BCAAs for Runners – What’s the Rundown?

Supplements are becoming increasingly popular among runners. One supplement in particular is branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which continues to gain traction in the running community.

Runners will do whatever they can to help improve their endurance, build muscle mass, improve recovery, increase energy, etc. You know you can do all of these things by taking care of yourself and with appropriate training and practice, but would a supplement help?

There are many supplements available on the market, including BCAAs, that have promises to improve performance and recovery. The question is do BCAAs live up to these promises for use in runners?

Let’s learn more!

What are BCAAs?

BCAAs are amino acids and simply put amino acids are the building blocks of protein.  There are 20 amino acids in total that make up your muscle protein.  Nine of these amino acids are essential, which means that the body cannot produce these amino acids on its own and you must get them via protein in your diet.

There are three amino acids that make up the BCAAs, and they are valine, isoleucine, and leucine.  These three amino acids are a part of the essential amino acid group.

Branched chain amino acids valine, isoleucine and leucine are part of the essential amino acid group.

Will BCAAs increase muscle mass?

In your body muscle protein is constantly being produced to compensate for the older muscle proteins that are being broken down.  The thought is that adding additional BCAAs via supplementation will help maximize the anabolic state.

Which is where the claim that BCAA supplements will help improve muscle growth and repair muscle damage comes from.  There are also claims that BCAAs will reduce muscle soreness and provide enhanced recovery for endurance athletes.

Although, there is very limited research to support these claims. 

There is research that states that muscle production cannot exceed muscle breakdown without additional amino acid intake.  BCAAs are amino acids, so this should help increase muscle production, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.  Although BCAAs are all essential amino acids, they are not the only essential amino acids, there are still 6 more that are needed.  Without all nine of the essential amino acids being available, increased muscle production is not going to happen.

Do runners benefit from BCAAs?

If you are taking BCAAs currently and feel as though it is improving your performance or you are able to recover faster, then there is more than likely no harm in continuing.

BCAAs in their true form should be safe to consume.  As always, supplements are tricky.  They are not as closely monitored as other medications, so be sure to choose a product that you trust or that is NSF certified for sport. Which basically means the supplement is third party tested.

If you do not think you are eating enough protein for any reason throughout the day, then BCAA supplementation may be beneficial for you to take before or during your run.

You would not want to take BCAAs after your run as they are not a complete protein, and will not help with muscle repair.  You would be better off choosing a protein powder or whole protein food source.

Are BCAAs necessary for runners?

BCAAs are part of the essential amino acids that are necessary to build muscle in your body, so consuming this supplement should help support muscle growth and recovery, right?  Well, the answer is not that straight forward.

Many runners will get enough BCAAs naturally through the foods that they eat.  If the athlete is consuming adequate protein throughout the day, they are most likely consuming enough BCAAs.

Some examples of foods high in BCAAs include:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Lean beef
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Dairy

Any additional protein consumed over what is required by your body is not going to change much, if anything, in terms of muscle production or repair.

Benefits of a whole protein food choice

There are also benefits of eating protein from whole food sources as compared to taking a BCAA supplement.

Some of the benefits from consuming whole food protein products can include getting additional nutrition from the food in the form of vitamins or minerals.  

There is also the issue of cost. Supplements tend to be on the pricier side, whereas whole food protein items tend to be a bit more affordable.

As always, everyone’s situation is going to be different, so there is no one size fits all.

Key takeaways

Overall, branched chain amino acids can be used as a supplement if you do not feel as though you are able to get enough protein throughout the day in your diet.  

The key word being supplement, i.e. it can fill in any gaps in your diet that you are unable to consume with whole foods.

There are very little known risks of taking BCAAs, but on the flip side there is very little researched evidence that shows that BCAAs help improve performance.

If you have any specific questions about taking BCAAs, you should consult a sports nutrition expert such as a registered dietitian to go through your typical diet to determine if BCAAs are necessary.

Let me know what experiences you have had with taking BCAAs by leaving a comment below!

As always, happy running! 🙂

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