Should I be taking BCAA’s before and during training or racing? Why does Secret Training not have BCAA’s in their energy gels/drinks?

Interesting question as there are many brands with BCAA’s in their energy products suggesting that by taking BCAA’s before and during exercise you will prevent muscle damage and increase performance.

What are BCAA’s

Just some basics, BCAA’s are amino acids, amino acids are compounds that combine to make proteins and are the building blocks for growth and repair of muscle, tissue and skin.

BCAA’s (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are unique compared to other amino acids (which are oxidised in the liver) in that they can act as a direct fuel for working muscles. When the body is short of energy (from fat and carbs) it will ‘sacrifice’ and oxidise the BCAA within muscle causing muscle break down. The theory is that by providing BCAA in supplements it will protect the BCAA within the muscle and protect the muscle fibers. The oxidation of BCAA produces more energy (ATP) than the oxidation of glucose so it is attractive to think that this extra energy will improve performance.

However, the data on the use of BCAA’s prior and during exercise is ambiguous to say the least, there is very little evidence to support performance improvements, however there is a very real possibility of reducing performance and perhaps paradoxically a real chance of causing more muscle breakdown.

The pitfalls of consuming BCAA’s prior and during exercise

-there is evidence that when taking amino acids during exercise your metabolism might be directed towards metabolizing more from protein i.e. starting to use protein (muscle) as a fuel and that’s not what you want. You want your sources for energy to be fat and carbohydrates.

-there is evidence that your plasma ammonia levels may rise when taking BCAA’s in combination with carbohydrates during exercise and this would be a shame as it will cause fatigue.

-the more complex you make a product (ie add more ingredients), the harder it is to digest and the more likely the product will cause GI distress (stomach upset)

-energy products that contain BCAA’s have not sufficient levels of amino acids in them to make a significant contribution towards recovery and muscle adaptation.

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The Secret Training Philosophy

1 – Optimise carbohydrate delivery during exercise- the most effective way to improve performance + protect muscle protein. Carbohydrates and body fat are your main sources of fuel and need to be readily available.

2 – Use protein/amino acids after exercise to maximise recovery and adaptation.

-We keep our energy gels and drinks as simple as possible so there is minimum chance of GI distress; adding things like BCAA’s adds complications and increases chances of stomach upset.

-Replenish with Amino Acids straight after your exercise(within 20-30 min) to maximize muscle recovery and adaptation, you can then take a substantial amount, enough to make a difference and make sure it contains plenty of Leucine as this is the main switch to stimulate protein synthesis.

In summary, why risk taking BCAA’s before and during – maybe it looks good on a label especially when backed up with the theory, but its unlikely to improve performance, there is equal evidence and a strong theory that it may compromise performance.

Taking BCAA, protein after certainly won’t compromise performance and will likely improve adaptation, also taking extra protein throughout the day with meals is a more beneficial proposition.

Posted on 17th Apr 2021