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Technical Paper

Branched-Chain Amino Acids: Scientific Paper
Overview

Clinical Uses:

The amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine
possess a similar branched-chain structure and are
therefore referred to as branched-chain amino acids
(BCAA). BCAAs account for 14–18% of the total amino
acids in muscle proteins, are essential for muscle
protein synthesis and play important roles in muscle
metabolism and repair.1 Exercise is known to increase
the breakdown of BCAA in muscle through enzymatic
degradation. In this context, providing BCAAs before
or after exercise through dietary supplementation
has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced
muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein
synthesis.2 Clinical uses of BCAAs include reductions
in fatigue, reduced glycogen depletion, prevention
of muscle soreness and muscle damage, as well as
improvements in muscle function and enhanced
psychomotor performance.

• Delayed-onset muscle soreness

Mechanism of action
One of the principle applications for BCAA supplementation
is the attenuation of muscle protein damage that occurs
with exercise. During exercise, in particular resistance
training, microdamage to muscle fibres occurs in response
to muscle contractions and overload. Muscle damage can
result in a transient decrease in strength, delayed onset
muscle soreness (DOMS), and edema. BCAAs may counter
muscle damage through a variety of mechanisms including
the suppression of protein breakdown, reducing the BCAA
oxidation that occurs with exercise and enhancing muscle
protein synthesis. Therefore BCAAs may improve muscle
function, growth and repair.3

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a symptom of
muscle damage that typically occurs within 24-57 hours
after exercise. Due to their role in muscle growth and repair,
BCAAs may help prevent DOMS. A study in young, untrained
women found that supplementation with BCAAs (100 mg
per kg) in the morning before squat exercises significantly
raised blood BCAA levels at 2 hours post exercise and
significantly lowered DOMS on days 2 and 3 compared to
placebo, suggesting a reduction in muscle damage.4
The effects of BCAAs were also studied in twenty four
non-weight-trained men. BCAA supplements or placebo
were consumed before intense eccentric exercise (weight
training) before and for 3 days after training. A decrease
in flexed muscle soreness was observed in the group
receiving BCAAs compared to placebo at 48 and 72 hours
post exercise.5
Another report found that supplementation with 5 grams
of BCAAs before squat exercises reduced DOMS and muscle
fatigue for a few days after exercise. These findings also
suggest that BCAAs may be useful for muscle recovery.6
Long distance runners taking BCAAs during intensive
training (total running distance: males: 86 km, females:
64 km) effectively reduced muscle soreness and fatigue
sensation. These benefits were attributed to reduction of
measures of muscle damage and inflammation.7

• Reducing muscle damage
Some, but not all, studies have reported reductions in
indicators of muscle damage with BCAA supplementation.
In untrained men undergoing endurance exercise training
(three 90 minute cycling bouts), supplementation with
BCAAs before and at 60 minutes of exercise reduced
subsequent measures of muscle damage (creatine kinase
and lactate dehydrogenase). Muscle strength was also higher
and muscle soreness lower after BCAA supplementation.8

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Another study found that BCAAs with arginine reduced
muscle damage. A group of healthy volunteers were given
a single dose of either 2 grams of BCAA and 0.5 grams of
arginine or placebo 10 minutes before a cycling exercise
challenge. The BCAA supplementation resulted in increases
in both the plasma BCAA concentration and BCAA uptake
into the working leg and significantly reduced muscle
protein breakdown.9
In swimmers, treatment with 12 grams of BCAAs per day for
15 days reduced muscle protein breakdown in response to
regular training.10

• Improved muscle performance
The effects of short and long-term BCAA supplementation
on muscle performance were studied in a group of healthy
men. In the short-term study volunteers received either
BCAA (14.4 g per day) or placebo over two days. BCAA
supplementation in this study significantly increased
respiratory quotient (a measure of basal metabolic rate)
compared to placebo. In the long-term study BCAAs (14.4 g
per day) were taken over a period of 30 days. Grip strength
(an indicator of muscle power) increased significantly
following chronic BCAA administration and reduced oxygen
intake during the grip strength test, indicating improved
physical fitness.11

• Resistance to fatigue
There is evidence to suggest BCAA supplementation
may reduce fatigue and enhance exercise capacity in
glycogen-depletion that occurs with endurance exercise.
Supplementation with BCAAs (300 mg per kg) for 3 days
prior to endurance exercise promoted a greater resistance
to fatigue when compared to the placebo (+17.2%). BCAA
supplementation was also found to enhance lipid oxidation
during exercise in glycogen-depleted subjects.12
A study in untrained men undergoing cycling bouts found
that BCAA supplementation before and at 60 minutes of
exercise reduced perceived exertion, despite measures of
performance showing no improvement.13

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• Improved psychomotor performance
BCAA supplementation may improve reaction time in sports
that demand quick changes in intensity and responses to
external signals (e.g., soccer and other team games). A
study in soccer players found that BCAA supplementation
(7 grams given 1 hour before exercise) reduced mean
reaction time compared to placebo by ~10% before and
during exercise suggesting improvements in psychomotor
performance.14 BCAAs may therefore help maintain mental
function in aerobic-based exercise.

• Muscle glycogen depletion
A study in endurance-trained cyclists performing sustained
exhaustive exercise with reduced muscle glycogen stores
found that supplementation with BCAAs resulted in a
significant muscle glycogen sparing effect compared to
placebo. There was a significant decrease in the muscle
glycogen concentration during exercise in the placebo trial,
whereas only a small decrease was found in those who
received BCAAs during exercise.15
The potential glycogen sparing effect of BCAAs may translate
to improvements in performance. When BCAAs were given
to runners during a marathon it improved the performance
of “slower” runners (those who completed the race in 3.053.30 hours) as compared to “faster” runners (those who
completed the race in less than 3.05 hours).16

Safety
BCAAs are rapidly metabolised and efficiently eliminated
and are considered safe and non-toxic. Human studies have
shown no toxic effects of BCAAs at a dose of 2.5 grams per
kilogram of body weight per day for 3 months or 1.25 grams
per kilogram of body weight per day for 1 year. There are
no reports concerning BCAA toxicity in relation to exercise
and sports.17

Bioavailability
PepForm™ technology significantly improves the solubility
of branched-chain amino acids and vastly improves the
absorption rate in the human body. PepForm™ BCAA
Peptides are made by a proprietary process that binds freeform branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) to BCAA peptides
isolated from fresh sweet whey.

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Protein efficiency ratio (PER) is an industry standard when
comparing the quality of various protein sources. If the PER
of free-form amino acid is normalised to 100, PepForm™
with the same amino acid composition showed a PER of 259
(259% greater) relative to free-form amino acids (see figure
1). A higher PER indicates better amino acid absorption
and utilisation.

250
200

Dosage
Scientific studies vary considerably in dosage regimens
with studies typically ranging from 100 mg to 300 mg per
kilogram of body weight per day (or 8-24 grams for an 80
kilogram adult).
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend
BCAAs are consumed at a dose of 90 mg total BCAAs in a
2:1:1 ratio per kilogram of body weight per day to optimise
performance (approximately 7 grams per day for an 80
kilogram adult).
A 5 gram daily dose has been shown to be effective for
reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness and improving
recovery.

150
100

Although a typical dose of over 5 grams daily of BCAA
is frequently used, the minimum dose to produce the
beneficial effects of BCAA supplementation remains to be
established.

50
0

FREE-FORM
AMINO ACIDS

PEPFORM™
LEUCINE PEPTIDES

Figure 1: PepForm™ technology improves the protein efficiency ratio (PER).

In a feeding study, PepForm™ peptides were also shown to
change body weight significantly compared to free-form
amino acids (see figure 2).

