovery, including those habitual athletes who only supplement once.

One study found that consuming a controlled diet of 1.2 g/kg per day of protein, along with BCAA supplementation of 0.22 g/kg per body mass per day both before and after eccentric exercise led to a lower creatinine kinase concentration at 48 hours when compared to the placebo group. Both the BCAA treatment group and the control group experienced soreness. However, less soreness was experienced by the participants in the BCAA group. The benefits from BCAA supplementation did not include increased performance.

Does Timing Matter?

The timing of supplementation intake may impact recovery benefits. In the study just described above, the treatment group consumed BCAAs both before and after exercise. In another study, a group of researchers tested the efficacy of BCAA consumption before or after exercise on muscle soreness and damage. In one small, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot study, the 15 participants were divided into three groups: a control group (the placebo group), a pre-treatment group, and a post-treatment group. Participants performed similar exercises and were tested for various post-exercise damage and soreness markers before, immediately after, and for the next 4 days.

The group who took the BCAA supplementation before exercise experienced the best recovery, with improved markers of delayed onset muscle soreness, upper arm circumference, elbow range of motion, and suppression of creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, and aldolase. They also had higher serum levels of BCAAs after exercise compared to the other two groups. The post-exercise group experienced some benefit compared to the placebo group, but the benefit was weaker than the pre-exercise group. This small study may support consuming BCAAs prior to exercise.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that supplementing with BCAAs after exercise was associated with delayed onset muscle soreness. The researchers incorporated more data for their findings in the meta-analysis, but the various studies demonstrated that ultimately more research is necessary to determine whether timing matters more than supplementing at any point.

Ensuring sufficient protein, especially essential amino acids and BCAAs, is one potential element of properly supporting exercise recovery. Consuming a healthy diet rich in other essential nutrients and adequate rest are two other possible supportive elements to incorporate into a plan for aiding a healthy lifestyle.

By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS