Benefits of Branched Chain Amino Acids
Let’s face it, running is a taxing sport. You pound out mile after mile in order to stay healthy, enjoy nature or prepare for your next race. But if you intend to achieve your training goals, you need to push yourself.
We’ve all felt that agonizing soreness that follows a grueling training session. It’s a great feeling, but the more we push ourselves, the more susceptible we are to injuries.
Soreness and Injury
Post-exercise soreness, although not completely understood, is likely due to microtrauma of the muscle tissue. This results in a necessary inflammatory reaction that accomplishes the healing process. Inflammation is the mechanism by which nutrients and reparative cells are brought to an area of injury in order to begin healing and repair.
While I’m not a proponent of compartmentalizing nutrition, I think the topic of protein intake for runners tends to get lost in the slew of “carb loading” propaganda. Runners constantly stress their muscles, so I think it is important to address this specific nutrient. But first, we need to understand it.
Muscle tissue is predominantly comprised of protein. Protein is made up of the building blocks called amino acids. Since I like analogies, think of the amino acids as the bricks, the protein as the walls and the muscle as the house. By eating protein, you are providing your body the building blocks it needs to rebuild and repair any damage to your muscles.
When it comes to protein, all amino acids are not the same. The body actually prefers specific types of amino acid for protein synthesis (muscle repair). There are the 3 specific amino acids that are referred to “branched chain amino acids” (BCAA) :leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Branched chain” refers to their molecular structure.
Research suggests that these BCAA may increase the synthesis of muscle tissue and decrease muscle damage during exercise, and it may even contribute to a healthier immune system. In other words, BCAA may speed up the healing process of muscular injuries and help prevent muscular injuries. This is an especially important issue for endurance athletes because the amount of physical stress their sports require.
The research was done using BCAA supplementation, but I have to believe that it would apply to the foods that contain BCAA as well. Is that too big of a leap? Maybe, maybe not, but I always prefer real food over supplements. So, what foods contain higher amounts of BCAA? Here are a few you probably already have on hand.
I realize that it’s not always possible or convenient to add specific foods to your diet for various reasons. In those cases, I recommend adding a high quality, third party certified BCAA supplement. I’ve seen them available in capsules and powders. The powders make a nice addition to your morning smoothie.
Again, I don’t promote the idea of focusing on one nutrient when it comes to your nutrition, but I think that the running community gets stuck in the carbohydrate world and seems to forget about the rest of their nutrition and how it could affect their performance and recovery. So, be intentional about your diet and remember that real food is the best thing you can do for your health, and branched chain amino acids is only part of the equation.
When it comes to post-run nutrition, what foods are you eating to help your body recover the best?
Negro M, Giardina S, Marzani B, Marzatico F. “Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system.” J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2008 Sep;48(3):347-51.
Blomstrand E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HK, Köhnke R. “Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise.” J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):269S-73S.