PepForm™ Leucine Peptides

Free-Form Amino Acids

15
10
% CHANGE IN BODY WEIGHT

Technical Paper

5
0
-5
-10
-15
-20
-25

5

10

15

20

25

30

DAYS
Figure 2: Percentage change in body weight over time

PepForm™ technology, effectively delivers the key amino
acids in a soluble and bioavailable form, which allows
growth at a higher rate than free-form amino acids. This
study shows the improved amino acid delivery and higher
quality of product over free-form amino acids.18

Typically BCAAs are administered immediately before,
during or after exercise to maximise their effects.
It has been suggested that BCAAs are best consumed in a
2:1:1 ratio of leucine, isoleucine and valine as this is how
they occur naturally in food.19

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Technical Paper

References
1.

Shimomura Y, Yamamoto Y, Bajotto G, Sato
J, Murakami T, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H,
Mawatari K. Nutraceutical effects of branchedchain amino acids on skeletal muscle. J Nutr.
2006 Feb;136(2):529S-532S.

2.

Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Nakai N, Nagasaki M,
Harris RA. Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism:
effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal
muscle during exercise. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6
Suppl):1583S-1587S.

3.

da Luz CR, Nicastro H, Zanchi NE, Chaves DF,
Lancha AH Jr. Potential therapeutic effects of
branched-chain amino acids supplementation
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humans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2011 Dec 14;8:23.

4.

Shimomura Y, Inaguma A, Watanabe S,
Yamamoto Y, Muramatsu Y, Bajotto G, Sato
J, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H, Mawatari K.
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation
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9.

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Shimomura Y, Yamamoto Y, Bajotto G, Sato
J, Murakami T, Shimomura N, Kobayashi H,
Mawatari K. Nutraceutical effects of branchedchain amino acids on skeletal muscle. J Nutr.
2006 Feb;136(2):529S-532S.
Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, Sakurai M,
Higuchi T, Miyata H. Branched-chain amino acid
supplementation attenuates muscle soreness,
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Matsumoto K, Mizuno M, Mizuno T, DillingHansen B, Lahoz A, Bertelsen V, Münster H,
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10. Tang FC. Influence of branched-chain amino
acid supplementation on urinary protein
metabolite concentrations after swimming. J
Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Jun;25(3):188-94.
11. De Lorenzo A, Petroni ML, Masala S, Melchiorri
G, Pietrantuono M, Perriello G, Andreoli A.
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19. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La
Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez
H, Antonio J. International Society of Sports
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Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.

12. Gualano AB, Bozza T, Lopes De Campos P,
Roschel H, Dos Santos Costa A, Luiz Marquezi M,
Benatti F, Herbert Lancha Junior A. Branchedchain amino acids supplementation enhances
exercise capacity and lipid oxidation during
endurance exercise after muscle glycogen
depletion. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2011
Mar;51(1):82-8.
13. Greer BK, White JP, Arguello EM, Haymes EM.
Branched-chain amino acid supplementation
lowers perceived exertion but does not affect
performance in untrained males. J Strength
Cond Res. 2011 Feb;25(2):539-44.
14. Wiśnik P, Chmura J, Ziemba AW, Mikulski T,
Nazar K. The effect of branched chain amino
acids on psychomotor performance during
treadmill exercise of changing intensity
simulating a soccer game. Appl Physiol Nutr
Metab. 2011 Dec;36(6):856-62.
15. Blomstrand E, Ek S, Newsholme EA. Influence
of ingesting a solution of branchedchain amino acids on plasma and muscle
concentrations of amino acids during prolonged
submaximal exercise. Nutrition. 1996 JulAug;12(7-8):485-90.
16. Blomstrand E, Hassmén P, Ekblom B, Newsholme
EA. Administration of branched-chain amino
acids during sustained exercise--effects on
performance and on plasma concentration of
some amino acids. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup
Physiol. 1991;63(2):83-8.
17. Shimomura Y, Murakami T, Nakai N, Nagasaki M,
Harris RA. Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism:
effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal
muscle during exercise. J Nutr. 2004 Jun;134(6
Suppl):1583S-1587S.
18. PepForm™ technology improves weight gain
and PER. Glanbia Nutritionals INC. Technical
Bulletin.

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