Do you need amino acid supplements?

Do you really need to stock your shelves with every amino acid supplement to perform better?

In a 2017 review and 2016 randomized control study, BCAA supplementation for strength-based athletes was shown to help improve their exercise performance and maintain muscle mass [3] [4]. 

For endurance athletes, a 2013 study showed that BCAA supplementation (78ml/kg·w) enhanced exercise performance by reducing the effect of other molecules that would normally make your muscles fatigued [5].

Let’s break down why this could be the case.

Amino Acids 101

First, let’s dive into what amino acids are exactly. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins because they are quite literally the first step to protein formation. There are 20 different amino acids, and they can be broken down into two categories: essential and non essential. 

  1. Essential amino acids MUST be consumed via your diet because your body cannot make them. For instance, tryptophan is necessary for newborns and a good source of it comes from soy [1].  
  2. Non essential amino acids can be made in your body. This would include glycine which is used for cell signaling in the body [2]. 

Amino Acid Supplementation

Supplementing with any of these 20 amino acids can have various effects on your body depending on your sport, your goals, your diet, your supplement dosage, when you choose to supplement, and more.

To find out if amino acid supplementation is right for you, be sure to speak with one of our experienced practitioners. 

Now, let’s consider some general situations where amino acid supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for athletes. 

Benefits of BCAA’s

When seeing this post, many of you might have immediately thought of BCAA’s or the branched chain essential amino acids that include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These 3 amino acids have grown in popularity because of their unique feature that they are mostly directly metabolized in skeletal muscle. This difference allows BCAA’s to have a stronger influence on muscle growth [7]. 

In fact, supplementing with BCAA’s before a tough workout has been shown to simultaneously prevent the excessive breakdown of muscle protein, while promoting muscle protein synthesis [7]. 

For strength athletes, BCAA’s are often used as a supplement. Why? Studies show that BCAA supplementation helps to promote muscle recovery and avoid that awful sore muscle feeling after a tough workout [3]. 

Additionally, supplementing with these essential amino acids has been shown to help maintain muscle mass, while losing body fat during a caloric deficit [4]. 

Thus, BCAA supplementation for strength-based athletes can help improve their exercise performance and maintain muscle mass.

For endurance athletes, BCAA supplementation has been shown to enhance exercise performance by reducing the effect of other molecules that would normally make your muscles fatigued [5]. 

How? Let’s dive into the study to learn more. 

The 2013 study randomly divided college-aged males into two groups where one received 8ml/kg·w of BCAA before exercise, and the other placebo group did not. Both groups then completed cycle training until the point of exhaustion [5]. 

Another study conducted in 2020 studied male endurance runners where one group received 20g of BCAA’s 1 hour before exercise, and the other was given a placebo substance [6]. 

Both studies found that the group of men who were given BCAA supplementation had lower serotonin levels than the placebo group [5] [6]. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, amongst its many functions, can also act as a central fatigue substance. This means that higher levels of serotonin could make your muscles feel more tired [6]. 

The 2020 study actually measured time to exhaustion and found that the group of men who supplemented with BCAA’s had longer times to exhaustion than the placebo group. So, BCAA supplementation can actually help endurance athletes avoid feeling fatigued for a longer period of time [6]. 

Not just BCAA’s

What about other types of amino acid supplements? If you’re curious about beta-alanine supplementation, check out our entire blog post on it here. 

So, are amino acid supplements necessary?

Although amino acid supplements do have the ability to help you perform better, much of the research shows that it is NOT a necessity. Many of the essential amino acids can be obtained through proper diet, so we always recommend that our clients try to hit daily nutrition requirements through whole foods as much as possible before turning to supplements.


References

  1. Friedman M. (2018). Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan. International journal of tryptophan research : IJTR11, 1178646918802282. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178646918802282
  2. Hall J. C. (1998). Glycine. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition22(6), 393–398. https://doi.org/10.1177/0148607198022006393
  3. Rahimi, M. H., Shab-Bidar, S., Mollahosseini, M., & Djafarian, K. (2017). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation and exercise-induced muscle damage in exercise recovery: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.)42, 30–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2017.05.005
  4. Dudgeon, W. D., Kelley, E. P., & Scheett, T. P. (2016). In a single-blind, matched group design: branched-chain amino acid supplementation and resistance training maintains lean body mass during a caloric restricted diet. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition13, 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0112-9
  5. Kim, D. H., Kim, S. H., Jeong, W. S., & Lee, H. Y. (2013). Effect of BCAA intake during endurance exercises on fatigue substances, muscle damage substances, and energy metabolism substances. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry17(4), 169–180. https://doi.org/10.5717/jenb.2013.17.4.169
  6. AbuMoh’d, M. F., Matalqah, L., & Al-Abdulla, Z. (2020). Effects of Oral Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) Intake on Muscular and Central Fatigue During an Incremental Exercise. Journal of human kinetics72, 69–78. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2019-0099
  7. Shimomura, Y., Yamamoto, Y., Bajotto, G., Sato, J., Murakami, T., Shimomura, N., Kobayashi, H., & Mawatari, K. (2006). Nutraceutical effects of branched-chain amino acids on skeletal muscle. The Journal of nutrition136(2), 529S–532S. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.2.529S
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